A Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the history department at the University of Tennessee, Ernest Freeberg specializes in American social and cultural history, with an emphasis on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His first book, The Education of Laura Bridgman (2001), winner of the American Historical Association’s Dunning Prize, explores the antebellum philosophical and religious controversies raised by the education of the first deaf-blind person to learn language. His Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent (2008), a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, examines the imprisonment of socialist leader Debs and the national debate prompted by demands for his amnesty. He is the author of The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America (2013), which examines the impact of electric light on American culture, and A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of Animal Rights in America, published in 2020.
In Gilded Age America, people and animals lived cheek-by-jowl in environments that were dirty and dangerous to man and beast alike. The industrial city brought suffering, but it also inspired a compassion for animals that fueled a controversial anti-cruelty movement. When Henry Bergh founded the ASPCA in 1866, he launched campaign to grant rights to animals that was applauded by many, and ridiculed by many more. Bergh fought with robber barons, Five Points gangs, and legendary impresario P.T. Barnum, as he came to the defense of trolley horses, livestock, stray dogs, and other animals. This talk is based on Freeberg’s book, A Traitor to His Species, that tells the story of a remarkable man who helped to shape our modern relationship with animals.