Heiko Schnickmann

Heiko Schnickmann, Ph.D Candidate, History (Medieval and Early Modern Times)

Zentrum für Graduiertenstudien (ZGS), Bergische Universität Wuppertal



Animals as a Medium of Intercultural Communication in the Age of European Expansion (14th – 18th Century)

“Der Übergang vom Jagdleben zur festen Ansiedlung war um so schwerer, als der Mangel milchgebender Hausthiere in Amerika das Hirtenleben unmöglich machte.” This is how Alexander von Humboldt remarked about the people of Central America. If one were to follow this opinion, this would mean that the import of these animals was more important to the indigenous people then other forms of cultural translation, for example in literature and politics. The aim of my research project is to find out in which way people acted when they met others with a complete different tradition in interacting with animals. How did the Aztecs react when they first met a horse, which wasn’t part of their environmental culture until the Spanish conquest? Did Tahitians start swine breeding when they first noticed the European pig next to
the Asian pig they used to know since they became Tahitians? Did Europeans get sick when they saw how others peoples ate their best friend, the dog? Did Africans, who know lions best, laugh when they met a European domesticated cat? And, finally: Did the Greenlanders start to knit when they got to know the sheep of Scandinavia?The early modern explorers, conquerors, missionaries and scholars on the road reported about these questions – in conscious and unconscious ways. Accounts from Britain and France, the Netherlands and Spain but also from Scandinavia and the German countries are handed down in uncountable numbers. These hints, anecdotes and scientific observations focusing on intercultural translation are the objects of my critical inquiry.