Humans have a deep seated proclivity to feed animals and are now doing so at unprecedented levels.

This projects explores the histories, drivers and consequences of animal feeding for human, animal and environmental health by examining four foci of human-animal interaction.

The foci represent the social roles that humans assign to animals:  

Pets - animals which live amicably with humans in contained, controlled, shared homes and gardens.

Pests - unwelcome animals which live in or near human habitations.

Wildlife - animals which share an ecosystem with but live away from humans.

Zoolife - wild animals living in captivity for human entertainment and wider ecosystem health.

These roles are often arbitrary and animals can occupy all or any of them at different times and in different places. Critically, the determination of roles is often at odds for different people – a cause of bitter conflict between humans about animals.

These foci will be approached in a truly interdisciplinary fashion, using a variety of research methods including:

Osteology and isotope analysis

The osteology teams at Exeter, Reading and National Museums Scotland will work in concert to conduct isotope analysis, osteological analysis, geometric morphometrics and osteobiographies on archaeological and historic collections of cats (domestic, wild and big) and pigeons to provide full-suite analysis of specimens. 


The museology team will explore the history of collections held by our key partner institutions (see project partners page) with the aim of demonstrating their importance for addressing and communicating modern issues of human-animal-environmental health. This will involved the museology team spending dedicated periods of time at key partner institutions and these inter-museums connections will ensure coherence with the project’s public engagement and knowledge exchange plans. 

History and policy

To investigate the acceleration of domestication and animal feeding over the past century, our history and policy team will combine social science and historical research methods. A contemporary history perspective is essential to understand how the complexities of policy and practice have developed over time, how they have shaped and been shaped by scientific, social and political change, as well as how past decisions and contingencies have led to the present situation. This methodology combines quantitative and qualitative analysis of archival and modern sources with semi-structured and oral history style interviewing. It will be deployed to investigate how state, civil society and feed industries in Britain have interacted to regulate, restrict but also enable animal feeding. Our researchers will follow these activities (and the animals involved) through the rise of state led agricultural productivism through the mid-20th century and into the privatization and fragmentation of this policy approach from the late 1980s onwards.

Anthropology and ethnography

Our our anthropology and ethnographic research team will conduct their research at several study sites including the Edinburgh Zoo, British Trust for Ornithology and  People's Dispensary for Sick Animals. Central to the field research are the notions of ‘being there’ (being close to the activity that is the focus of the research), ‘being with’ (interacting closely with the participants of that activity), and ‘engaging with’ (becoming, if possible, engaged in the entire social and cultural milieu under study). Researchers will immerse themselves for an extended period in a particular culture to explore it from the perspectives of the people involved. Understanding is generated from active participatory observation and questioning. Closely observed descriptions of practices, informal conversations, semi-structured interviews and more formally recorded interviews generate data for anthropological interpretation and analysis. Our researchers will also collect, collate and assemble a wide range of visual material, non-academic written material and cultural and social artifacts, and transform this, through analysis, into ethnographic material.

Engaged research with the research network

All of the above methods will be undertaken in consultation and collaboration with our research network (see research network page) through formal research network meetings and informal co-operation and interactions between individual members of the research team and network. Public engagement will be a key method to facilitate understanding, offer benefits to collaborating institutions, and enable knowledge exchange with wider publics.