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'We the tormentors, the destroyers': death, emotions and gender in entomology

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This paper explores a female entomologist’s feelings towards the insects she collected during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Entomology, ostensibly an exact and objective science, was in actuality filled with emotions, such as the aesthetic joy derived from the beauty and diversity of insects, and the excitement and heightened emotions of the hunt. This paper will place a special focus on the gendered aspects of the relationship between death and natural history, and how entomologists felt about killing insects and turning them into specimens, by focusing on the lepidopterist Margaret Fountaine. Fountaine’s entire life revolved around entomology and her collection, but she was also deeply conflicted, and oscillated between the joy of the hunt and the beauty of her captures, and pity and guilt over killing the insects. In her diary she habitually anthropomorphised butterflies and portrayed them as having feelings, while she herself sometimes felt as a murderer for killing them. However, these emotions were repressed in her scientific writing, illustrating one facet of the gendering of emotions among entomologists.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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