LE: Historical Perspectives
Insects have had an immense yet underappreciated impact on the course of human history and civilization. Through their effects as carriers of disease, insects have decided the outcomes of numerous battles and wars, often causing many more deaths than weapons did. On the other hand, beneficial insects have made important contributions to the development of many industries, in particular related to textiles and agriculture, and they also serve as important sources of food in many cultures. Because of their varied and important roles in human life and well-being, insects feature prominently in sacred texts and have thus influenced spiritual and religious thought through the ages. And from Greek times until the present, insects have contributed greatly to the development of scientific thought. Many of the great naturalists throughout history – from Aristotle to Darwin to EO Wilson – have had an inordinate fascination with insects. In the second half of the 20th century and beyond, insects sparked the environmental movement, serve as models for innovating technologies such as robots, and continue to shape our lives in fascinating, challenging and novel ways. In this class we will discuss the major ways in which the fates of humans and insects have been intertwined over the course of human history. Throughout the class we focus on ways that historical inquiry can be used to elucidate entomological questions and, conversely, how entomological knowledge can be brought to bear to solve historical mysteries.