ONE IS NEVER ALONE: HOW SOCIAL INSECTS HAVE SCUTTLED ACROSS THE THRESHOLD BETWEEN SCIENCE AND LITERATURE THROUGH THE AGES
Dr Karen Jennings, author and PhD candidate in history, University of Johannesburg
This course looks at the fascinating way in which social insects have served as a uniting force between the two cultures of science and literature over the centuries. Starting in the Middle Ages, we examine the bee’s position in allegorical, religious teaching and commentary. Next, we briefly discuss the proliferation of bee books during the scientific revolution. The second lecture focuses on the West African scientific explorations into termites by fly-catcher Henry Smeathman and the consequences this research had for the Black poor of London. The third lecture remembers Romantic poet John Clare’s poems on ants and how they bring to the fore the negative consequences imposed on nature by the demands of capitalism which dominated the period. In addition, the course considers the popularity and influence of Victorian myrmecology. The fourth lecture explores the way in which both psychoanalysis and nationalism were influential in the scientific and poetic writings of Afrikaner hero Eugene Marais. Special attention is given, too, to the man he accused of plagiarising his work on termites – Maurice Maeterlinck. The lecture also touches on the rise of pulp science fiction. Finally, we arrive at the present day and the threat of bee extinction. We consider E.O. Wilson’s call for consilience and the growing popularity of eco-fiction.
1. The Medieval bee and the scientific bee
2. Termites and slaves: Henry Smeathman
3. The romance of ants and a dash of Victorian myrmecology
4. Termites, nationalism and science fiction: Eugene Marais, Maurice Maeterlinck and David Keller
5. The death of the bee
Benjamin, A. and McCallum, B. 2009. A World Without Bees. New York: Random House.
Maeterlinck, M. 1944. The Life of the White Ant. Alfred, S. (Trans.). London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
Marais, E. 1970. The Soul of the White Ant. De Kok, W. (Trans.) Cape Town and Pretoria: Human and Rousseau.
Smeathman, H. 1781. ‘Some Account Of The Termites, Which Are Found In Africa And Other Hot Climates.’ Transactions of the Royal Society Of London, V.71, 139–192.