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The short-horned grasshopper

The short-horned grasshopper

Entomology is the study of insects. Among the best examples of British entomological illustration from the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries are the 770 hand-coloured copper plates of insects in botanical settings, such as this short-horned grasshopper, in British entomology: being illustrations and descriptions of the genera of insects found in Great Britain and Ireland by John Curtis (London: Lovell Reeve & Co., 1862).

Entomology developed quickly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and John Curtis was described, in his obituary in the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society, as “one of the most accomplished delineators of insects, and one of the closest observers of the phenomena of insect life”. British entomology was originally issued in monthly parts, over a period of 16 years (1824-1839). Curtis hand-coloured the proofs and supervised people that coloured the plates. In 1862 the publisher, Lovell Reeve, released a partial reprint that contained hand-coloured lithographic copies of the plates. 

Reference: Ent. Coll. 595.70942 CUR, British Entomology: Being illustrations and descriptions of the genera of insects found in Great Britain and Ireland (1862), Entomology Collection, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Potential research ideas

This image depicting a short-horned grasshopper could prompt research into the relationship between science and art. For example, you could investigate how developments in illustrative techniques contributed to the body of entomological knowledge and understanding. You might think about the impact that print and illustration had on the dissemination of scientific information. Or, conversely, you might explore whether scientific advancement, such as the field of microscopy, influenced book illustration. In the Nineteenth Century, insects became fashionable in the creative arts: from fashion to art to literature and especially the anthropomorphic characters in children’s books. You could, then, explore the many ways in which biomimicry infused Victorian culture. How did this fascination with insects manifest itself? Was it playful, focused on ideas of beauty, or did it reflect fears and distorted views of science and modernity? Thinking about children’s engagement with the natural world, you might want to find out how popular authors presented insects in their work. In the Nineteenth Century, children joined natural history or nature societies. What messages were communicated to children about the natural world?

Selected background reading

  • Smith, J., 2006. Charles Darwin and Victorian visual culture. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. – Book illustration, natural history illustration and the influence of Charles Darwin in the Nineteenth Century.
  • Breidbach, O., 2006. Visions of nature: the art and science of Ernst Haeckel. Munich; London: Prestel. – Aesthetics, natural history illustration and the influence of Ernst Haeckel.
  • Buchanan, H., c.1979. Nature into art: a treasury of great natural history books. New York: Mayflower Books. – The history of zoological and botanical illustration.
  • Weiss, H.B. 1939. “An Early Entomological Book for Children.” Journal of the New York Entomological Society, vol. 47, no. 4. [Online] Available at: jstor.org/stable/25004827. (Accessed 11/07/2020). – Entomology and children’s literature.
  • Dixon, D., 2001. “Children's Magazines and Science in the Nineteenth Century.” Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 34, no. 3. [Online] Available at: jstor.org/stable/20083807. (Accessed: 11/07/2020). – Children’s magazines as vehicles for popularising science and science eduction.

What can I find here in Special Collections?

What can I find elsewhere?

Interested in natural history illustration or children’s books?

Curtis’ British entomology is held in a dedicated Entomology Collection. Please don’t be put off by the foreign language materials it contains because some of those books offer intricate and vivid hand-coloured illustrations. Often, such illustrations can inspire new works of art and creative writing. To see how the insect world has inspired artists and writers, take a look at the online version of a student-curated exhibition, The Beauty of Insects: Seeing Art in the Entomological World.  

The Bradshaw-Bewick Collection contains work by and relating to the engraver Thomas Bewick (1753-1828). Bewick had a particular fascination with the natural world and this is reflected in the engravings, head- and tail-pieces and vignettes that appear in both his non-fiction and children’s literature books.

We have a significant number of children’s book collections and you should take the time to find out from the Special Collections web pages which other collections we have, if this is something that interests you. The most prominent are:

The Alderson (Brian) Collection has been built-up by the author, reviewer and translator of children’s books, Brian Alderson (b.1930). The 20,000 books in his collection date from the Seventeenth Century to the present day.

The Booktrust Collection continues to grow as publishers contribute children’s books to the collection which now comprises upwards of 70,000 books. These include new works, reprints and books in translation.

The Butler (Joan) Collection includes children’s books and pamphlets from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Among them are books illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.