Kathryn Shevelow is a woman with one foot in the present and the other firmly entrenched in the past.
The18th century literature and writing professor from UCSD has found fodder in centuries past for three books, including her current release.
“For the Love of Animals” is Shevelow’s account of social and cultural phenomena that led to the development of organized animal protection groups and legislation in England during the 1700s. It is a topic every bit as relevant today as it was 300 years ago.
“Animal protection is something that historically has not been a constant,” Shevelow said, “and we can’t take it for granted. It hasn’t been that long, historically, that we’ve thought about the protection of animals.”
Shevelow celebrated the release of “For the Love of Animals” with a signing at Book Works, 2670 Via De La Valle in Del Mar, July 10. More than 65 people attended the event, which opened with a presentation on some of the notable details Shevelow uncovered during her research.
“I’m an animal lover,” Shevelow said, explaining why she was inspired to write the book. “I actually grew up in a house with all kinds of animals. I’m also particularly interested in 18th century culture.”
In 1822, the world’s first national animal protection law was passed in England, and in 1824 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was formed.
“These are the moments I end with,” Shevelow said, explaining that her book examines what was happening socially and culturally to create this turn of events.
The mainstream belief, up until this time, was that animals existed to be used by humans. In the 1700s, this mind set was challenged, both by individuals and clerical groups.
England was especially notorious for its cruelty to animals. All segments of society, including men and women, engaged in brutal, bloody sports such as fox hunting, cock fighting, dog fighting and baiting games, a type of gambling sport. In baiting, an animal such as a bear or a bull was chained to a stake and then beset upon repeatedly by packs of trained hunting dogs.
The SPCA, when formed, helped to pass laws regulating the carriage horse industry and then expanded to include protection of dogs and other animals.
Some of the dynamics that led to a change in how animals were viewed came as a result of more people keeping companion animals and a growing consensus that compassion for animals was an important social norm.
Political reform – a questioning of the status quo and changes in both Europe and the U.S. – also had an impact on the animal protection movement.
“There was a greater willingness to challenge how things had been done on every level,” Shevelow said.
Many animal protection proponents of the day were eccentric characters, Shevelow said. Animal advocates of the day included writers, artists and politicians. Clergymen were also vocal, although their beliefs ranged from those who thought there was a heaven for animals to those who believed animals were soulless.
One such supporter wrote, “Cruelty to animals is in some ways worse than cruelty to people because this is the only experience they have.
“The history of animal protection is fascinating,” said Shevelow, who became a vegetarian after researching and writing the book. “It’s much more complicated and much more recent than people probably think.”
Shevelow has written two other books. “Women and Print Culture” (Routledge, 1990) is about the evolution of women’s magazines and periodicals in the early 1700s. “Charlotte: Being a True Account of an Actress’s Flamboyant Adventures in Eighteenth-Century London’s Wild and Wicked Theatrical World (Henry Holt, 2005) is a biographic tale about the notorious cross-dressing actress. That book received the 2006 Theatre Library Association’s George Freedley Memorial Award for the year’s best book on live theater.
After obtaining her doctorate from UCSD and teaching at another institution for one year, Shevelow returned to Southern California to join the staff at UCSD. She has taught courses in 18th century literature and autobiographical and biographical writing. Her contributions to learning have been recognized with receipt of the Earl Warren College Outstanding Teaching Award in 1999 and UCSD’s Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award in 2005.
Shevelow lives with her husband, Edward Lee, and their three cats in Solana Beach.