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While honey bees are central to agriculture and food systems in the Middle East, Horn centers on how Europeans adopted the honey bee symbol from Roman and Greek writers, and used the image as a classical symbol to validate stability, responsibility, and industry. As British society threatened to collapse under intense poverty during the seventeenth century, bee symbolism became useful as a tool to fight poverty, suggesting that the natural order of the hive might be a good model for humanity.

Male drones have only one job, mating with the queen, and at summer's end the worker bees cast them out of the hive to save the expense of feeding them through winter. It was the identification of the "drones," the nonfunctional and expendable members of the hive, which provided a simple biological reason for poverty: poor people were simply drones, too lazy to improve their own condition. The drone analogy proved useful for generations as a label for the poor and unemployed, rooted as it was in natural law.

Horn shows how bees symbolized New World colonialism and westward expansion by hiving off into new colonies, then swarming to new territory. Just as colonial expansion was fraught with conflicting ideals, bees represented a continuing dichotomy between thrift and industry versus opportunism. Bees and woven straw skeps to house them were taken to the frontier by settlers intent on establishing a complex ordered society, while at the same time escaped bees raced ahead, establishing themselves in the forests, creating opportunity for "honey hunters," frontiersmen who lived off the land, gathering wild honey by hacking down bee trees, then shipping it to market in barrels.

But, he also went along on hunts for wild honey, claiming bee trees in the wilderness as new-found plunder. Native Americans readily adopted bee trees and honey as elements added to a barter economy. They adopted the "white man's fly," recognizing that once bees arrived, colonists would not be far behind. Establishing the New World as a land of milk and honey meant importing cattle and honey bees, which Horn links to both European immigration and African slaves, who also came from an intense bee- and cattle-raising culture.

BEES IN AMERICA: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation

Frontier honey-hunting was akin to free-range cattle grazing, where bee hunters lived off the land on the margins of civilization. Just as cattle flooded onto the Plains and southern forests, grazing on "free" rangeland, honey-hunters--frontiersmen living on the edge of civilization--hunted for bee trees in ways similar to wild game. Felling bee trees and plundering hives was widespread and not without critics who feared the voracious hunters would endanger both the forests and the natural bee population. But, beekeeping and honey-hunting laws, like livestock-grazing laws, both common in Europe, were nonexistent in nineteenth-century America.

It was indeed a land of milk and honey for those who pushed the environment to its limit. The American Revolution itself was couched in popular bee metaphors, such as the British as lazy drones living off the work of the industrious colonists. In forging a new independent identity, the Continental Congress adopted the bee skep with 13 rings on its currency, an image that united financial stability with national authority.

To thwart British counterfeits, Continental currency also bore a red beeswax seal. Bees' place in history has been overlooked, but they provide an excellent example of the contradictory values inherent in American society.

BIGGEST mistakes AMERICAN beekeepers make! a MUST WATCH

Those values and issues changed over time, from the contradiction between individualism and independence versus society and community in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the contrast between scientific progress and agricultural efficiency versus environmental sustainability. Horn examines the range of contradictory values symbolized by bees' natural state, which parallels American social frameworks for poverty, labor, and religion.


The Mormons established their state of Deseret in Utah by embracing the beehive symbol to represent their goal of an industrious, communal, isolationist society. It has endured, serving today as a symbol on Utah Department of Highways road signs. The Catholic Church, too, was dependent upon bees for the pure beeswax candles essential as symbols of purity and naturalism.

CLM includes long-form articles, events listings, publication reviews, new product information and updates, reports of conferences and letters. Exceptional customer service Get specialist help and advice. Queen Bee, "busy as a bee," and "the land of milk and honey" are expressions that permeate the language within American culture. Music, movies, art, advertising, poetry, children's books, and literature all incorporate the dynamic image of the tiny, industrious honey bee into our popular culture.

Honey bees - and the values associated with them - have quietly influenced American values for four centuries. Bees and beekeepers have represented order and stability in a country without a national religion, political party, language, or family structure. 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 brought bees to the New World, to the present, when bees are being trained by the American military to detect bombs.

Horn shows how the honey bee was one of the first symbols of colonization and how bees' societal structures shaped our ideals about work, family, community, and leisure.

Bees in America : how the honey bee shaped a nation

In turn, the Puritan work ethic was modeled after the beehive, and this model continues to influence American definitions of success. Still a powerful symbol today, the honey bee is both a source of income and a metaphor for America's place at the center of global advances in information and technology. Newsletter Google 4. Help pages. Prothero Michael J.

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Click to have a closer look. Select version. About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles. Images Additional images. About this book Queen Bee, "busy as a bee," and "the land of milk and honey" are expressions that permeate the language within American culture.

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