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The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting

When researching for my article on Varroa for Die Zeit, I relied heavily on The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting by Eva Crane, a nuclear physicist who turned beekeeper, bee researcher and founder of the International Bee Research Association (IBRA).

The book is a fascinating and almost inexhaustible resource, or, as Paul Theroux wrote in 2000:

… the classic that everyone interested in bees, beekeeping or honey in human history has been waiting for. There are many of us, and now we have our encyclopedic work. A whole library of slighter books exists on this and related subjects, but this is the masterwork – for its enormous scope and exhaustiveness, for being a treasure house of apiaristic facts as well as totally up-to-date.

Eva Crane herself was a fascinating person, too. After studying mathematics and quantum mechanics (then a groundbreaking field), she aquired a PhD in nuclear physics in 1937 and

although the concept of women having a career path may not have been recognised in the 1940s, [...] Eva was certainly bound for academic heights when she took up lecturing posts in Hull and Sheffield Universities.
(Richard Jones in the Foreword to The World History… )

It was in 1942 when she aquired her first beehive (apparently as a wedding present), for purely practical reasons: to produce honey in a time of national sugar schortage. But these bees would change the rest of her life.
At the time (when there was no internet, barely a telephone in every household), Crane found it difficult to find information about research to help her improve the effectiveness of her beekeeping, and in the following years “the business of collecting, collating and disseminating information about bees and beekeeping became the dominant force in her life” (R.J.). In 1949 she founded the Bee Research Association, renamed International BRA (or IBRA) in 1976, where, among many other activities, she became the editor of Bee World and other publications. She also was a traveler:

For more than a half-century Dr. Crane worked in more than 60 countries to learn more and more about honeybees, sometimes traveling by dugout canoe or dog sled to document the human use of bees from prehistoric times to the present. She found that ancient Babylonians used honey to preserve corpses, that bees were effectively used as military weapons by the Viet Cong, and that beekeepers in a remote corner of Pakistan use the same kind of hives found in excavations of ancient Greece. (Douglas Martin, New York Times)

 

 

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