We are organising a session on the history of entomological collections for the next International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (Guelph, Ontario, Canada) 13-17 July 2005 (http://www.ishpssb.org/meeting.html) .

There are already two contributors to the proposed session. If you would also be interested in contributing, please email us with an abstract or a rough idea as soon as possible but before the deadline of 15 February 2005. Only a few days remains.

See the full description below:


Jean-François Auger (1) and Kristin Johnson (2)

(1) Institut de recherches interdisciplinaires sur la science et la technologie, Université Louis-Pasteur, 7, rue de l’Université, 67000 Strasbourg, France. Email: [email protected]

(2) Center for Biology and Society, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 874701, Tempe, Arizona, United States of America. Email: [email protected]

An insect collection, considered as a scientific instrument, could unveil a complex and rich narrative for historians of science. Since the eighteenth century, collections have been preserved, modified, and used according to the evolving cultural context. This paper session raises a common question. How have entomological collections been shaped by scientific, museological, and political factors? This problematique underscores the need for an approach of scientific instruments in the history of biology and allied sciences. Yet, apart from the history of the microscope, historians of the biological sciences have generally focused on the biography of a well known scientific figure, the monograph of an important institution, or the evolution of a major scientific concept. Otherwise, historians focus on instruments makers and its industry in the physical sciences. The salient feature of our problematique consists of analysing entomological collections as scientific instruments. Since the institutions have kept, in most cases, the archival records related to the collections, it is possible to trace back the histories of particular entomological collections along specific angles of analysis. The first relates to the theoretical underpinnings from which entomologist were arranging insects. From the mid-nineteenth century, the representation of nature shifted from fixist and creationist to evolutionist and selectionist. Were insects assembled into collections or rearranged in existing collections in order to reflect this theoretical change? Entomological collections are composed of movable parts—i.e. insects and labels pinned with a needle—which could be rearranged at any time by the collection’s owner.

The second angle of analysis concerns the major trends in the history of entomology. Since the nineteenth century, the development of zoological systematic classification renders essential the idea of collections as permanent repositories of type specimens. Genera and species were thus the rationale in the organization of the collections. During the same time, the emergences of economic entomology prompt the organization of specimens according to their destructive power on living organisms. Later in the twentieth century, the advent of ecology changed the organization of insects’ collections to emphasise the relation of insects to their living environments. Were collections rearranged to reflect those major trends?

The last angle of analysis relates to the history of institutions involved in the conservation of entomological collections. Natural history museums were in charge of preserving type specimens, organizing public exhibitions, and offering access to researchers. However, they were subject to political changes that influenced entomological collections. Departments of Agriculture were using insect collections in relation to the control and protection of crops. But the rise of scientific research in governmental organization changed the purpose of collections. Finally, in colleges and universities, entomological collections were used for classroom lectures, the training of master and doctoral students, and for research purposes. How have changes in those institutions influenced the organisation of collections?

The papers to be presented in this session will give a glimpse on entomological collections as scientific instruments. The papers include:

Kristin Johnson, ‘Rothschild’s Insect Collection: Moving from Private to Public Spaces’.

Jean-François Auger, ‘Leon Provancher’s Entomological Collections: The Multiple Use and Alteration of a Scientific Instrument’