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By focusing on the history of white ants in colonial South Asia, this article shows how insects were ubiquitous and fundamental to the shaping of British colonial power. British rule in India was vulnerable to white ants because these insects consumed paper and wood, the key material foundations of the colonial state. The white ant problem also made the colonial state more resilient and intrusive. The sphere of strict governmental intervention was extended to include both animate and inanimate non-humans, while these insects were invoked as symbols to characterize colonized landscapes, peoples, and cultures. Nonetheless, encounters with white ants were not entirely within the control of the colonial state. Despite effective state intervention, white ants did not vanish altogether, and remained objects of everyday control until the final decade of colonial rule and after. Meanwhile, colonized and post-colonial South Asians used white ants to articulate their own distinct political agendas. Over time, white ants featured variously as metaphors for Islamic decadence, British colonial exploitation, communism, democratic socialism, and, more recently, the Indian National Congress. This article argues that co-constitutive encounters between the worlds of insects and politics have been an intrinsic feature of British colonialism and its legacies in South Asia.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Department of History, School of Humanities, Whiteknights Campus, University of Reading, Reading, rg6


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I thank the anonymous readers for the Historical Journal and the editors for their comments. I also thank Shinjini Das, Daniel Renshaw, Charlotte Sleigh, Jonathan Saha, Simon Schaffer, Jim Secord, Erica Wald, Rohit De, Rajarshi Ghose, and Upal Chakrabarti for their helpful suggestions.



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1 Lardner, Dionysius, The bee and white ants, their manners and habits; with illustrations of animal instinct and intelligence (London, 1856), pp. 121 and 119.

2 Lardner, The bee, p. 98; Rennie, James, Insect architecture (London, 1830), p. 291; Farren White, W., Ants and their ways (London, 1883), p. 235.

3 Hagen, H. A., ‘The probable danger from white ants’, American Naturalist, 10 (1876), pp. 401–10, at pp. 401–3; EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’, Times of India (TOI), 19 Mar. 1881, p. 2.

4 Lardner, The bee, pp. 98, 110–11, 117

5 For example, Lloyd, John W., Copy of diary no. vii (St Helens, 1908), pp. 1619; Pickard, John, ‘Post and rail fences: derivation, development and demise of rural technology in colonial Australia’, Agricultural History, 79 (2005), pp. 2749, at pp. 33, 40, 43; Triantafillou, Peter, ‘Governing agricultural progress: a genealogy of the politics of pest control in Malaysia’, Comparative Studies of Society and History, 43 (2001), pp. 193221, at p. 199.

6 Borlase, James Skipp, Stirring tales of colonial adventure: a book for boys (London, 1894), p. 229; Watt, George, A dictionary of the economic products of India, vi, part ii (Calcutta, 1893), p. 125.

7 For an exception, see Coleman, Deirdre, Romantic colonization and British anti-slavery (Cambridge, 2009), pp. 2862. See also Douglas, Starr and Driver, Felix, ‘Imagining the tropical colony: Henry Smeathman and the termites of Sierra Leone’, in Driver, Felix and Martins, Luciana, eds., Tropical visions in an age of empire (Chicago, IL, 2005), pp. 91112. Charlotte Sleigh's work on ants and John Clark's introduction to his work on insects in Victorian culture succinctly indicate colonial metaphorical uses of white ants. See Sleigh, Charlotte, ‘Empire of the ants: H. G. Wells and tropical entomology’, Science as Culture, 10 (2001), pp. 3371, at pp. 33–6; Clark, John F. M., Bugs and the Victorians (New Haven, CT, 2009), pp. 26.

8 For overviews, see, for example, Beattie, James, ‘Recent themes in the environmental history of the British empire’, History Compass, 10 (2012), pp. 129–39; Skabelund, Aaron, ‘Animals and imperialism: recent historiographical trends’, History Compass, 11 (2013), pp. 801–7; Saha, Jonathan, ‘Colonising elephants: animal agency, undead capital and imperial science in British Burma’, British Journal for the History of Science Themes, 2 (2017), pp. 169–89.

9 On the distinctive paradoxical features that characterize the diverse world of insects, see Raffles, Hugh, Insectopedia (New York, NY, 2010), pp. 34.

10 On ephemeral, see Parikka, Jussi, Insect media: an archaeology of animals and technology (Minneapolis, MN, 2010), p. xxxiv.

11 Sheila T. Wille, ‘Governing insects in Britain and the empire, 1691–1816’ (Ph.D. thesis, Chicago, 2014); Triantafillou, ‘Governing agricultural progress’; Clark, Bugs, pp. 187–214; Fletcher, Robert, ‘The locust, the empire, and the museum’, evolve, 31(2017), pp. 4653; Mavhunga, Clapperton Chakanetsa, The mobile workshop: the Tsetse fly and African knowledge production (Minneapolis, MN, 2018); Melillo, Edward D., ‘Global entomologies: insects, empires and the “synthetic age” in world history’, Past and Present, 223 (2014), pp. 233–70.

12 Clark, Bugs, pp. 34–53, 54–79, 97; Sleigh, Charlotte, Six legs better: a cultural history of myrmecology (Baltimore, MD, 2007), pp. 4461; Parikka, Insect media, pp. x–xii, xv–xvi, 3–8, 19–20, 24–30, 32–43, 49–50.

13 Raffles, Hugh, ‘Jews, lice and history’, Public Culture, 13 (2007), pp. 521–66; Brown, Eric C., ed., Insect poetics (Minneapolis, MN, 2006); Sleigh, ‘Empire of the ants’, pp. 33–71.

14 Beisel, Uli, Kelly, Ann, and Tousignant, Noemi, ‘Knowing insects: hosts, vectors and companions of science’, Science as Culture, 22 (2013), pp. 115, at pp. 1, 3, 12, 13.

15 Court of Directors, East India Company, London (COD) to president in council at Fort St George, Madras (CFSG), paragraph (para.) 18, 24 Dec. 1765, IOR/E/4/863, p. 239 (British Library: archives and manuscripts (BL)); governor in CFSG (GCFSG) (Military) to COD, para. 323, 2 Apr. 1817, paraphrased in COD to GCFSG (Military), 8 Apr. 1819, IOR/E/4/922, p. 778 (BL); GCFSG (Military) to COD, para. 57 of letter 25, 2 Aug. 1831, paraphrased in COD to GCFSG (Military), despatch 589 (82 of 1832), 24 Oct. 1832, IOR/E/4/942, p. 121 (BL); Bengal (Military) to COD, paras. 14–15 of letter 70, 27 Apr. 1850, paraphrased in COD to Bengal (Military), despatch 729 (113 of 1850), 23 Oct. 1850, IOR/E/4/806, p. 1136 (BL); India (Revenue) to COD, para. 244, letter 6, 5 July 1855, paraphrased in COD to North Western Provinces, India (Revenue), despatch 1390 (1 of 1857), 7 Jan. 1857, IOR/E/4/841, p. 474 (BL); Bidie, G., ‘White ants’, Nature, 26 (5 Oct. 1882), p. 542; Anonymous, ‘Untitled’, TOI, 9 Feb. 1875, p. 2.

16 For example, Raman, Bhavani, Document Raj: writing and scribes in early colonial South India (Chicago, IL, 2012); Bellenoit, Hayden J., The formation of the colonial state in India: scribes, paper and taxes, 1760–1860 (Abingdon, 2017); Guyot-Rechard, Berenice, ‘Tour diaries and itinerant governance in the eastern Himalayas, 1909–1962’, Historical Journal, 60 (2017), pp. 1023–46.

17 India (Revenue) to COD, paras. 147–66, letter 8, 10 Nov. 1835, paraphrased in COD to India (Revenue), para. 43, despatch 1 of 1838, 20 Mar. 1838, IOR/E/4/754, pp. 264–5 (BL); paraphrased in COD to India (Financial), para. 8, despatch of 1851, 22 Jan. 1851, IOR/E/4/807, pp. 1279–80 (BL); Bombay (Revenue) to COD, letter 62, 13 Nov. 1839, IOR/F/4/1901/80852, p. 1 (BL); Fort St George (FSG) (Judicial) to COD, para. 26, letter 9, 6 Dec. year not mentioned, paraphrased in COD to FSG (Judicial), despatch 308 (8 of 1844), 31 May 1844, IOR/E/4/961, p. 955 (BL).

18 Report on the land revenue administration of the Punjab for the year ending the 30th September, 1940 (Lahore: Superintendent, Government Printing, Punjab, 1941), p. 17, IOR V/24/2484 (BL).

19 COD to Bombay (Public), despatch 8 of 1836, 10 Feb. 1836, IOR/E/4/1059, pp. 963–9 (BL).

20 Cotes, E. C., ‘Miscellaneous notes from the entomological section’, Indian Museum Notes, 3 (1894), pp. 110–41, at p. 115.

21 Anonymous, ‘The India museum and library, and the measure required for their efficient working and proper accommodation’, p. 32, in Memoranda and papers laid before the council of India, 17 Jan. 1874 – 11 Jan. 1875, IOR/C/137 (BL).

22 Anonymous, ‘A hundred years ago: Calcutta in 1760–70’, TOI, 17 Aug. 1874, p. 4.

23 Anonymous, ‘White ants in the Magdala’, TOI, 16 Oct. 1875, p. 2; Anonymous, ‘Interesting experiment at Hog Island’, TOI, 10 Apr. 1879, p. 3; Marine Board to Bentinck, 6 Jan. 1829, IOR/F/4/1308/51968, pp. 5–10 (BL); Bengal (Public) to COD, paras. 31–7 of letter 12, 13 Mar. 1835, paraphrased in COD to Bengal (Public), para. 1 of despatch 12 of 1836, 3 Feb. 1836, IOR/E/4/746, pp. 1085–92 (BL).

24 COD to India (Financial, Railway), para. 23, despatch 14 of 1858, 21 Apr. 1858, IOR/E/4/851, pp. 502–3 (BL).

25 Anonymous, ‘Madras: sleepers for Indian railways’, TOI, 14 Sept. 1859, p. 588.

26 For example, COD to India (Electric Telegraph), despatch 531(no. 10 of 1857), 20 May 1857, IOR/E/4/844, pp. 754–6 (BL).

27 India (Military) to COD, paras. 74–5, letter 7, 26 Mar. 1858, paraphrased in COD to India (Military), despatch 1101(no. 251 of 1858), 30 Aug. 1858, IOR/E/4/854, pp. 1038–9 (BL); IOR/E/4/841, p. 474 (BL); Anonymous, ‘St. Mark's Church’, TOI, 11 Nov. 1926, p. 12; Sutherland to COD, no. 21 of 1835, 27 May 1835, IOR/F/4/1524/60208, pp. 1–4 (BL); Anonymous, ‘Bombay Port Trust’, TOI, 1 Feb. 1887, p. 5.

28 India (Military, Public Works Department (PWD)) to COD, para. 10, letter 3, 22 Feb. 1856, paraphrased in COD to India (Military, PWD), despatch 920(no. 163 of 1856), 8 Oct. 1856, IOR/E/4/839, pp. 405–6 (BL); COD to GCFSG (Military), paras. 2–3, 20 Nov. 1822, IOR/E/4/927, pp. 549–51 (BL).

29 Moxham, Roy, The great hedge of India (Oxford, 2001), pp. 95–7.

30 Watt, A dictionary, p. 125.

31 Stebbing, E. P., ‘Insects pests of the sugarcane in India’, Indian Museum Notes, 5 (1903), pp. 6491, at p. 76.

32 Maxwell-Lefroy, H., Indian insect pests (Calcutta, 1906), p. 147; Cotes, E. C., ‘An account of insects and mites which attack the tea plant in India’, Indian Museum Notes, 3 (1895), pp. 171, at p. 46.

33 Maxwell-Lefroy, Indian insect pests, p. 229; Cotes, ‘An account of insects’, p. 46.

34 Correspondent, ‘London-Day by day’, TOI, 8 Sept. 1938, p. 10.

35 Cunningham, D. D., Plagues and pleasures of life in Bengal (London, 1907), p. 142; Beeson, C. F. C., The ecology and control of forest insects of India and the neighbouring countries (Dehra Dun, 1941), p. 538.

36 EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’, p. 2; Lardner, The bee, pp. 110, 111, 117.

37 EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’, p. 2; Cunningham, Plagues, p. 141; Lardner, The bee, pp. 111, 125.

38 Correspondent, ‘London-Day by day’; Thompson, R., Report on insects destructive to woods and forests (Allahabad, 1868), p. 41.

39 Chapman, William, A treatise containing the results of numerous experiments on the preservation of timber from premature decay (London, 1817), p. 149; Anonymous, ‘Interesting experiment at Hog Island’.

40 Marine Board to Bentinck, 6 Jan. 1829.

41 Beeson, The ecology, p. 934.

42 Shortt to Bidie, letter 714, 30 June 1874, enclosed in despatch 119, 16 Sept. 1875, IOR/L/PJ/3/1116, no. 119 (BL); Bainbrigge Fletcher, T., Some south Indian insects and other animals of importance considered especially from an economic point of view (Madras, 1914), pp. 121–2.

43 Cunningham, Plagues, p. 143.

44 Maxwell-Lefroy, Indian insect pests, p. 229.

45 Chapman, A treatise, p. 150; IOR/E/4/927, pp. 549–51 (BL); Anonymous, ‘White ants in India’, Scientific American, 64 (3 Jan. 1891), p. 3; Scudder, Walter T., ‘Windmills in India’, Scientific American, 89 (29 Aug. 1903), p. 151; IOR/E/4/839, pp. 405–6 (BL); Anonymous, ‘St. Mark's Church’.

46 Anonymous, ‘White ants in India’; Beeson, The ecology, pp. 935–9; IOR/E/4/841, p. 474 (BL); India (Financial, Railway) to COD, paras. 38–9, 1 Sept. 1857, paraphrased in IOR/E/4/851, pp. 502–3 (BL).

47 Marine Board to governor general in council, 18 May 1816, IOR/F/4/560/13760 (BL); India (Financial, Railway) to COD, paras. 57 and 68, letter 45, 28 Nov. 1856, paraphrased in COD to India (Financial, Railway), despatch 938 (no. 39 of 1857), 2 Sept. 1857, IOR/E/4/847, p. 163 (BL).

48 Home, Books and Publications, Jan. 1890, 28–34B (National Archives of India (NAI)); Cotton to secretary, Bengal (General), 8 Jan. 1883, Home, Public, Apr. 1883, 60–2B (NAI); Cunningham, Plagues, p. 143.

49 Maxwell-Lefroy, Indian insect pests, p. 231; Cotes, ‘An account of insects’, p. 60.

50 Beeson, The ecology, p. 943.

51 Cunningham, Plagues, p. 143.

52 COD to Bengal (Military), despatch 530 (no. 88 of 1850), 14 Aug. 1850, IOR/E/4/805, pp. 770, 772, 773 (BL); COD to Bengal (Military), despatch 363 (no. 62 of 1850), 30 May 1850, IOR/E/4/804, pp. 802–4 (BL); COD to governor, Bengal (Military), despatch 550 (no. 69 of 1849), 22 Aug. 1849, IOR/E/4/801, pp. 565–9 (BL); Anonymous, ‘Messrs. Davison and Symington's patent method of cleansing, purifying and sweetening, casks, vats and other vessels’, Mechanics Magazine, 40, 1085 (25 May 1944), pp. 338–41, at p. 338; Major Percy Smith, Rivington's building construction (London, 1875), pp. 392, 394.

53 IOR/E/4/804, pp. 802–4 (BL); Smith, Rivington's, p. 394; ‘The continental patent metallized wood company’, Lancet, 23 (6 June 1846), page not mentioned; Bengal (Military) to COD, para. 31, letter 27, 25 Feb. 1850, paraphrased in COD to Bengal (Military), despatch 530 (no. 88 of 1850), 14 Aug. 1850, IOR/E/4/805, pp. 770, 772, 773 (BL); COD to governor, Bengal (Military), despatch 272 (no. 48 of 1853), 20 Apr. 1853, IOR/E/4/819, pp. 1195–7 (BL); COD to Bengal (Revenue), despatch 863 (no. 11 of 1846), 23 Dec. 1846, IOR/E/4/790, pp. 1022–3 (BL).

54 Beeson, The ecology, p. 943; Chapman, A treatise, pp. 148–50; An engineer, Railways in India (London, 1947), pp. 85–6; Anonymous, ‘Powellization of wood’, TOI, 28 May 1909, p. 11.

55 An engineer, Railways, p. 122; Smith, Rivington's, p. 394; Anonymous, ‘Powellization’; Beeson, The ecology, pp. 943, 946.

56 Anonymous, ‘Powellization’; An engineer, Railways, p. 86, 122; Beeson, The ecology; Chapman, A treatise, pp. 148–50.

57 Beeson, The ecology, pp. 933–51.

58 Anonymous, ‘Insects that perforate lead’, Belper News and Derbyshire Telephone, 23 Aug. 1907, p. 2.

59 Bainbrigge Fletcher, T. and Ghosh, C. C., The preservation of wood against termites (Calcutta, 1921), p. 7; IOR/V/25/500/126 (BL).

60 ‘Mort ant’, TOI, 20 Feb. 1915, p. 4; ‘Flit’, TOI, 6 Oct. 1926, p. 2; ‘Carbolineum avenarius’, TOI, 20 June 1929, p. 13; Mofussil Mary, ‘The unbidden guest’, TOI, 4 Feb. 1939, p. 21; Roland Christe, ‘DDT and white ants’, TOI, 4 June 1950, p. 2.

61 IOR/L/PJ/3/1116, no. 119 (BL); IOR/E/4/819, pp. 858, 1195–7 (BL).

62 Edwin Arnold, ‘East and West: a flight of locusts’, Daily Telegraph, 27 Dec. 1893, p. 7; F. Baltazard Solvyns, ‘“Cariar”. White ants’, in Les Hindous, iv (Paris, 1812), page not mentioned, X471/4(66) (BL); Lardner, The bee, p. 99; White, Ants and their ways, p. 235; Chapman, A treatise, pp. 148–50; Douglas and Driver, ‘Imagining the tropical colony’, pp. 92–4, 99.

63 G. P. R. James, ‘Extract from “The smuggler, a tale”’, Bell's New Weekly Messenger, 27 July 1845, p. 6; Anonymous, ‘Agriculture and its labourers’, Leeds Intelligencer, 7 Mar. 1846, p. 3; Anonymous, ‘United protestant action’, Brighton Gazette, 24 Dec. 1863, p. 6; Anonymous, ‘Entre nous’, Hackney Express and Shoreditch Observer, 13 Nov. 1886, p. 3; Henry F. Barnaby, ‘To the editor’, Herts and Cambs Reporter and Royston Crow, 10 Jan. 1890, p. 8.

64 Solvyns, ‘“Cariar”. White ants’.

65 EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: the lizards’, TOI, 4 Sept. 1880, p. 2.

66 EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’, p. 2.

67 Cunningham, Plagues, p. 140.

68 See commentaries accompanying Anonymous, ‘Spectacled or Binocellate Cobra’ (watercolour), c. 1802, NHD7/1085 (BL), and Edmund David Lyon, ‘Views in Mysore. Shevana Bala Gola [Sravana Belgola]. The Jain statue’ (photograph), c. 1868, Photo 212/6(5) (BL).

69 Frances Eden, ‘White ants’ nest and huts of the mahouts’, Figure 18, p. 26 in ‘Album of 71 drawings made on a tiger-shooting expedition in the Rajmahal Hills (Bihar) and during the journey from and to Calcutta through Bengal’, Feb. and Mar. 1837, MSS Eur C130/1 (BL); for a glimpse of what the India Office records identify as ‘A view of Jind with a small native encampment before it, and a great termite heap’, see Sita Ram, ‘Town and fort of Gheen with the Rajah's house’, 1815, Hastings Album 4. Add Or 4789 (BL).

70 Hugh Fraser Macmillan, ‘White-ants' (termites) nest, Pallakelle’, Mar. 1904, Photo 551(35) (BL).

71 Arnold, David, Tropics and the travelling gaze: India, landscape and science, 1800–1856 (Seattle, WA, 2006).

72 COD to governor general of India-in-Council (Public), despatch 645 (no. 13 of 1849), 26 Sept. 1849, IOR/E/4/801, pp. 1081–4 (BL).

73 Dickinson to Reid, letter 9738, 3 Dec. 1838, F/4/1901/80852, pp. 3–5 (BL).

74 COD to Financial, Railway, IOR/E/4/851, pp. 502–3 (BL).

75 IOR/E/4/1059, pp. 963–9 (BL).

76 IOR/E/4/754, pp. 264–5 (BL).

77 Cunningham, Plagues, p. 145; Scudder, ‘Windmills’, p. 151.

78 Balfour, Edward, Agricultural pests of India, and of eastern and southern Asia, vegetable and animal, injurious to man and his products (London, 1887), p. 111; Cunningham, J. W., Christianity in India: an essay on the duty, means and consequences of introducing the Christian religion among the native inhabitants of the British dominions in the east (London, 1808), pp. 87–8.

79 Correspondent, ‘London-Day by day’.

80 Lardner, The bee, pp. 98–103, 125.

81 Ibid., p. 103.

82 Ibid., pp. 98, 104.

83 Ibid., p. 99; see also Clark, Bugs, p. 6.

84 Lardner, The bee, p. 98; Cunningham, Plagues, p. 145; EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’, p. 2.

85 Sleigh, ‘Empire of the ants’, pp. 34, 36.

86 EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’, p. 2.

87 Cunningham, Plagues, p. 145.

88 EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’, p. 2. On social allegories of female insects in a later period, see Charlotte Sleigh, ‘Inside out: the unsettling nature of insects’, in Brown, ed., Insect poetics, pp. 288–97.

89 Maxwell-Lefroy, H., Indian insect life (Calcutta, 1909), p. 277; Lardner, The bee, p. 101; Holt, Vincent M., Why not eat insects? (London, 1885), p. 55.

90 Holt, Why not, pp. 33, 47.

91 Anonymous, ‘White ants in India’.

92 Maxwell-Lefroy, Indian insect life, p. 276; Holt, Why not, pp. 32–3, 47.

93 Galton, Francis, The art of travel; or shifts and contrivances available in wild countries (4th edn, London, 1867), pp. iv, 205.

94 Gaunt, Mary, Alone in West Africa (London, 1912), pp. 194–5.

95 Galton, Francis, The art of travel; or shifts and contrivances available in wild countries (2nd edn, London, 1856), p. iii.

96 Hagen, ‘The probable danger’, pp. 409–10.

97 EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’.

98 EHA, The tribes on my frontier: An Indian naturalist's foreign policy (London, 1904).

99 For example, Godden, Gertrude M., ‘Naga and other frontier tribes of north-east India’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 26 (1897), pp. 161–7; Kolsky, Elizabeth, ‘The colonial rule of law and the legal regime of exception: frontier “fanaticism” and state violence in British India’, American Historical Review, 120 (2015), pp. 1218–46.

100 On white ants and colonial metaphors in other contexts, see Douglas and Driver, ‘Imagining the tropical colony’, pp. 106–8, 109–10; Clark, Bugs, pp. 2–3.

101 EHA, ‘The tribes on my frontier: white ants’.

102 IOR/E/4/801, pp. 1081–4; Anonymous, ‘A war against white ants’, TOI, 17 Apr. 1902, p. 4; Anonymous, ‘Fighting the white ant’, TOI, 26 Apr. 1912, p. 6; Anonymous, ‘A public enemy’, TOI, 6 Feb. 1936, p. 10.

103 Anonymous, ‘Cultivation of sugar’, Morning Post, 29 Dec. 1859, p. 3. Contemporary writers with alternative opinions invoked insects to indict slavery as well. See Moore, James, ‘Darwin's progress and the problem of slavery’, Progress in Human Geography, 34 (2010), p. 580.

104 Chattopadhyay, Bankimchandra, Ananda math (5th edn, Calcutta, 1892), p. 25. On his politics, see ‘preface to the second edition’. Also, Sarkar, Tanika, ‘Imagining a Hindu nation: Hindu and Muslim in Bankimchandra's later writings’, Economic and Political Weekly, 29 (14 Sept. 1994), pp. 2553–61.

105 Hasan, Mushirul, A moral reckoning: Muslim intellectuals in nineteenth-century Delhi (Delhi, 2012/2007), p. 156.

106 Wren, Percival Christopher, ‘White ants’, in Odd but even so- stories stranger than fiction (London, 1941); H. F. Oxbury, ‘Wren, Percival Christopher (1875–1941)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography.

107 Wren, ‘White ants’, p. 3.

108 Prasad, Ganesh, ‘Eclecticism in modern India’, Indian Journal of Political Science, 21 (1960), pp. 233–42, at p. 239.

109 For example, Kidambi, Prashant, ‘Nationalism and the city in colonial India, Bombay, c. 1890–1940’, Journal of Urban History, 38 (2012), pp. 950–67.

110 Anonymous, ‘Bombay municipal corporation’, TOI, 11 Dec. 1888, p. 6.

111 Anonymous, ‘Bombay corporation’, TOI, 11 Oct. 1901, p. 3.

112 Christe, ‘DDT’.

113 Anonymous, ‘New insecticide for white ants’, TOI, 28 May 1950, p. 15; Anonymous, ‘White ants delay election results’, TOI, 1 Feb. 1952, p. 5; Anonymous, ‘White ants eat ballot papers’, TOI, 6 Mar. 1955, p. 1; Anonymous, ‘Termites eat up unsold wheat’, TOI, 3 Dec. 1960, p. 1.

114 ‘Congress like termites, wipe them out, says PM Modi in Himachal’, NDTV, 4 Nov. 2017,

115 Prater, S. H., ‘The social system of termites or white ants’, TOI, 28 Dec. 1947, p. 4; Hocking, B., ‘Entomology and war’, Indian Journal of Entomology, 7 (1945), pp. 13, at p. 2. On Prater, see Ali, Salim, ‘Stanley Henry Prater’, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 57 (1960), pp. 637–42.

116 Prater, ‘The social system’; Prater's comparison of the organization within the white ants’ nest with communism was not entirely original. For a far less sympathetic take on the similarities between communistic principles and the white ants’ nest, see Maeterlinck, Maurice, The life of the white ant (New York, NY, 1927), pp. 69, 161–4.

117 Roonwal, M. L., ‘Address by the president’, in International symposium on termites in the humid tropics, Proceedings of New Delhi symposium (Paris, 1962), p. 10.

118 Ibid., pp. 9–10.

119 Anonymous, ‘Go to the white ant, sluggard’, TOI, 9 Oct. 1960, p. 8.

120 On chaos and empire, see Wilson, Jon, India conquered: Britain's raj and the chaos of empire (London, 2016).

121 In fact, accounts of vulnerability could be invoked to justify and even co-exist with violent imperial aggression. See Wagner, Kim, ‘“Treading upon fires”: the “mutiny”-motif and colonial anxieties in British India’, Past and Present, 218 (2013), pp. 159–97, at pp. 171–2, 175, 191, 193, 194; Guha, Ranajit, ‘Not at home in empire’, Critical Inquiry, 23 (1997), pp. 482–93. On violence and vulnerability, see Wilson, India.

122 On paper, for example, see Raman, Document Raj; Guyot-Rechard, ‘Tour diaries’. On wood in another imperial context, see Alan Mikhail, Nature and empire in Ottoman Egypt: an environmental history (Cambridge, 2011), pp. 124–68.

123 Raffles, Hugh, ‘Towards a critical natural history’, Antipode, 37 (2005), pp. 374–8, at p. 377. On the enmeshes of materials and politics, see also Bennett, Tony and Joyce, Patrick, eds., Material powers: cultural studies, history and the material turn (Abingdon, 2010); Braun, Bruce and Whatmore, Sarah J., eds., Political matter: technoscience, democracy and public life (Minneapolis, MN, 2010).

124 For example, Hagen, ‘The probable danger’, pp. 409–10.

125 Parikka, Insect media, p. xxiv.

126 Clark, Bugs; Sleigh, Six legs better; Melillo, ‘Global entomologies’.

127 Raffles, ‘Towards’, p. 375.

128 Haraway, Donna, When species meet (Minneapolis, MN, 2008), pp. 25, 47, 62.

I thank the anonymous readers for the Historical Journal and the editors for their comments. I also thank Shinjini Das, Daniel Renshaw, Charlotte Sleigh, Jonathan Saha, Simon Schaffer, Jim Secord, Erica Wald, Rohit De, Rajarshi Ghose, and Upal Chakrabarti for their helpful suggestions.


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