Open Archive Clever Hans

Stephan Zandt / Anne Hölck



»Can one teach a horse – assuming it
has a trainable mind – to think independently?
This was the question posed
by the retired teacher Wilhelm von
Osten (1938-1909), owner and trainer of
»Clever Hans«. He sought the answer
in an experimental elementary school for
animals set up in the back courtyard of
his house. Clever Hans had been freed of
all his duties as a coach horse and was
to be trained not only in physical work but
also thinking.«1
Cultural theorist Stephan Zandt researched
the history of Clever Hans for
his essay »›Experimental Life‹ – TierÖkonomien
im Alltag und in der Ethologie
der Moderne« [Experimental Life –
Animal Economies in Everyday Life and
in the Ethology of Modernity]. In its
day the horse was famous the world over
for being »able to count« (ca. 1895-1916).
As part of a report on the experiments
with Hans, psychologist Oskar Pfungst
(1874-1933) demonstrated that the horse
was actually responding to minimal unconscious
body movements from people
who knew the answer to the arithmetic
In contrast to the historical reception,
which primarily associates Clever Hans
with the breakthrough of experimental
psychology, Zandt focusses his research
on the possibilities for describing animal
abilities and circumstances. Conceived
together with the curator Anne Hölck,
the »Open Archive Clever Hans« featured
both images and written sources.


1 published / publiziert in in Chimaira–AK (Hg.) (2013): Tiere Bilder Ökonomien. Aktuelle Forschungsfragen der Human-
Animal Studies, Bielefeld: transcript, S.137-160.
2 Pfungst, Oskar (1911): Clever Hans (The horse of Mr. von Osten): A contribution to experimental animal and human psychology. New York: Henry Holt. / Pfungst, Oskar (1977): Der Kluge Hans. Ein Beitrag zur nichtverbalen Kommunikation, Frankfurt am Main: Fachbuchhandlung für Psychologie, Verl.-Abt., Nachdruck der ersten Ausgabe von 1907.