" Honey bees--and the qualities associated with them--have
quietly influenced American values for four centuries. During every
major period in the country's history, bees and beekeepers have
represented order and stability in a country without a national
religion, political party, or language. Bees in America is an
enlightening cultural history of bees and beekeeping in the United
States. Tammy Horn, herself a beekeeper, offers a varied social and
technological history from the colonial period, when the British
first introduced bees to the New World, to the present, when bees
are being used by the American military to detect bombs. Early
European colonists introduced bees to the New World as part of an
agrarian philosophy borrowed from the Greeks and Romans. Their
legacy was intended to provide sustenance and a livelihood for
immigrants in search of new opportunities, and the honey bee became
a sign of colonization, alerting Native Americans to settlers'
westward advance. Colonists imagined their own endeavors in terms
of bees' hallmark traits of industry and thrift and the image of
the busy and growing hive soon shaped American ideals about work,
family, community, and leisure. The image of the hive continued to
be popular in the eighteenth century, symbolizing a society working
together for the common good and reflecting Enlightenment
principles of order and balance. Less than a half-century later,
Mormons settling Utah (where the bee is the state symbol) adopted
the hive as a metaphor for their protected and close-knit culture
that revolved around industry, harmony, frugality, and cooperation.
In the Great Depression, beehives provided food and bartering goods
for many farm families, and during World War II, the War Food
Administration urged beekeepers to conserve every ounce of beeswax
their bees provided, as more than a million pounds a year were
being used in the manufacture of war products ranging from
waterproofing products to tape. The bee remains a bellwether in
modern America. Like so many other insects and animals, the bee
population was decimated by the growing use of chemical pesticides
in the 1970s. Nevertheless, beekeeping has experienced a revival as
natural products containing honey and beeswax have increased the
visibility and desirability of the honey bee. Still a powerful
representation of success, the industrious honey bee continues to
serve both as a source of income and a metaphor for globalization
as America emerges as a leader in the Information Age.
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