Article ID: CBB810202052

The First Mite: Insect Genealogy in Hooke’s Micrographia (2018)


What happens when you take the idea of the biblical Adam—the first human – and apply it to insects? You create an origin story for Nature’s tiniest creatures, one that gives them ‘a Pedigree as ancient as the first creation’. This the naturalist Robert Hooke argued in his treatise, the Micrographia (1665). In what follows, I will retrace how Hooke endeavoured to show that insects—then widely believed to have arisen out of the dirt – were the products of an ancient lineage. These genealogies, while constructed from empirical observation, were conjectures of the imagination. Section 2 shows how Hooke introduced the concept of a ‘prime parent’ (an Adam-insect) to explain the anatomical similarities between ‘mites’. Section 3 demonstrates how Hooke defined the family of “gnats” as tiny machines built from the same components and relates Hookean genealogies to contemporary ideas about Noah’s Ark. Section 4 shows how Hooke outlined the morphology of ‘insects’ (delineating what we now call arthropods). Section 5 explores how Hooke used fossils to study these animals in the distant past. In sum, Hooke was turning natural history – collecting and describing insects – into natural history: reconstructing their origins.

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Authors & Contributors
Ogilvie, Brian W.
Etheridge, Kay
Michael Ritterson
Lipking, Lawrence
Caniglia, Guido
Wragge-Morley, Alexander
Metascience: An International Review Journal for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science
Archives of Natural History
Tidsskrift for kulturforskning
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
French History
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
University of Wisconsin at Madison
University of Minnesota Press
University of Chicago Press
University of California Press
Reaktion Books
National Gallery of Art
Natural history
Science and art
Visual representation; visual communication
Hooke, Robert
Willughby, Francis
Swammerdam, Jan
Newton, Isaac
Merian, Maria Sibylla
Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo
Time Periods
17th century
18th century
16th century
20th century
19th century
Virginia (U.S.)
London (England)
Royal Society of London

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