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  • Book
  • Open Access
  • © 2021

Bearing Witness

Ruth Harrison and British Farm Animal Welfare (1920–2000)

Palgrave Macmillan


  • Funded by the Wellcome Trust, this book is open access under a CC BY 4.0 license

  • Explores the interconnected rise of British animal welfare politics, science and activism from the mid-1960s onwards

  • Examines the life and work of one of Britain’s most prominent animal welfare activists, drawing on research from the previously restricted papers of Harrison’s charity (Farm Animal Care Trust)

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements (PSHSM)

Buying options

Softcover Book USD 49.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book USD 59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Table of contents (13 chapters)

  1. Front Matter

    Pages i-xxvi
  2. Introduction

    • Claas Kirchhelle
    Pages 1-17Open Access
  3. Part I

    1. Front Matter

      Pages 19-19
    2. Meet the Winstens: A ‘Downstart’ Anglo-Jewish family

      • Claas Kirchhelle
      Pages 21-34Open Access
    3. Becoming an Activist: Ruth Harrison’s Turn to Animal Welfare

      • Claas Kirchhelle
      Pages 35-48Open Access
  4. Part II

    1. Front Matter

      Pages 49-50
    2. Staging Welfare: Writing Animal Machines

      • Claas Kirchhelle
      Pages 79-92Open Access
  5. Part III

    1. Front Matter

      Pages 93-94
  6. Part IV

    1. Front Matter

      Pages 125-126
    2. A “minority of one”: Harrison and the FAWAC

      • Claas Kirchhelle
      Pages 127-147Open Access
    3. Ruth the Ruthless: Activism, Welfare, and Generational Change

      • Claas Kirchhelle
      Pages 149-174Open Access
  7. Part V

    1. Front Matter

      Pages 203-204
    2. Non-conform Evidence: The Impasse of 1990s Welfare Research

      • Claas Kirchhelle
      Pages 223-237Open Access
    3. Conclusion

      • Claas Kirchhelle
      Pages 239-247Open Access
  8. Back Matter

    Pages 249-271

About this book

This open access book is the biography of one of Britain’s foremost animal welfare campaigners and of the  world of activism, science, and politics she inhabited. In 1964, Ruth Harrison’s bestseller Animal Machines  triggered a gear change in modern animal protection by popularising the term ‘factory farming’ alongside a 
new way of thinking about animal welfare. Here, historian Claas Kirchhelle explores Harrison’s avant-garde  upbringing, Quakerism, and how animal welfare debates were linked to concerns about the wider ethical and environmental trajectories of post-war Britain. Breaking the myth of Harrison as a one-hit wonder, Kirchhelle reconstructs Harrison’s 46 years of campaigning and the rapid transformation of welfare politics and science during this time. Exacerbated by Harrison’s own actions, the decades after 1964 saw a polarisation of animal
politics, a professionalisation of British activism, and the rise of a new animal welfare science. Harrison’s belief in incremental reform allowed her to form ties to leading scientists but alienated her from more radical  campaigners. Many of her 1964 demands gradually became part of mainstream politics. However, farm animal welfare’s increasing marketisation has also led to a relative divorce from the wider agenda of social improvement that Harrison once bore witness to. This is the first book to cast light on the interlinked histories of British farm animal welfare activism, science, and legislation. Its unique scope allows it to go beyond existing accounts of modern British animal welfare and will be of interest to those interested in animal welfare, environmentalism, and the behavioural sciences.


  • Animal Machines
  • UK government
  • Brambell Committee
  • Campaign
  • Factory farms
  • Veterinary science
  • Animal psychology
  • Animal emotions
  • Farming standards
  • Agricultural legislation
  • Farm Animal Care Trust (FACT)
  • Animal welfare post-Brexit
  • Political debate
  • Environmentalism
  • Open Access


“Bearing Witness is a landmark work in our understanding not only of Ruth Harrison, but a century of debate about animal welfare and animal welfare science. … the narrative is engaging and makes for a genre-wise, joyful read. I would recommend this book to all those who work on animal welfare, human-animal studies, or animal philosophy. It is a rare and comprehensive work, giving us both new and better insights into the historical, political, and conceptual background of animal welfare.” (Jes Lynning Harfeld, Animal Welfare, Vol. 31 (2), May, 2022)

“This book is a must-read for any animal welfare scientist; in my opinion even more so than Animal Machines … . Publisher Palgrave MacMillan provides the book in Open Access so that it can be read by everyone. It is thus a recommended addition to students’ reading list. Bearing Witness is compelling, well-written and unbiased in its biography. … Kirchhelle describes the person behind the facts, with her passion for justice, the mistakes that she made, and her tactics and power to persuade.” (Irene Camerlink, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Vol. 250, May, 2022)
“For millions of farm animals, the world started to change for the better after Ruth Harrison wrote "Animal Machines" and laboured for many years on UK and International committees. Ruth always believed that there is only one biology and that differences between humans and other species are much smaller than many people thought. Claas Kirchhelle explains beautifully how Ruth came to have such dramatic impact in Bearing Witness.” (Donald M. Broom, Professor Emeritus of Animal Welfare, University of Cambridge, UK) 

“A fascinating biography of a woman who changed the way the world treats farm animals, this book fills an important gap in the history of animal welfare.” (Marian Stamp Dawkins, CBE FRS, Professor of Ethology, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK) 

“By following Ruth Harrison’s career, Kirchhelle skilfully amalgamates biography with an analysis of British social, intellectual, and political life in the postwar years, charting the growing importance of animal welfare as a matter of concern. This book is a welcome and important contribution in an area that is ripe for sustained historical investigation.” (Dmitriy Myelnikov, Historian of Science and Animal Welfare, University of Manchester, UK)

Authors and Affiliations

  • University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

    Claas Kirchhelle

About the author

Claas Kirchhelle (DPhil, Oxon 2015) is a medical historian and Lecturer at University College Dublin, with a Wellcome Trust University Award. His award-winning research and public engagement (Back from the Dead - Demystifying Antibiotics 2016-2017; Typhoidland 2020-2022) explore the interconnected evolution of modern science, politics, and the environment. His previous publications include Pyrrhic Progress. The History of Antibiotics in Anglo-American Food Production, which won the 2020 Turriano Prize.  

Bibliographic Information

  • Book Title: Bearing Witness

  • Book Subtitle: Ruth Harrison and British Farm Animal Welfare (1920–2000)

  • Authors: Claas Kirchhelle

  • Series Title: Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements

  • DOI:

  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Cham

  • eBook Packages: History, History (R0)

  • Copyright Information: The Editor(s) if applicable and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited 2021

  • License: CC BY

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-3-030-62791-1Published: 06 May 2021

  • Softcover ISBN: 978-3-030-62794-2Published: 22 January 2022

  • eBook ISBN: 978-3-030-62792-8Published: 05 May 2021

  • Series ISSN: 2634-6559

  • Series E-ISSN: 2634-6567

  • Edition Number: 1

  • Number of Pages: XXVI, 271

  • Number of Illustrations: 4 b/w illustrations, 9 illustrations in colour

  • Topics: History of Science, Animal Ethics, History of Medicine, History of Britain and Ireland, Social History

Buying options

Softcover Book USD 49.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Hardcover Book USD 59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)