English naturalist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) is well-known for his vast collections of botanical, zoological, and mineralogical specimens acquired from all around the globe through trade, correspondence, empire, and slavery. Zooming from the global to the microscopic, Banks attempted to cultivate cochineal in India, eradicate the “Hessian Fly” in North America, studied weevils found at 32, Soho Square or Revesby Abbey, and examined butterflies encountered at Botany Bay. By centering on specific species in a social context, the presentation evaluates Banks’s own interests in and practices of insect collecting at home and abroad. Through text mining approaches as well as collection-based inquiries, the presentation focus on human-insect encounters and argues that Banks’s scientific and colonial activities were connected to early modern oeconomy in which political and social economies of collection infrastructures were as important as attention to the specific ecologies of species. Notions of human economy and the economy of nature played a major role in human-insect relations that informed the practices of insect cultivation as well as their eradication.
Dominik Hünniger is a researcher at the University of Hamburg. His current project is on Life forces, the power of images and the oeconomie of nature scientific entomology around 1800.