Entomological Societies

Alan I. Kaplan

East Bay Regional Park District, Berkeley, California

Entomological societies, as a category of learned societies, grew out of small, localized groups whose members lived less than a day's carriage ride from each other. In an age when specimens could not be entrusted to an irregular (or nonexistent) postal service, visiting the "cabinet" (collection) of a fellow member to see an actual specimen was necessary. Today, international societies have hundreds to thousands of members; activities range from having only a journal subscription in common to annual meetings with thousands of participants. From a largely amateur base in the 19th century, entomological societies have grown increasingly professionalized, a pattern similar to the societies covering ornithology and botany, which also had their beginnings as organized sciences with broad, nonprofessional participation.

In response to increased professionalization of entomology in the 20th century, a large number of regional and international specialized societies have arisen, to serve both pro fessional and amateur entomologists having particular systematic or disciplinary interests. From a time when all entomologists were amateurs (mid-19th century), through a period of increased professionalization resulting in marginal-ization of amateurs (early to late 20th century), amateur entomologists continue their contributions to the field today.

Herbert Osborn, in his Brief History of Entomology published in 1952, wrote, "the origin of entomological societies is to me still a mystery." We now know why: the first entomological society in the world was founded in London, sometime between 1720 and 1742. The exact date is uncertain because the collection, books, and regalia (and presumably the minutes) of this group, the (first) Aurelian Society, were destroyed in the Great Cornhill Fire of March 25, 1748. Its meeting place, Swan Tavern on Exchange Street, was burnt to the ground; the members, then in session, barely escaped with their lives.

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