Pavlov and the kingdom of dogs: Storying experimental animal histories through arts-based research

Project Details


Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), the Russian physiologist turned psychologist, is remembered today for his stimulus-response experiments with dogs, which revolutionised psychology and its status as a science. In popular and academic accounts of Pavlov's achievements, his dogs mostly appear as anonymous experimental objects. In reality thousands passed through his St Petersburg laboratory complex - referred to by one visitor as 'the kingdom of dogs'. In this project largely accepted accounts of Pavlov's methods, of docile animals, and of the scientific discovery of universal laws are all challenged, primarily through artworks created by a collaboration of academics, artists and designers. We live in a globalised world where our precarious interdependence with other species is increasingly evident. There has arguably never been a greater need to develop sensibilities and worldviews predicated on awareness and respect for other forms of life, whereby our relations towards other animals will help define a liveable shared future for us all, human and nonhuman alike. This is why those involved in the project consider it vital to creatively address how we perceive, represent, and relate to the animals in our care, brought to life through the specific setting of the psychological laboratory, but relevant to the countless points of human-animal encounter in societies more generally.

The focus is the production of two artefacts - a graphic novel and a diorama-based (miniature three-dimensional scale models) multi-media installation. The latter is chosen for its potential to transform audience understandings of the experiments creating a fascinating, entertaining, unsettling and instructive world in miniature, brimming with multiple interacting elements - dogs, humans, lab equipment, surgical appendages, experimental objects and procedures - in multiple recreated scenes. It will also incorporate moving parts, wall mounted close-up photography zooming in on key moments, a filmed slow-motion walk through of the diorama, a map, text and audio guide, all included to supplement and enhance the audience's visual engagement and provide further context. A graphic novel is chosen for its unique combination of image and text: illustration can uniquely depict the immediacy of animal emotion, thinking and experience, conveying individual character, a key element of effective storytelling, reinforced by the deployment of text - sound, speech, thought, and exposition. The graphic novel is also chosen as a format because of its potential appeal to a wide readership including non-academics, younger people and reluctant readers. Stand-alone digital versions of both artefacts will be created, in the form of an online exhibition and an e-book, to increase audience numbers and engagement. The artworks and the collaborative process will be informed by the PI's scholarship examining Pavlov's working methods, contemporaneous news coverage; biographies, history and online tourist and museum sites that pay homage to Pavlov and his methods. The PI will focus on the experiences of the dogs, their interactions, care and role in key events during a tumultuous period in the life of Pavlov, the city, science and wider society.

Knowledge derived from desk-based scholarship and collaborative arts-based research during the Fellowship will be used to produce journal articles, conference papers, a symposium and a new research group led by the PI designed to further interdisciplinary research in animal studies. The project will engage different audiences in a reappraisal of the role of Pavlov's dogs, provoke discussion and debate acknowledging animals as participants in research; and contribute to a radical rethink of nonhuman animal-based research across the disciplines. More broadly the project will challenge to our increasingly perilous tendency to forget the impact of our practices on other animals, and that our lives, health and wellbeing are fundamentally connected.
Effective start/end date1/10/2230/09/24


  • AHRC


  • history
  • psychology
  • animal studies
  • experimental psychology
  • animal rights
  • animal welfare
  • posthumanities
  • arts-based research


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