13 March
Max Long (History, University of Cambridge)
‘Photography versus the pest’: Shell chemicals, mass media and pesticides in post-war Britain

This paper explores the intersections between industrial agriculture, mass media, and extraction by examining colour photographs and films produced by the oil and chemicals corporation Royal Dutch Shell in post-Second World War Britain. In the 1940s, new potent organochloride pesticides entered the agricultural market, promising to revolutionise productivity. Many of these were made from byproducts of oil refining, and were manufactured by oil companies like Shell. To market these new products, Shell spared no expense in the production of glossy photographs and vivid films intended to help farmers to ‘visualise’ the pests that threatened their crops. These images often drew on the expertise of natural history photographers and filmmakers, who had finessed techniques of visualising insects and other pests over the preceding decades. This paper offers a detailed examination of Shell’s marketing in the 1950s and early 1960s and its use of scientific images.

This research seminar is concerned with all aspects of the history of natural history and the field and environmental sciences. The regular programme of papers and discussions takes place over lunch on Mondays. In addition, the Cabinet organises a beginning-of-year fungus hunt and occasional expeditions to sites of historical and natural historical interest, and holds an end-of-year garden party.

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Seminars are held on Mondays at 1pm in Seminar Room 1 in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science in Free School Lane, Cambridge, and online over Zoom. The sessions on 30 January and 6, 13, 20, and 27 February will be online only.

It is no longer necessary to book in person attendance, but please follow the Department’s general guidance for the safety of all participants. To join online, no booking will be required. Zoom links will be circulated beforehand.

Organised by Silvia M. Marchiori (smm218).