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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0060 DF ENT
Held at: Natural History Museum
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Date(s): 1866-1990
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 21 series
Name of creator(s): Department of Entomology | Natural History Museum
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Department of Entomology was set up on 1st April 1913. Before that date insects had been studied alongside the other arthropods within the Zoology Department. In 1895 Zoology was divided into three sections, with Arthur Gardiner Butler (1844-1925) becoming Assistant Keeper responsible for the insects. Formation of a separate department of entomology was recommended in 1906, but not implemented for seven years. In 1913 the staff consisted of the Keeper, Charles Joseph Gahan (1862-1939), nine Assistants, and ten Attendants. Most of the work of the Department was in classical taxonomy and curation, although some research on tropical diseases and other economic and applied topics was initiated. Staff numbers were increased in 1930 only to be cut back during the economic crisis of 1931. However, by 1937 there were 17 scientists distributed among seven sections, backed up by 20 technical staff and 22 specialists, who regularly worked in the Department as unofficial researchers. Economic research was restricted to 'domestic' areas during the 1930s, to avoid overlapping with other research institutes, and the economic collection was disbanded in 1933. By 1965 staff numbered 68, who between them were responsible for a collection of more than 15 million specimens, a fine library, a large exhibition gallery, an extensive taxonomic research programme and an information service.

Since 1909 the Department has worked closely with the Bureau of Entomological Research (later the Imperial, and finally the Commonwealth Institute of Entomology), which was set up by the Colonial Office under Sir Guy Marshall, and housed in the Museum. In 1953 the Colonial Office set up The Termite Research Unit under W V Harris, which is housed in the Museum under a similar arrangement.

From 1882 the insect collections were housed in four, and later ten, rooms in the southwest basement of the Museum. The Department moved into an extension of the New Spirit Building in 1930, pending construction of a new Entomology Block. This building, which was under construction from 1934 to 1952, was shared with the Bird Section of Zoology Department until 1972. There was an outpost of the Department at Tring from 1937, when Lord Rothschild bequeathed his huge insect collection to the Museum, until 1972, when the transfer of the Bird Section finally made space for it to move to London.

In 2005, in preparation for the construction of a new building to be opened in 2008, the Entomology staff and collections were dispersed through the South Kensington site (into the former British Natural History gallery, Origin of Species exhibition and the Spencer Gallery) and the Wandsworth outstore. The Entomology block was demolished 2005-2006.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of the Department of Entomology comprising: DF300 Keeper of Entomology's correspondence; DF301 Registers of Entomology departmental correspondence; DF302 Keeper of Entomology's out-letters; DF303 Entomology reports to Trustees; DF304 Sectional correspondence; DF305 Keeper of Entomology's expedition files; DF306 Keeper of Entomology's subject files; DF307 Keeper of Entomology's staff files; DF308 Entomology donation records; DF309 Entomology departmental and sectional visitors books; DF310 Entomology Financial Records; DF311 Artwork for Publication; DF312 Entomology Librarian's Correspondence; DF313 Entomology Specimen Loan Books; DF330 Economic Section correspondence and papers; DF331 Diptera Section correspondence and papers; DF332 Lepidoptera Section correspondence and papers; DF333 Coleoptera Section correspondence and papers; DF334 Hemiptera Section correspondence and papers; DF335 "Neuropteroid" Orders Section correspondence and papers; DF340 Custodian of Rothschild Collection of Siphonaptera Correspondence and Papers.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment with the Archivist, by email to or by post to the Museum Archivist, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD.

Conditions governing reproduction:

At the Archivist's discretion. Photocopying service available. Digital photography (without flash) permitted for research purposes on completion of a photography permit form.

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the Department of Entomology.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Letters and memoranda relating to the insect collections before the formation of the Department are held in the Department of Zoology archive, particularly in DF200 and DF205, and in two volumes of Entomological Memoranda, 1821-1840, held in the Entomology Library.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Entry copied from the Natural History Museum online catalogue by Sarah Drewery.
References: Riley, N D, 1964. The Department of Entomology of the British Museum (Natural History), 1904-1964, a brief historical sketch. The XIIth International Congress of Entomology, London.
Stearn, W T, 1981. The Natural History Museum at South Kensington. Heinemann. Chapter 13.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Sep 2008

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