Insects are seldom mentioned in discussions surrounding human history, yet they have dramatically impacted today's societies. This book places them front and center, offering a multidisciplinary view of their significance.
Diseases vectored by insects have killed more people than all weapons of war. Fleas are common pests, but some can transmit illnesses such as the bubonic plague. In fact, three pandemics can be traced back to them. Epidemics of typhus can be traced back to lice. Conversely, humans have also benefitted from insects for millennia. Silk comes from silkworms and honey comes from bees. Despite the undeniably powerful effects of insects on humans, their stories are typically left out of our history books.
In The Silken Thread, entomologists Robert. N. Wiedenmann and J. Ray Fisher link the history of insects to the history of empires, cultural exchanges, and warfare. The book narrows its focus to just five insects: a moth, a flea, a louse, a mosquito and a bee. The authors explore the impact of these insects throughout time and the common threads connecting them. Using biology to complement history, the book showcases the vital role these small creatures have played throughout time.
The book begins with silkworms, which have been farmed to produce silk for centuries. It then moves to fleas and their involvement in the spread of the plague before introducing the role lice played in The Black Death, wars, and immigration. The following section concerns yellow fever mosquitos, emphasizing the effects of yellow fever in the Americas and the connection to sugar and slavery. After a section of the book that focuses on the importance of western honey bees, the book closes with a chapter that ties together these five insects. The Silken Thread thoughtfully analyzes the links between history and entomology.
Robert N. Wiedenmann is Professor Emeritus of Entomology at the University of Arkansas. He received a BS in ecology and a PhD in entomology, both from Purdue University. He was inspired to write this book after teaching a course at Arkansas called, "Insects, Science and Society." He is Past-President of the Entomological Society of America.
J. Ray Fisher is a postdoctoral researcher of entomology at the University of Arkansas. He received a BS in Zoology from Auburn University, an MS in entomology from the University of Kentucky, and a PhD in Entomology from the University of Arkansas. He teaches and conducts research on the evolution and diversity of arthropods.