Bees, Ants, and Beavers


There will be hive news coming soon, but for now it falls to me to report on our first KCAS lecture.  To kick off the series, we had Dr. Chris Brooke, former fellow of King’s (and future fellow of Homerton), talking about “Bees, Ants and Beavers in European Political Thought.”   

At an extremely well-attended even, Chris discussed how non-human social animals have been used by thinkers from the 16th to 19th centuries as a means to thinking about human society.  Bees, ants, beavers, like humans, all build structures, live communally, and have organized societies.  Can humans then learn from these creatures?  Or, despite our similarities, do we differ from them in some fundamental way?

Dr. Brooke explained how bees were the favourite go-to animal for comparison with humans from Ancient Greece until the Seventeenth Century.  But as people gained more scientific knowledge about bees, they suddenly seemed a less comfortable comparison to humans–not least because, it turned out, the “king bee” turned out to be a queen!

Dr. Brooke then showed how beavers nicely filled the void left by the now-problematic bees:  as fellow mammals, beavers could be compared to humans with less awkwardness.

The talk was extremely well-received.  Discussion afterwards was enthusiastic, stimulating and friendly, enjoyed by both speaker and audience.

One highlight of the talk for me was a French writer’s speculation on bees the size of elephants–such creatures, with their capacity for organization, would surely knock humans from their perch as the dominant species

It was a rousing beginning to our series of talks, which continues on the 16th of June with Brian Eversham’s talk on “Bumblebees and Other Bees.”

Dr. Brooke has very graciously allowed a recording of the talk to be put up here;  you can listen to it below.

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