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Mules were often used to carry loads. Picture: Alp Kiley in the Diemtigtal in 1943.
The milkman Gottfried Moser (left) with his farmhand in front of the dog team of the milk cart to Zurich in 1892. The dogs pulled the load up to 14 kilometres to Zurich and then the empty cart back to Horgen.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, trams, hackney carriages and freight wagons in cities were pulled by animals. Picture: Zurich station square around 1900.

Cultures and Spatial Orders of Working Animals. Foundations for a History of Animal Carrying and Hauling Work

The new ARH research project, funded by the SNSF, focuses on questions about the stock, husbandry, breeding, skills and performance of the animals doing the work, as well as the conditions in which they were used. We are interested in the cooperations of humans and animals in work contexts, in the particular logics of dealing with living resources, and in the behaviour and working capacities of animals. These human-animal working contexts gave rise, according to the epistemological thesis, to spatial orders and working cultures whose historical reconstruction is at the centre of the project.

Thematically, we focus on the moving forces of work animals and the contexts of their use. In these, agriculture and the transport industry were often interconnected. Temporally, we focus on the two centuries from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century. During this long period, working animals were central actors in the modernisation processes in agriculture and transport. This is also and especially true for the period in which the railways revolutionised transport and agricultural work became increasingly mechanised. Using film sources, we will also explore the question of what roles working animals still played in the second half of the 20th century and how they were perceived in the age of motorisation.

The research project integrates cognitive interests of recent agricultural and transport history as well as human-animal studies with an empirical approach close to the source. It contributes to a better understanding of the history of transport and agriculture and is of high social relevance, as current environmental discussions generate a growing need for historical interpretation of the potentials and limits of the use of living resources.

The research project is being carried out in an institutional cooperation between the Archives of Rural History (ARH), the Department of Economic, Social and Environmental History (WSU) at the Institute of History of the University of Bern and ViaStoria, the Foundation for Transport History.

The three-year project (2020-2022) is headed by Peter Moser. The main researcher is the transport historian Hans-Ulrich Schiedt. Andreas Wigger is primarily concerned with the film sources and their indexing and publication. (

Publications from the project

Juri Auderset, Hans-Ulrich Schiedt. Arbeitstiere. Aspekte animalischer Traktion in der Moderne, traverse, Zeitschrift für Geschichte, 2/2021, S. 27-42.

Juri Auderset, Peter Moser, Hans-Ulrich Schiedt (Hg). Arbeitende Hunde – die Arbeit der Hunde. Eine historische Spurensuche, Bern 2021.

Peter Moser, Grenzen der Komplexitätsreduktion. Überlegungen zu den Versuchen, multifunktionale Tiere in monofunktionale Projektionsflächen zu transformieren, in: Traverse, Zeitschrift für Geschichte 3/2021, S. 139-154.

Peter Moser, Hans-Ulrich Schiedt. Arbeitstiere im langen 19. Jahrhundert. Empirische Evidenzen und soziale Kontexte, Schweizerisches Jahrbuch für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte 2021 (in print)

Peter Moser, Andreas Wigger, Working animals. Hidden modernisers made visible, ARH/ERHFA Video Essay No. 1, Bern 2022