Friday, January 24, 2020


Engraving of a scorpion
If you like old tomes and creepy-crawlies, then do we ever have the book for you. In preparation for an anthropology class on bestiaries, we discovered an edition of Jan Swammerdam's Historia Insectorum Generalis that was printed in 1685. Inside, a cornucopia of detailed engravings of insects are lovingly tipped in. The high quality of the images is almost reminiscent of Vesalius's anatomy of the human body, which makes sense once one learns that Swammerdam initially trained as a physician. In fact, his love of insects derailed his father's plans for him to become a wealthy and prominent doctor. In anger, his father withdrew financial support and Swammerdam was forced to practice medicine in order to make enough money to continue his entomological research.

In 1669, Swammerdam published his Historia, which disproved the prevailing Aristotelian perspective that insects were inferior creatures which lacked any sort of internal anatomy worth mentioning. Additionally, Swammerdam argued that insects came from eggs instead of spontaneous generation, which was a widely-held Christian notion at the time. Swammerdam is today often cited as ushering in a natural theology that took hold in the 1700s, wherein the glory of God was revealed by careful scientific examination of his various creatures. He also was an innovator with regard to scientific techniques for working with scientific specimens, both insect and human.

Engraving of a mosquito

To explore the amazing world of insects contained within the first Latin edition of Swammerdam's work, come to Special Collections and ask to see Rare QL463 .S8.

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