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How to find us S. (Sven) Gins, MA

S. Gins, MA

PhD Researcher / Assistant Study Adviser Incoming Exchange Students

Homo Imperfectus. Animals, Machines, and the Quest for Humanity in Late Mediaeval France.”

Funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and University of Groningen via the Research Programme 'PhDs in the Humanities' for talented researchers.

How were nonhuman animals entangled in mediaeval conceptions of humanity? How did such entanglements affect the animals involved? This three-part project furnishes a historical dimension to topical questions about humankind’s exploitation of nature and environmental ethics, based on original historical research. Homo Imperfectus critically examines how fifteenth-century Christian communities conceptualised humanity via the anthropocentric rationalisation, mechanisation, and subjugation of animals.

The project’s first part concerns encyclopaedias. Synthesising natural philosophy and theology, these works described animals in terms of their corporeality and cosmological significance. Encyclopaedias were thus prescriptive as they articulated normative parameters about the place of animals within Christian society. This is evident from the prolific production of artificial animals in fifteenth-century Burgundy, studied in the project’s second part. As human counterfeits of God’s creatures, these spectacular automata demonstrated human ingenuity and humans’ capacity to control nature. However, automata also blurred the lines between nature and artifice due to their appearance of artificial life, generating anxieties about humankind’s preordained supremacy. When ‘real’ animals violated the implicit norms of everyday cohabitation—e.g. by harming humans—they similarly destabilised humankind’s arduously constructed identity as master of God’s earth. The project’s third part investigates how Christian communities reinvented everyday interspecies relationalities after such species’ transgressions by prosecuting and executing or anathemising animal offenders.

By approaching mediaeval encyclopaedias, automata, and animal trials from an anthropocritical perspective, Homo Imperfectus challenges human exceptionalism and develops new insights into anthropocentrism and its (non)human discontents, past and present, to contribute towards a more sustainable world.


Last modified:30 September 2021 02.21 a.m.

Contact information

Oude Boteringestraat 38
9712 GK Groningen
The Netherlands
Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 26
9712 EK Groningen
The Netherlands

Faculty of Theology & Religious Studies / Graduate School

Job title:
PhD Researcher
Working hours:
Monday - Friday

Faculty of Arts

Job title:
Assistant Study Adviser Incoming Exchange Students
Working hours:
+31 50 36 37318 (By Appointment)
Front Office:

International Office - Incoming Exchange Team