(Re)Imagining the Insect: Natures and Cultures of Invertebrates, 1700-1900

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Programme and Abstracts


We are delighted to announce that the *finalised* conference programme is now available and can be accessed via the following link:

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‘The object is to get rid of the fly’: tsetse flies and the organisation of colonial research.

Lawrence Dritsas
University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


Some of the first descriptions of the tsetse fly as a carrier of disease occur in the writings of the Scottish explorer David Livingstone in the mid-1850s. He reported African observations that the fly appeared to carry a ‘poison’ that made their cattle sick if bitten. Livingstone identified the fly as a serious barrier to economic development in southern African and his writings signal the beginning of efforts to eradicate the fly. Subsequent developments in tropical parasitology realised the identification of trypanosome parasites, which use the tsetse fly as a vector, as the cause of sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in cattle. Yet, the discovery of trypanosomes did not dramatically change the efforts to ‘reclaim’ land from the tsetse fly during the early twentieth century. During the invigoration of colonial research in the late 1940s the fly was once again identified as an enemy to development that must be challenged. However, a new emphasis on parasitology and ecological thinking altered the direction of research on trypanosomiasis in the later 1950s. In order to describe these changes this paper will chart the history of the fly as a ‘problem’ from the 1850s to the 1950s and how British research was organised to combat it. The suite of interests that contributed to the changing construction of the tsetse fly problem over this period will be traced. Further, the fight against the fly as both a motivator and justification for colonial intervention into African landscapes and African lives will be examined.


Lawrence Dritsas began his studies in the United States (BA, Penn State; MS, Virginia Tech) and has interdisciplinary training in the natural and social sciences. He taught secondary school with the US Peace Corps in Malawi in the late 1990s. In 2005 he completed his PhD at the Centre of African Studies in Edinburgh with a study of the scientific exploration of Africa in the mid-nineteenth century. He is a Lecturer in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies and a member of the Science Studies Unit at the University of Edinburgh.


‘A very busy apiary’; Marquis Massimiliano Spinola and the circulation of entomological knowledge in Europe, c. 1780-1857.  

Robert Hearn

The University of Genoa, Italy.


Apis mellifiera ligustica – the Italian yellow bee – is the favourite species for many beekeepers worldwide. Indigenous to northern Italy, the adaptability and productivity of the species resulted in the bees being exported worldwide. However, whilst this honeybee is well known to beekeepers and biologists, relatively little is known about the individual responsible for the classification of the species in 1806; Italian entomologist Massimiliano Spinola (1780-1857). Member of one of the most influential Genoese aristocratic families, Spinola dedicated his life to entomological study, particularly of the insects inhabiting the landscape surrounding his family castle at Tassarolo, Piedmont, producing 33 influential taxonomic works.  While his research was based in this area on the border between Liguria and Piedmont, examination of the contents of Spinola’s library at Tassarolo and documents at the Natural History Museum in Turin reveal that the gentleman scholar was an important contact and consultant for entomologists throughout Europe, regularly corresponding with individuals and scholarly societies in France, Switzerland, Germany and the UK. Based around a biography of Spinola, this paper presents the findings of the first examinations of these archives and of the contents of his extensive personal entomological collections, examining and contextualising the 3500+ correspondence between institutionally based professionals and this ‘enlightened amateur’ in terms of the circulation of entomological knowledge in the early to mid-nineteenth century, and exploring the links between this and the concurrent development of ‘rational’, modern apicultural practices and produce in Italy during this period.


Dr Robert Alexander Hearn is a postdoctoral researcher in environmental history specialising in species history and animal geography in the Laboratorio di Archeologia e Storia Ambientale at the Universita’ degli Studi di Genova. Dr Hearn’s (University of Nottingham, 2012) focused on the relationships between re-wilding processes and the introduction, reintroductions and natural re-colonisation of indigenous and non-native fauna in the northwest Italian landscape, specifically wolves and wild boar, but also more recently the chinese gall wasp, responsible for the widespread decimation of chestnut groves.  Since April 2014, Dr Hearn has been involved in numerous research project related to the the UNESCO convention on Bio-Cultural landscapes, particularly the socio-cultural history of apicultural practices in several microhistorical case-studies across northwest Italy and the associated circulation of entomological knowledge in Europe, 1780 the modern day.


Insects and the Christian Animal Ethics of the Eighteenth Century 

Alma Massaro
The University of Genoa, Italy.


Over the past few decades animal ethics has been the subject of much scholarly interest. In these explorations, the Christian tradition often has been viewed as the source of the anthropocentrism pervading Western societies; however, in recent years, there has been a shift toward recovering Christian voices arguing for respect for non-human animals. This paper will focus on some eighteenth century English texts relating to Christian animal ethics, paying a special attention to what their authors said about insects. In trying to comprehend what the Bible teaches about human-animal relationship, these authors were not interested only in mammals but in insects too. As John Hildrop pointed out in his Free Thoughts upon the Brute Creation (London 1742), every creature – from big mammals to small insects – is an expression of God’s infinite wisdom (p. 35). Similarly, some years later, John Toogood observed that insects, the creeping things of the Earth, are not only expression of God’s wisdom but also subjects of His great love: if properly considered «They will appear some of the most finished pieces of the Creator’s workmanship» (The Book of Nature, London 1798, p. 14). Furthermore, he added, the Bible presents them both as minister of God (Joel 2:25) and as teacher for humans (Proverbs 6,6). Therefore «If it was not beneath God to create them, it cannot be beneath man to consider them» (p. 14). Ultimately from this brief analysis it will emerges how these authors, rather then refusing insects as monstrous, inserted them in the human ethical framework because they belong to God’s creatures.


Alma Massaro is a PhD candidate at the University of Genoa. She co-edits Emotività animali. Ricerche e discipline a confronto (Led: Milano 2014) and L’anima del cibo. Percorsi fra emozioni e coscienza (Aracne: Roma 2014). She is also author of Lucrezio e gli animali (Silvae: Genova 2014) and of several articles about Christian animal ethics. In her doctoral research she investigates the Christian roots of contemporary animal concerns.  Her aim is to contribute to the construction of a more comprehensive animal ethics.


Mock-Butterflies and Mock-Philosophy: Insect Mimicry as Metaphor in Leslie Stephen’s Religious Criticism      

Will Abberley
The University of Oxford.


Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution famously influenced the development of new metaphors for understanding human society in Late-Victorian culture.  Some social critics appropriated his model of nature to reconceptualize human life as a matter of adaptation, constant change and survival of the fittest. This paper will explore the appropriation of a lesser-known evolutionary concept as a metaphor for social phenomena: insect mimicry. Since the 1860s, Darwin’s allies Henry Walter Bates and Alfred Russel Wallace had argued that certain moths and butterflies evolved to imitate the appearance of other species which were distasteful to their predators. Their theory implied that nature did not always favour ‘the fittest’ but sometimes enabled the weak and maladapted to survive through deception. One social commentator who followed Bates and Wallace’s work and made use of it as a metaphor in his discussions of human society was the agnostic critic Leslie Stephen. In his Essays on Free Thinking and Plain Speaking (1873), Stephen compares Christian apologetics to insect mimicry, arguing that, in a post-Darwinian world, religion can only survive the ‘natural selection’ of ideas by disguising itself as modern and scientific. This view of intellectual history feeds into a wider theme through Stephen’s essays that modern Christianity is increasingly parasitic and ‘theatrical’. Similarly as Darwin had observed that, in nature, the weak ‘condescend[ed] to the tricks of the stage’, Stephen suggests that religion can only survive in a scientific epoch as an elaborate ‘masquerade’ and dramatic performance, which hide or distract attention from its philosophical weakness.


Will Abberley is an Early Career Fellow at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. He completed his PhD at the University of Exeter, exploring connections between Victorian literature and theories of the evolution of language. He has since turned this work into a book, English Fiction and the Evolution of Language, 1850-1914, which is being published this summer by Cambridge University Press. His current research project, which is being funded by the Leverhulme Trust, explores the cultural reverberations through the nineteenth century of the often disturbing idea that plants and animals could lie. In 2014, he was selected as a BBC New Generation Thinker and has taken part in broadcasts on the Radio 3 programmes Freethinking and The Verb.


The Female Entomologist: The Familiar Letter and the Classification of Insects

Sam George
The University of Herefordshire, United Kingdom.


This paper will explore the use of entomology in juvenile literature for young women by writers such as Priscilla Wakefield and Louisa Beaufort. I investigate the circulation of scientific and educational ideas both inside and outside the text focussing on British women writer’s engagement with Linnaeus and Rousseau and the use of the dialogue and familiar letter in such works. Through these two genres I survey a number of topics that are central to the dissemination of entomology for young women in the eighteenth century: ambivalence towards female book-learning, letter writing and sociability in the context of natural history, the uses of Linnaean methodology, feminisation (entomology’s relationship to littleness and triviality, for example), textual hybridity, ethics (including debates around killing specimens and the proper treatment of animals), and anxieties over didactism and imagination. I argue that despite some limitations and contradictions, then, familiar letters on the classification of insects are significant in giving young women access to entomological knowledge. They demonstrate sociability and the desire for self-education, and advance the new empiricist science. Epistolary entomology is dialogic and exploratory, with the medium of familiar conversation luring women into deriving knowledge from their own observations and opening them up to interrogation in a social network—allowing them to participate in the whole Lockeian project of experimental science. The microscope offered young women access to other worlds as much as did narratives of voyaging and exploring the globe. The study of diminutive insects then, was not indicative of ‘littleness of mind’: the entomological girl, though stereotyped by some, offered confirmation that the age was one of ingenious and learned females, many of whom excelled in this branch of science.


Dr Sam George is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Hertfordshire. She has published widely on literature and science and is the author of Botany, Sexuality and women’s Writing 1760-1830: From Modest Shoot to Forward Plant (MUP, 2007). She is currently completing a monograph on entomology in juvenile literature for girls (Pickering, 2016).


Tender Little Parasites: Insects, Entomology and Female Economic Dependency in Fin-de-siècle Writing.

Jane Ford
Keele University, United Kingdom.


This paper will consider the ways in which insects, parasites and other entomologically-inspired metaphors are used to explore the idea of female economic dependency in women’s writing of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Concerned about the impact of economic parasitism on the genetic fitness of women, New Woman eugenicists such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Olive Schreiner remarked on the worrying analogues that appeared to exist between female evolution in the human and insect worlds. In Women and Labour, for instance, Olive Schreiner drew parallels between the economically-dependent woman and a species of tick. She explains: ‘[in] certain ticks, another form of female parasitism prevails, and while the male remains a complex, highly active and winged creature, the female, fastening herself by the head into the flesh of some living animal and sucking its blood, has lost wings and all activity, and power of locomotion; having become a mere distended bladder, which when filled with eggs bursts and ends a parasitic existence which has hardly been life’. Like Gilman, Schreiner deployed evolutionary ideas to describe a morbid development of woman’s sexual characteristics (and an attendant atrophy of her intellect). But while the entomological approach to human evolution opened the door to such monstrous imaginings, I will argue that it was also instrumental in the development of utopian feminist thinking. For instance, the metaphor of the beehive became one means through which writers like Gilman creatively overcame the impasse of fin-de-siècle sexuo-economic arrangements. Indeed, the hive with its strong, female-dominated communities of skilled workers, offered a more promising vision for the social and economic evolution of the human female.


Jane completed her PhD (July 2013) at the University of Portsmouth. She has taught widely across the undergraduate English Literature curriculum at Portsmouth and, more recently, Keele University. She is currently co-editing a contracted collection of essays (alongside Drs Kim Edwards Keates and Patricia Pulham) that mediates on the interaction between ideas of economy and desire in fin-de-siècle literature.


Hearing Insects: The Droning World of Dread In Kafka’s The Burrow.

Michiko Oki
Writer and Curator, United Kingdom.


In Kafka’s unfinished story The Burrow, an unidentified subterranean creature struggles for digging in a burrow. In all his endeavors for the artifice of his labyrinthine home, the creature is constantly engulfed in anxiety for potential intruders. His obsessive anxiety culminates when he starts hearing the droning noise everywhere and at the same strength. Incessantly speculating the cause of this noise, his imagination first finds it as a swarm of small fries, eventually growing into a single gigantic monster threatening his burrow from the other side. It seems that the ubiquitousness of the noise drives him into dread, being agitated for carving out the single source of the noise that could contour both his anxiety and burrow.

I argue that this story allegorically expresses the relation between the auditory sense and the feeling of dread that signals a flickering threshold between representation and non-representation in subject formation. Imagining a swarm of insects is a metaphor for dread in face of the primeval creaturely collectiveness. It unsettles the consistency of the subject, reminding us of our own creaturely dimension that goes beyond the idea of the individual. Here the auditory sense embodies physical orientation, the listening subject drowns itself in the continuous tones of narratives, in the formless blob of feelings and sensations. By sketching out Kafka’s anxious world of countless insects in reference to Adorno’s aesthetic experience, I discuss insects as a literary object where the feeling of dread marks the transformation of individual entities into a transcendent social/collective being.


Michiko Oki (b. 1979, Japan) earned PhD in Comparative Literature and Art at University College London in 2014, currently working as an independent scholar, writer and curator based in London. Her research focuses on the representation of violence in visual/auditory culture and literature in the form of allegory and fiction. PhD thesis: The Threshold – a Place of the Hunchback. Violence and Transformation in works by Géricault, Dix, Salomon, Magritte, and Kafka.


‘This strange little creature’: Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee

Adrian Tait
Independent Scholar, United Kingdom.


Symbolist playwright, poet, and essayist, Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck was also a dedicated entomologist and apiarist whose fascination with insect life spurred him to write ‘lives’ of termites, ants and, perhaps most famously, bees. Published in 1901, when he was at the height of his fame, The Life of the Bee was widely read and well received, in spite of its unusual subject matter; as G. K. Chesterton remarked, ‘M. Maeterlinck is a man of unmistakable genius, and genius always carries a magnifying glass’. Maeterlinck’s exegesis of bee life has, however, received little critical attention since its publication, and none since ‘the animal turn’ prompted the humanities to look again at the blurred boundary between non-human and human life. Yet The Life of the Bee richly rewards a (zoocritical) rereading. Written at the very moment when C. Lloyd Morgan’s ‘canon’ caught hold of the scientific imagination, Maeterlinck sought to fashion from bee life a grand narrative that nevertheless avoids the anecdotal anthropomorphism that Morgan so explicitly rejected (Sober). Written in the belief that there is nothing ‘more beautiful in this world, or more interesting, than the truth’, Maeterlinck offers a factual account of bee life that is also and equally a poetic and philosophical reflection on its implications for our understanding of the ‘mysteries of life, the limitation of knowledge and the inconsistencies inherent in the human condition’ (Ramirez). It is, in short, a dense and complex work that transcends the treatise or scientific monograph to reassert the continuities – as well as the discontinuities – between human and non-human lives.


Dr Adrian Tait is an eco-critic and member of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE-UKI). Having completed his doctoral thesis – entitled An Ecocritical Approach to the Poetry of Thomas Hardy – in 2011, he has published related articles in The Hardy Society Journal (2012), The Thomas Hardy Journal (2013), and ASLE-UKI’s own journal, Green Letters (2010, 2013, & forthcoming). He has delivered several recent conference papers on Hardy and also Charles Dickens, and on a series of 19th century artists, amongst them R. S. Chattock and Edwin Butler Bayliss. He continues to develop a broader understanding of what might more be described as the Victorian ‘vision of the environment.’


“Ephemeral & happy”: Thomas Hardy and the crowded world of insects

Emanuela Ettorre
The University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy.


In his fictional topography of Wessex, Thomas Hardy constantly suggests a special empathy between humans and non-human animals, thus creating a microcosm within which the landscape and all its creatures can establish a reciprocal and vital relationship. From this perspective, Hardy’s poetic and narrative works provide an example of how, in Darwinian terms, “all living things have much in common, in their chemical composition, […] their cellular structure, and their laws of growth and reproduction”. Hardy’s inhabitants of Wessex are therefore invariably confronted with a multitude of animals, birds and even insects with which they share space, time and destiny. The aim of this paper is to explore how, in Hardy’s writing, insects become paradigmatic of his reflections on the precariousness of human existence, and on the misery life inflicts upon men who are often depicted as amazed spectators of these small creatures and their unimaginable gaiety. Hence, Hardy writes of “the evening dance of the May-fly” that “seldom lives more than a few hours”, and of the tumbling of aquatic insects in Desperate Remedies, “hundreds of thousands of minute living creatures […] perfectly happy, though consisting only of a head, or a tail […] and all doomed to die within the twenty-four hours”. Most significantly, Hardy’s insects seem to provide an alternative discourse on the possibility of interpreting nature and its mysteries, and in so doing they destabilize the dominant viewpoint from which reality can be perceived and represented. Not simply do gnats, bees, flies, ephemerons, longlegs and moths stand as metaphors of the “infinitesimal lives” of Hardy’s characters and their helplessness in front of fate, but, through their marginal perspective, they are also and paradoxically able to interpret reality and its codes. As the poetic voice of “An August Midnight” reveals: “They know Earth-secrets that know not I”.


Emanuela Ettorre teaches English Literature at the University of Chieti-Pescara (Italy). She has published essays on George Gissing, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, Mary Kingsley, Charles Darwin and on the relationship between science and literature. She has published a book on the novels of Thomas Hardy; she is co-editor of various volumes and is currently editing a collection of essays on Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.


The Hum of Being and the Murmur of Time: the bee in Wordsworth’s ‘Vernal Ode’

James Castell
The University of Cardfiff, United Kingdom.


Wordsworth’s ‘Vernal Ode’—originally titled ‘Ode.—1817’—describes a visitation from an angelic ‘Stranger’ who, in contrast to his ‘native habitation, praises the succession of loss and renewal in the earthly realm. For the Stranger, the ‘nether air’ where everything ‘Grows but to perish, and entrust / Its ruins to their kindred dust’ is, at least partly, preferable to angelic ‘mansions’ that are ‘unsusceptible of change’. The speaker of the poem, however, remains unconvinced and feels an acute sense of postlapsarian loss. In the second half of the ode, a different—if juxtaposed—strange messenger with golden wings provides some consolation. The bee’s ‘slender sound’ preserves something amidst the loss and ‘tells / Of treasure sucked from buds and bells’ for ‘pure keeping’. The bee is not just ontogically other to the human speaker but also embodies history, where ‘hoary Time / Doth, to the Soul exalt’ the bee’s murmur ‘with the chime /Of all his years: ‘a company / Of ages coming, ages gone’, of fallen nations and empires, of human and nonhuman time. Alongside a consideration of recent developments in continental philosophy on the nonhuman, this paper will pay close attention to this neglected poem’s central animal. It will do so in order to argue for the importance of thinking poetically about insects and to specify why Wordsworth finds this particular insect so good to think with (to use Levi-Strauss’s formulation) about being and time (to use Heidegger’s).


In September 2014, James Castell started as a Lecturer in English Literature at Cardiff University, where he teaches courses on Romantic and twentieth-century poetry and poetics. Prior to this, he was Career Development Fellow at Hertford College, University of Oxford, where he produced articles for The Oxford Handbook to William Wordsworth and the Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature. He is currently completing a monograph entitled Wordsworth and Animal Life, which is based on a PhD thesis completed at St John’s College, University of Cambridge in 2012.


 ‘Tell me about the worms!’ Vermicular Beckett

Rachel Murray
The University of Bristol, United Kingdom.


In 1951, shortly after completing The Unnameable, which features a disembodied entity called Worm, Samuel Beckett became fascinated with the earthworms in his garden. He wrote to his friend Georges Duthuit: ‘Never seen so many butterflies in such a worm-state, this little central cylinder, the only flesh, is the worm.’ I am interested in the ‘worm-state’ in Beckett’s later prose, particularly in How It Is, Texts for Nothing, and From an Abandoned Work. George Bataille lists a squashed worm as an example of formlessness. I want to examine how Beckett’s admittedly ‘non-scientific’ observations of the anatomy and the behaviour of earthworms inspired his later formal innovation. It is difficult to categorise worms; they are not insects nor are they single-celled organisms, and it would be a stretch to describe them simply as ‘animals’. Yet the otherness of these marginal life forms has a particular purchase on the imagination of a writer who was preoccupied throughout his career with peripheral identities, states of ‘becoming’ and human ‘creatures’ at the edge of existence. With reference to the ideas of Charles Darwin and Henri Bergson, I will argue that for Beckett the worm comes to represent both an object of thought and a process of thinking, and most importantly the evolution of his thought processes as a writer away from the intellect and towards the instinct.


Rachel Murray is an AHRC funded PhD candidate at the University of Bristol. She holds degrees from the University of Cambridge (BA) and the University of Sussex (MA), and has published articles on Henry Green and D.H. Lawrence. She is also a contributor to the forthcoming Bloomsbury Companion to Modernist Literature (2015). Her thesis examines insects in a number of modernist texts.


“Periculum entomologicum” – Producing knowledge on insects in Germany and Scandinavia, ca. 1760-1810.

Dominik Huenniger
University of Goettingen, Germany.


The second half of the 18th century witnessed a growing academic interest in insects and these decades are an important era for the development of entomology as an academic subject. Of course, the roots of this development were clearly laid out during the “scientific revolution”, the renaissance, and also already in classical antiquity. However, the context of European exploration, expansion and colonialism as well as the parallel advancement of Linnaean systematics in botany and zoology caused paradigmatic changes in the pan- European perception, systematization and classification of insects.
In their attempt to make sense of the exponentially increasing number of “creepy-crawlies” in their or other’s cabinets and collections, European Naturalists, amateur collectors, noble enthusiasts and draughtsmen developed new systems of classification and communicated about their “objects” in letters, articles, monographs and multi-volume series. In my presentation I would like to analyse this process by looking at the publications and communication of German and Scandinavian entomologists and their attempts to develop a new field of research. Additionally, their practices of getting hold of non-European as well as local specimen in Europe and the wider world will be highlighted.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to the nature of textual and visual depiction in these publications and communications and examine their ambivalent relationship in the process of making entomological knowledge around 1800.


Dominik Huenniger is a cultural historian with special interest in 18th century environmental, medical and natural history, as well as the history of universities and scholarship. Dominik obtained his PhD from the University of Goettingen with a thesis on the cultural history of epizootics in Mid-18th century Northern Europe. Currently he is working on a post-doctoral project concerned with the interconnections between economics, natural history and (colonial) exploration at the end of the 18th century, using the example of the Danish entomologist Johann Christian Fabricius (1745-1808). As the managing director of the Lichtenberg-Kolleg – the Goettingen Institute of Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, he is also interested in current developments in multidisciplinary research and the future of the humanities.


Thinking Animals: Insect Metamorphosis in the Work of Merian (1647-1717)

André Krebber
University of Kassel, Germany.


Francesco Redi (1626-1697) is known for having verified at first, through a series of experiments published in 1668, that insects develop from eggs, rather than spontaneous generation. When Merian thus turned to the subject of metamorphosis around the same time, the idea of spontaneous generation was still prevailing in common belief. She accordingly faced the challenge to represent convincingly that the very different developmental forms the animals take belong to one species and to explicate compellingly that the genesis of butterflies is indeed a process, rather than a sudden, immediate event. Grouping the different stages in the life-cycle of one insect-species on its food plant, and further emphasising both the relationship and the temporality (or perishability of the single forms) through various compositional means, her illustrations reveal the processual character and complex dynamic of this development strikingly. Due to this focus on biological communities, her oeuvre is often referred to as an ‘ecological’ alternative to the epistemological paradigm of Modern science. In my talk, I will challenge such readings of Merian’s work as inadequate and instead show how through her particular involvement with the process of insect metamorphosis, Merian indeed developed an artistically mediated approach to nature-research that proves capable of inscribing the particularity and individuality of her empirical specimens into her knowledge. Exemplifying the value Merian’s works had for the growing field of entomology through sampling a few references to her work from 19th century entomological literature and reconstructing how Merian aesthetically inscribes the process of metamorphosis into her images, I recover her work as an alternative to Modern science that moves beyond standardising perspectives of systematization and presents nature in its diversity and liveliness.


André Krebber is research associate in history and human-animal studies at the University of Kassel and the LOEWE project “Animals – Humans – Society”. In his research he is concerned with epistemological questions of the human-animal relationship, both in respect to the epistemological object and subject as well as in regards to the societal significance of this relationship in social-ecological contexts. His wider research interests concern the history and philosophy of science and ideas, especially of the European Enlightenment, social theory, especially of the 20th century, ecocriticism and critical theory. André is an international associate of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies and member of the Association for the Study of Literature, Environment and Culture – Australia and New Zealand.


Insects as Political Criticisms

Andrés Jurado Uribe
Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Columbia.


The documentary called “Colombia’s silent war against yellow fever” presents the image of the mosquito as a dangerous and ferocious threat to Colombia’s inhabitants, but the potencial power of that film lays in the fiction that inhabits it. What it shows is a little bit more spooky, if we look carefully it imagines a world dominated by the power of the United States military forces. Decades before, Alfredo Greñas created a highly politicized newspaper called “El Zancudo” (the mosquito) where he criticizes the Colombian government as if he could foresee the way in which that particular insect would be used by governmental discourses from the nineteenth century onwards. This paper presents notations and connections between materials that show the universe of fear and horror in which insects were used to create a space of conflict and domination, evident as much in the ideas and perspectives of the entomologists that were closely involved in the creation of health policies against mosquitoes worldwide, as in Gordon Patterson’s “The Mosquito Crusades”, the “Silent war” documentary and interestingly in Colombia’s anti terrorism war. I pose the question about the role of the insect in that particular imaginarium of horror. Through some images and archives this paper brings some clues and arguments on how that mosquito fiction was created and how it became naturalized in Colombia’s conflict’s political frame. Moreover, this fictionalization operation seems to be very useful now that, for instance, the Leishmaniasis is considered the disease of the guerrilla army, bringing again a special relationship between insect, disease and war.


Andrés Jurado Uribe is a visual artist, curator, and currently teaches at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana of Colombia. He holds a Masters in Visual Arts from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México where he received honorific mention for his thesis the question of the animal in contemporary art. His work has been shown in Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Europe in exhibitions and festivals such as EMAF, European Media Arts Film Festival in Germany in 2011. He is currently working on a variety of experimental projects related to the figure of The Animal within contemporary and media arts. He participated in the JWTC Johannesburg Workshop in Theory and Criticism Futures of Nature Workshop, 2012 and in the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics Convergence 2012, 2013 and 2014 as co-convener in the Politics of Fiction Workgroup at Duke University. Recipient of the grant “Becas de circulación nacional e internacional para artistas y agentes de las artes visuales – III Ciclo”, for the project “Haemagogia”, awarded by the Minister of Culture of Colombia, 2012. His studies include undergraduate work at the Universidad de Caldas in Manizales, Colombia and a specialization in Art and New Technologies at Colombia’s School of Film and TV at The Universidad Nacional. He has given lectures and taught workshops at various Universities as well as other cultural and educational institutions. In the past he has worked as a professor at the Academia Superior de Artes de Bogotá of the Universidad Distrital, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano. He has participated in experimental film projects as an art director and cinematographer. As an artist his works have been presented in festivals such as EMAF European Media Arts Film Festival, Experimenta Colombia, Artronica, Asimtría (Peru), Internacional Festival Cervantes (Mexico), Hexadic 6×6 (Greece). Magmart (Italy), Cologne Off, YIVF (Indonesia), among others. He has worked in various curatorial and museum projects in the National Museum of Colombia and other cultural institutions.



  1. […] The conference programme and abstracts can be found on our website – https://reimaginingtheinsect.wordpress.com/programme-and-abstracts/ […]


  2. […] The conference programme and abstracts can be found on our website – https://reimaginingtheinsect.wordpress.com/programme-and-abstracts/ […]


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