An inordinate disdain for beetles: imagining the insect in colonial Aotearoa (2020)
AuthorsDuval, Lillianshow all
This thesis examines cultural representations of insects over the last two centuries of European settlement in Aotearoa, with a view to better understanding the contemporary human-insect relationship. The study spans both centuries and disciplines and takes a broad historical view in order to better comprehend the minute details of insect lives and deaths. The role of insects in culture is not a well-studied topic in Aotearoa and the primary texts examined in this thesis are necessarily diverse: they include natural history field guides and illustrations from the nineteenth century, modern museum displays, as well as contemporary print, radio, and news media. Beginning with an exploration of the language used to describe them, I present the idea that insects, despite the vital role they play in almost all earthly systems, are persistently disliked, feared and dismissed by large sections of the population, and I argue that common tropes in visual and textual representations of insects perpetuate and reinforce these negative perceptions. Insects make up a high percentage of the animals on threatened species lists in Aotearoa and yet they continue to be forgotten in wider conversations about conservation and the current biodiversity crisis. By interrogating the cultural representations of insects in colonial Aotearoa, I argue that the lesser status of insects has had serious consequences for their ongoing survival.