Animal Utterance: A two-day interdisciplinary conference

Invited speakers

  • David Rothenberg (Professor of Music and Philosophy, New Jersey Institute of Technology)
  • W. Tecumseh Fitch (Professor of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna)
  • Stephanie Kuduk Weiner (Professor of English, Wesleyan University)
  • Johan J. Bolhuis (Professor of Cognitive Neurobiology, University of Cambridge)
  • Daniel Karlin (Professor of English, University of Bristol)
  • Martin Everaert (Professor of Linguistics, Utrecht University)

Dates and venues

25 May 2017

Peel Lecture Theatre
School of Geographical Sciences
University of Brisol
University Road

26 May 2017

The Orangery
Goldney Hall
Lower Clifton Hill


In 1827 the poet, John Clare, exchanged a series of natural history letters with his publisher, James Hessey, in which they discussed the 'solemn trifling' of naturalists regarding the notes of the nightingale – whether the birds sang by night or by day, whether their notes expressed joy or melancholy.

This two-day interdisciplinary conference at the University of Bristol aims to bring together researchers from a variety of disciplines, across the Arts and Sciences, to discuss their approaches to the sounds of the animal world, both human and non-human.

The conference seeks to draw together recent research in the Arts and Humanities, which has discussed the difficulties of 'translating' the sounds of animals into human forms of representation, with studies of animal sounds and animal cognition across the Sciences. We invite papers from speakers of all backgrounds and disciplines: historians and natural historians, musicians and philosophers, literary critics and cognitive scientists, linguists and bio-linguists.

Since our understanding of animal sounds has changed alongside advances in technology, the conference is not restricted to any specific historical period. The conference aims to examine how these developments have changed the way that we interpret, represent and 'understand' the sounds of animals: from written transcriptions to the sonograph and the advent of recorded sound. However, we do ask that papers do not pre-date 1771, the year in which Gilbert White debated with a naturalist friend whether owls hoot in the key of B flat.

Other events: 23 - 26 May 2017

This conference is part of a larger series of events hosted by the University of Bristol. Join us for talks, workshops, evening events and musical performances with the jazz clarinetist, composer and Institute for Advanced Studies Benjamin Meaker visiting professor, David Rothenberg (Why Birds Sing, 2005; Berlin Bülbül, 2016).

Please note that booking for these events is separate from conference registration; click here for more details.

Image provided by Wein Museum
Papageno: "I am the bird-catcher, yes! Always cheerful, fiddle-di-i, fiddle di-da!” Act I of The Magic Flute by Wolgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91),engraved by Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer Senior (b.c. 1770). Copyright Wein Museum.
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