Bugs under the Victorian microscope
A new book which describes how the Victorians transformed the study of bugs and insects from a hobby to respected science has been published by an academic from the University of St Andrews.
‘Bugs and the Victorians’, by Dr John Clark, Director of the Institute for Environmental History at the University of St Andrews, focuses on creepy crawlies in Victorian times, as well as the naturalists, scientists and collectors that studied them to examine the social, scientific and political history of an age.
Charting the development of entomology (the study of insects), Clark examines how bugs took science itself from inside the curiosity cabinet to a scholarly and practical discipline. Entomologists went from butterfly-catchers to expert ‘scientists’ (a new term for the Victorian era) and their studies from a `futile and childish’ past time to a legitimate academic pursuit.
As the 19th century scientific revolution took hold, so grew the fascination with classifying the natural world, and Clark shows that the study of insects became a model through which to look at the bigger questions that pre-occupied Victorian society.
The book demonstrates the relationship between the radical social and economic developments of the 19th century – theories of life and evolution, industrialization, urbanisation – and the study of the insect world, as well as the impact that such study had on Victorian culture.
Dr Clark said, “As an historian, I am especially fascinated by the changing cultures of science, and the many ways in which people have perceived the natural world in the past. The teeming world of insects – and the men and women who studied them – have provided me with a myriad of engaging contexts.”
He places insects at the very heart of Victorian politics, religion, science and economics, and maintains that the legacy of these early entomologists continues into the present day.
Using a number of sources and notable characters who devoted their lives to the study of bugs, Clark reveals the insect life that wove the social fabric of a century, and the surprising impact that 19th century entomology had on modern science.
‘Bugs and the Victorians’ by JFM Clark is available from Telegraph Books (0844 871 1516) and from most bookshops.
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Ref: Bugs 080709
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