Dissertation Information for Debra Mitts Smith
MPACT Status: Fully Complete
Title: What is a wolf? The construction of social, cultural, and scientific knowledge in children's books
Abstract: The wolf has been an object of analysis across a range of disciplines. The symbolic wolf is present in our language, images, and stories. It has been studied by folklorists, literary scholars, psychologists, sociologists, and historians. Since the mid-twentieth-century real wolves have been studied by scientists while social scientists and historians have examined the controversy surrounding efforts to protect and re-introduce the wolf. Many of these scholars point to the interconnectedness of the symbolic and real and argue that the negative image of the wolf in European and Euro-American lore and tales contributed to the fear and hatred that led to the extermination of the wolf throughout Europe and the United States. At the same time, they tie the real wolf's physical appearance to its success as an environmental cause. Yet save for studies on "Little Red Riding Hood," no one has performed a close analysis of European tales and fables featuring the wolf or studied its visual depiction. My study, which considers representations of symbolic and real wolves in children's books published in Europe and North America from the late-fifteenth-century to the present, fills these gaps. Focusing on how visual images impart social, cultural, and scientific information about both wolves and humans, I analyze over 200 illustrated editions of traditional and fractured tales, animal stories, and informational books featuring wolves. In addition to developing a typology of visual depictions of the wolf, my study reveals several motifs: the wolf as predator, the wolf as social being, and the wolf as victim. This expanded view of the wolf and nature is accompanied by changes in the ways in which we view ourselves.
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