Foragers of a Modern Countryside

Foragers of a Modern Countryside: Honey Bees, Environmental Change, and Beekeeper Advocacy in the Great Lakes Region

Under contract with University of Washington Press’ Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books Series. Tentative publication date: Fall 2024

Spraying fruit trees with horse-powered pump near Chester, Pennsylvania, c.1905. Source: Photographic Negative Files, Records of the Department of Agriculture, RG 1-7, Box 16, #4941, Pennsylvania State Archives.

In the spring of 2007, thirty billion honeybees—one quarter of the population in the northern hemisphere—vanished from hives in North America and Europe. Dubbed “colony collapse disorder” (CCD) by puzzled scientists, the losses have since been blamed on a host of factors, including parasites and viral infections, malnutrition, and most significantly, insecticide poisoning. The latest and most devastating in a series of threats that have faced honeybees in recent decades, CCD threatens the future of the way we eat, and of agriculture as we know it. Roughly thirty per cent of the food crops we consume depend upon honeybees for pollination, including apples, pears, peaches, berries, melons, and almonds. These changes, I argue, are a symptom of profound changes in beekeeping practice over the twentieth-century, changes that are themselves a product of changing agricultural landscapes and practices.

Foragers of a Modern Countryside explores the history of beekeeping and environmental change in the Great Lakes Region—the continental heartland of beekeeping practice, communication, and scientific advancement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beekeepers’ relationships with their bees, and with their human neighbors, come into focus as I follow their responses to concerns about loss of bee forage, insecticide poisoning, and disease and parasite dissemination during a period of profound transition in agricultural landscapes. Beekeepers emerge in this study as an important and largely overlooked collective voice in the history of agricultural modernization and environmental change, contributing as they did to legislation, education, and advocacy efforts on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. Their actions in response to cogent threats to their livelihoods mark them as early advocates for environmental protection and sentinels for a kind of food production that involves collaboration with, rather than dominance over, natural entities and processes.


“Early Insecticide Controversies and Beekeeper Advocacy in the Great Lakes Region,” Environmental History 26, no. 1 (January 2021): 79-101. (LINK) Please contact me if you are unable to access this article.

“Insecticides, Honey Bee Losses, and Beekeeper Advocacy in Nineteenth-Century Ontario,” Ontario History 112, no.2 (Fall 2020): 139-156. Special Issue: Ontario’s Environmental History. (LINK) Please contact me if you are unable to access this article.

Interviews and Podcasts:

“Early Insecticide Controversies and Beekeeper Advocacy in the Great Lakes Region.” Produced by Faculti. September 5, 2023. Interview. (LINK)

“What’s the Buzz with ATTTA Beekeeping Podcast: Episode 4.” With Andrew Byers. Produced by Perennia. May 7, 2021. Podcast. (LINK)


“Early Insecticide Controversies and Beekeeper Advocacy in the Great Lakes Region.October 1, 2021. For York University’s Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Speaker Series. See the recording on Youtube here. (LINK)

Related blog posts:

“From the Archives to the Bee Yard.” The Otter. 25 June 2012. (LINK)

“Thinking with Bees.” The Otter. 13 February 2012. (LINK)

“Bees are Harbingers of Environmental Change.” Op-ed, The Hamilton Spectator, 3 July 2015. (LINK)