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Charlotte Meijer MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: Digital Humanities, Environmental History, Animal History

Cohort/Start PhD: 2023-2024

Bugging Bugs: human-insect relations in the Netherlands, 1650-1900

Radboud University, Faculteit der Letteren, Departement Geschiedenis, Kunstgeschiedenis en Oudheid, Onderzoeksgroep Politieke Geschiedenis

Supervisors: Prof. dr. Wim van Meurs, dr. Eleá de la Porte

Duration: 4 years (2024-2028)

Insects are a vital part of our world, yet their existence is endangered. For the past two centuries, insects have been viewed and combatted as unwanted and dangerous. These anti-insect attitudes are the result of social, cultural, and political developments, that began in the seventeenth century. During this period, two new narratives about insects emerged. Scientists and artists started to regard insects with awe, appreciating their complexity. Yet, outside this world of intellectuals, people from all social strata began to associate insects with filth and disease. This PhD project examines how and why this narrative of disgust and unease emerged, spread, and became the dominant narrative still prevalent today.

Current research on insects in history tends to focus either on insects as subjects of art and science or on insects as pests. The former paints a picture of increasing appreciation for insects since the Scientific Revolution, while the latter tends to focus on human-insect interactions and the related process of socio-economic modernisation. My research project transcends current historiography by focusing on the many complex ways in which new ideas about insects were formed and disseminated by contemporaries. I build on a wide range of primary sources, including household manuals, gardening manuals, periodicals, newspapers, and popular literature. The Netherlands offer an excellent case study with its high degree of early urbanization – facilitating the spread of insects – and an ideal of cleanliness widely shared amongst all social strata.