Bugs and the Victorians

John F. McDiarmid Clark

View Inside Price: $55.00

July 21, 2009
336 pages, x
48 pics
ISBN: 9780300150919

Out of Print

In the wake of the Scientific Revolution, the impulse to name and classify the natural world accelerated, and insects presented a particularly inviting challenge. This lively book explores how science became increasingly important in nineteenth-century British culture and how the systematic study of insects permitted entomologists to engage with the most pressing questions of Victorian times: the nature of God, mind, and governance, and the origins of life.


By placing insects in a myriad of contexts—politics, religion, gender, and empire—John F. McDiarmid Clark demonstrates the impact of Victorian culture on the science of insects and on the systematic knowledge of the natural world. Through engaging accounts of famous and eccentric innovators who sought to define social roles for themselves through a specialist study of insects—among them a Tory clergyman, a banker and member of Parliament, a wealthy spinster, and an entrepreneurial academic—Clark highlights the role of insects in the making of modern Britain and maintains that the legacy of Victorian entomologists continues to this day.

John F McDiarmid Clark is director, Institute for Environmental History, and lecturer, School of History, University of St. Andrews. He lives in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.

"Clark has assembled a Victorian cabinet stuffed full of odd, beautiful, disturbing, elegant, and repulsive specimens that collectively capture a time and place like no other history of entomology has succeeded in doing." - Jeffrey Lockwood, author of Locust

"John Clark's Bugs and the Victorians is without any doubt the finest account of the history of entomology in the nineteenth century ever written. It is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the development of a 'futile and childish' pastime into a serious academic subject of far-reaching social and scientific significance." - George McGavin, Oxford Museum of Natural History

"In this fascinating and learned book, J. F. M. Clark persuasively locates bugs - and the (mostly) men who loved and hated them - at the centre of nineteenth-century science, politics, and economics. Interweaving evidence from a range of sources, he shows the relation between interest in these smallest Britons and discussion of some of the largest questions that engaged Victorian society." - Harriet Ritvo, author of The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age and The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination

"[a] splendid history of insects, entomologists and entomology in the long 19th century…wonderfully rich…. This book is insightful, elegantly written and beautifully illustrated. John Clark has taken a putatively narrow topic and constantly surprises with the myriad aspects of Victorian society and science that entomology touched and can illuminate in new ways.”—Michael Worboys, BBC History Magazine

‘It is refreshing to see Victorian entomology through so unsentimental an eye.’ — Jennie Erin Smith, Times Literary Supplement

‘A serious historical study that puts the work and achievements of 19th century British entomologists into political, social, religious and economic perspective…With a  writing style that is relaxed and engaging, this is a great read for anyone who considers themself an entomologist, is interested in the origins of modern entomological institutions or is more generally interested in the history of British science.’ — Biologist

"The author focuses on the people that studied and were inspired by [insects] and their influence in shaping the social, religious, and political views of society during a time when a simple pastime became the scientific academic study now known as entomology. This is a well-documented book that deserves to be read."—J. M. Gonzalez, Choice

‘Packed with enthralling characters and beautifully illustrated, Bugs and the Victorians is a work of love for the ‘little beggars’ and the men and women who studied them. A marvellous exploration of the relationship between insects, humans and industrialisation, it shows Victorian self-confidence in all its expansionary and sometimes deluded glory.’ — Kate Williams, History Today

'Clark's book is a delightful read, illuminating many important individuals and their work, and bringing a diverse range of insects and entomologists into much needed focus…anyone with an interest in Victorian science and its impact on everything from the popular imagination to imperial policy will find Bugs and the Victorians an invaluable addition to their libraries.' — Jim Endersby, Reviews in History

"This book gives a fascinating and historically grounded sense of the multiple lives of insects and their students in Victorian Britain. It is beautifully written."—Charlotte Sleigh, The British Journal for the History of Science

"Bugs and the Victorians is essential reading for those drawn to the social and economic upheaval of early Victorian life and how that upheaval influenced the development of science and vice versa."--Arthur V. Evans, Victorian Studies

Shortlisted for the 2009 History of Science's Pfizer Prize for Outstanding Book

Shortlisted for the History of Science's Watson Davis Prize for Outstanding Book
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Edited by John E. Clark and Mary E. Pye

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