Arts Speakers Series: Bees with Dr. Smid

Clark Hall. (Credit: Ashlyn Pearce/The Quill)

The final Arts Speakers’ Series of the 2016-2017 school year took place on Friday, March 17th. Dr. Deanna Smid of the English/Creative Writing department presented the research she began last summer regarding the way the bees were treated in the Renaissance, particularly in regard to literature.

“You’re all my guinea pigs,” Dr. Smid began with a smile, as this was the first time she had presented the research.

The first five minutes of her presentation were scattered with bee-related puns – which I, for one, very much appreciated. The presentation showed that people in the Renaissance very much relied on bees as a source of income, as honey and wax were necessary commodities. There are many works of written accounts on the maintenance and care for bees and their hives, many by Renaissance apiarists. It was common conception at the time that bees themselves were artistic, and that the hum of the bees at work in their hives were songs. Songs were written for a cappella musicians to replicate the bee song, and were so common that there is written record of them in books dating back to the 17th century.

While Smid did a large amount of research on the scientific aspect of Renaissance bee literature, she was also interested in the poetic reference to bees. A common theme in poetry of the time was to compare women and bees. As at the time, men were of a higher order in the social chain, in many poems what we now know to be the queen bee is referred to as the king bee – because the bee in charge was obviously male.

Smid’s research is not finished, and she intends to look more into the Renaissance beliefs that bees were creative creatures. She also hopes to coordinate with the Brandon University School of Music to recreate the seventeenth century bee songs.

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 107, Issue 26, March 21, 2017.