CORVALLIS, Ore. - The first lecture in Oregon State University's 2008-09 American Culture & Politics series, by William Leach of Columbia University, will focus on the trade of tropical butterflies.

His talk, "Tropical Wings: Imperialism in the Butterfly Zone," begins at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 20, in OSU's Memorial Union Journey Room (2501 S.W. Campus Way). It is free and open to the public.

Americans discovered butterflies in a big way in the last decades of the 19th century. Never before or since did so many people learn so quickly about the many exotic species of the globe. The key causes for this change lay in the Western imperialist invasion of the tropical regions in subcontinental Asia, South America, and, in particular, Africa, which brought with it an army of German, English, and American collectors who risked body and soul to plunder jungles and forests of their butterfly riches. At home, a huge market in butterflies emerged and prospered, and Americans from all classes tapped into it to form collections of extraordinary range and scale.

This talk examines the growth and character of the tropical trade and its impact on those who took part in it.

Leach, a professor of history at Columbia University, has written three books: "Country of Exiles: The Destruction of Place in American Life" (2000), "Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture" (1993), and "True Love and Perfect Union: The Feminist Reform of Sex and Society" (1980).

His OSU lecture is taken from his new book, "Butterfly People," which will be published by Pantheon Books next year.

For more information, contact the history department at 541-737-8560 or visit


Elissa Curcio,
(541) 737-8560

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