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The Famous Ape [Research Assistant]

Professor: Holly Dugan

Department: English

Title: The Famous Ape

Description: My current book project, “The Famous Ape” argues that there is much to learn about our history from studying how we’ve treated our closest animal relatives: apes. In it, I trace the simian celebrities renowned in their own time period for aping our best and worst qualities, many of whom paid dearly for having such skills. My title comes from Hamlet’s odd allusion in that play’s famous closet scene, an allusion that is as confusing as it is intriguing. In it, Hamlet warns his mother not to be “like the famous ape,” who sought “to try conclusions.”  Despite Hamlet’s specificity (he uses the definite article) and his conviction that the lessons of this example are well known, no one seems to know a thing about the so-called “famous” ape. Gertrude leaves the scene convinced of Hamlet’s madness, and most critics do, too. My book takes a different approach, addressing that absence directly by seeking to trace the forgotten history of various “famous apes” from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, all of whom were quite well known in their own time, and who were used to “try” conclusions about human and animal boundaries, but who are now mostly forgotten and excluded from our histories of modernity.

Because I’ve found more examples than I can address in the book, I am building a public humanities website to share this information, which is comprised of brief biographies of each “famous ape.” My hope is that in seeing the repetition latent in these histories and by learning more about these creatures as individuals, readers will come to their own ethical conclusions about these entertainment practices.

Duties: All that’s needed is a willingness to learn more about historical research and animal history.

Research tasks may include 1. primary research in newspaper archives of the 19th and 20th century (depending on students’ skills & interest); managing a public-facing humanities research account linked to the project (ie, summarizing research and drafting content for blog posts; strategizing about promotion across platforms; acquiring image rights); building/maintaining research database.

Time commitment: 1-3 hours per week (average)

Credit hour option*: 1

Submit Cover Letter/Resume to: hdugan@gwu.edu

*If credit is sought, all registration deadlines and requirements must be
met. Students selected to be research assistants should contact Brianna Crayton at bcrayton@gwu.edu whether they intend to pursue credit or not.