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UT Humanities Center Conversations & Cocktails: Breaking Boundaries 2021 Series – Ernest Freeberg

Making Humans More Humane: Henry Bergh and the Birth of Animal Rights in 19th-century America

This talk is based on Professor Freeberg’s entertaining new book, recently reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other publications. A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement tells the story of a remarkable man who started the ASPCA and helped to shape our modern relationship with animals.

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 a 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.

Ernest Freeberg is head of the UT Department of History, a distinguished professor of humanities, and an award-winning historian. His research interests focus on the social and cultural history of post-Civil War America. He is the author of The Age of Edison (Penguin, 2013); Democracy’s Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, The Great War, and the Right to Dissent (2008), a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist and winner of the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History; and The Education of Laura Bridgman, which won the American Historical Association’s 2002 Dunning Prize.

This lecture kicks off our 2021 “Conversations and Cocktails: Breaking Boundaries” series. Learn more about upcoming lectures at

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Thursday, January 28 at 7:00pm to 8:15pm

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