Hang on St. Christopher / Babel of the Apes



Botts, Eric

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis consists of two long essays. The first, “Hang on St. Christopher,” tells the story of a cross-continental roadtrip that I took with my girlfriend Meg before I moved away from her in Pennsylvania to attend graduate school at George Mason in Northern Virginia. We had wanted to share an adventure before my leaving as a way of building a stronger foundation so that we could better stand the separation of a long-distance relationship. But I had been concerned that the trip, for which Meg was footing most of the bill, would end up highlighting our class differences to the point that our relationship would fall apart entirely. The essay examines those class differences, the ways in which they manifest, and how they affected our relationship over the course of the roadtrip. The second essay, “Babel of the Apes,” details and discusses the fraught history of language-research on great-apes, specifically on the chimpanzee, Nim, and the bonobo, Kanzi. The essay focuses on researchers’ and the public’s susceptibility to both ends of the anthropomorphic/-centric spectrum. In the case of ape-language research, researchers who have indulged some degree of anthropomorphism have often made, at first, scientific breakthroughs over the nature of language and other animals’ capacity for it. Years and sometimes decades later, though, those researchers would have swung so far into one or the other end of that spectrum that they would find themselves accused of animal mistreatment, conducting “bad science,” or both. At the heart of the essay is the question of how to navigate the murky waters that this spectrum represents as scientists, essayists, animal lovers, and most of all, as human beings trying our best to understand our relationship to other species.



Language, Great apes, Creative nonfiction, Animal intelligence, Travel, Literary journalism