Article ID: CBB001213481

“La Guerre aux Insectes”: Pest Control and Agricultural Reform in the French Enlightenment (2013)


This paper examines the entomological investigations carried out by the French naturalist Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau during a series of insect epidemics that ravaged France in the second half of the eighteenth century. It shows how a particularly fierce invasion of caterpillars in the Angoumois region in the 1760s sparked theoretical debates about the nature of animal generation between academic naturalists, farmers, provincial officials and amateur naturalists. As part of a wider effort to reform agricultural production in France, Duhamel du Monceau sought to eliminate vernacular understandings of insect generation and to reform local pest control techniques. In his attempt to develop a body of pest-control knowledge grounded in the systematic observation of insect generation, however, Duhamel du Monceau relied heavily on the efforts of amateur naturalists. The paper shows how he mobilized a nation-wide network of entomological observers, and collected specimens and observational reports from farmers, improving landlords and local officials throughout France. Some informants did not only act as `mere' observers, but formulated their own causal claims about insect generation that sometimes contradicted those of their metropolitan counterpart. Finally, it demonstrates that a `patriotic' discourse that joined agricultural improvement and civic virtue provided a powerful impetus for the formation of collaborative relationships between academic naturalists, state officials and enlightened agricultural improvers.

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Authors & Contributors
Forrest, Alan
Clark, J. F. M.
Crook, Malcolm
Doyle, William
Mason, Haydn
McMillan, James
Agricultural History
British Journal for the History of Science
French History
Bollettino di Storia delle Scienze Matematiche
Eighteenth-Century Studies
American Quarterly
Northern Illinois University Press
University of Delaware Press
College of William and Mary
Franco Angeli
Columbia University
Science and politics
Insect control
Biological pest control
Alembert, Jean le Rond d'
Réaumur, René Antoine Ferchault de
Perrin, Pierre,
Duhamel du Monceau, Henri Louis
Sorbière, Samuel
United States
Great Britain
Arkansas (U.S.)
18th century
20th century, early
19th century
17th century
21st century
Académie Royale des Sciences (France)

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