Simians and Souls: Observing the Inner Ape in Early Twentieth-Century Cuba

Catherine Mas

Yale University

Monday, April 15, 2024 4:30 pm EDT

Cushing Medical Library Room L-115
333 Cedar Street
New Haven, CT 06510

In 1915, a Cuban chimpanzee was born. It was the first chimpanzee to be born in captivity—a notable event for scientists around the world who were eager to transform our evolutionary kin into standardized lab animals. The chimp’s owner, amateur naturalist Rosalía Abreu, received a flurry of excited inquiries from scientists around the world, including the American psychologist Robert Yerkes, who had been dreaming of establishing an American primate station for the study of “psychobiology.” In the summer of 1924, Yerkes traveled to Abreu’s home in Havana, where she invited him to observe her animals and become convinced, as she had, of their spiritual and emotional complexity. This talk excavates the cultural and political context of this in-person encounter between Yerkes and Abreu: two avid ape observers with distinct yet necessarily entangled approaches to the inner lives of primates.