Imperial Entomology: Boris P. Uvarov and Locusts, c.1920-c.1950

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In this article, I explore how the twin forces of imperial and entomological power allowed Britain to shape locust research and control across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia from the 1920s to the early 1950s. Imperial power came from the size of the formal and informal empire, and alliances authority came primarily from the work of Boris Uvarov and his small team of museum and fieldworkers based at the Imperial Bureau of Entomology (IBE), later the Imperial Institute of Entomology (IIE). I begin by discussing how Uvarov’s phase theory of the origin of swarming changed the prospects for the control of locust plagues. The imperial gaze and networks of the IBE and IIE were suited to a problem that was transnational and transcontinental. In the 1930s, Britain was drawn into plans for international cooperation on locust organizations that met the needs of science, to give better sharing of knowledge, and the needs for science, to secure the resources for research and control. However, such organizations were only created during the Second World War, when new plagues threatened military operations, as I show in relation to the measures taken to control the red locust and desert locust. In the final section, I follow the fate of the wartime cooperation in initiatives to establish permanent control organizations. It is a story of the decline of British political power in locust affairs as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and regional agencies took over. My account of British locust research and control reveals a neglected aspect of histories of entomology and imperial/colonial science, especially their international relations and the continuing importance of metropolitan research centres.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Science
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2022


  • Locusts
  • Entomology
  • Boris P. Uvarov
  • Science and imperialism
  • international cooperation in science


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