Between 1568 and 1593 only two full treatises on Bees were published in England. Not only were these treatises the first printed books to offer advice on beekeeping, but they did so in the English language. These books were therefore, not directed toward a learned audience, but to husbandmen. The hope, it would seem, was that these books would be useful in improving technique and aiding beekeepers in their activities, across the country.
Taken together these two treatises help to reveal attitudes to and understanding of bees before the critical revolution of scientific investigation unleashed a new deeper understanding of bee biology and behaviour less than a century later.
It is these two texts by Thomas Hill (1568) and Edmund Southerne (1593), which form the focus for the Early Modern Bees Project. Thomas Hill relied solely on classical sources, whilst Edmund Southerne relied entirely on his own expertise and knowledge. The two books therefore offer the historian a contrast between knowledge and experience.
In addition I will look at actual beekeeping activity in England and ask what kind of knowledge people had about bees in this period. As an extension to the investigation into beekeeping manuals I will also look at other printed texts that feature bees or their products (such as honey and wax) in some form or another. I hope to also extend the research to look at the third published beekeeping manual – by Charles Butler (1609) – which combined both experience and learned knowledge and is, often, declared as the first publication on beekeeping that folds into the investigative processes of the enlightenment.
The Early Modern Bees Project is a personal research project, currently unfunded. Through it I seek to understand the reasons why these publications were written and printed, how the author gathered their information, and in general, to assess the knowledge and experience of bees and beekeeping that existed in the period. I am especially interested to examine how Bees fitted into the ordinary lives of husbandmen and how beekeeping methodology was changing in the period leading up to scientific development. Both treatises will be critically analysed, chapter by chapter, with sources identified and facts placed into their historical context. In addition, other texts published and non-published during the fifteenth and sixteenth-centuries will be examined wherever they include information on bees and beekeeping, to help place Hill and Southerne into a wider scholarly context.