Women and Science

(Miller, Peter L.) Longfield, Cynthia | Dragonflies of the British Isles

  • Second edition, enlarged, of the authoritative guide of the period. From the library of dragonfly specialist Peter L. Miller, with his ownership signature and bookplate, two manuscript notes in ink in the text, notes and sketches of dragonfly nymphs on a blank postcard, and a dragonfly wing loosely inserted.

    Miller was a lecturer in zoology at Oxford who made significant contributions to a number of fields. “At Oxford he soon became widely respected for the excellence of his research on insects, being awarded the prestigious Medal of the Zoological Society of London in 1972. Until the early 1980s he explored physiology and neural control, primarily of respiration but also of rhythmic and motor behaviour, ventilation and learning. His international standing at that time is reflected in the authorship of more than a dozen chapters on these topics in different definitive textbooks on insect physiology. During those years he also published on insect behaviour in the field and edited two symposium volumes on cell biology.

    From the early 1980s Miller focused his research on dragonflies, a group of insects for which he had developed a strong affection while in Uganda. His highly developed skills - for interpreting subtle elements of behaviour, for micro-anatomical dissection and for quantifying neural processes - allowed him to reveal much of the structural and behavioural framework on which dragonfly reproduction is based. This work has far-reaching comparative value and provides a definitive reference point for future contributions to the field.

    Other products of his interest in dragonflies have been his stimulation and training of postgraduate students, authorship of two editions of a book on British dragonflies - a model of its genre - and active participation in the British Dragonfly Society, as Vice President and as member of the Dragonfly Conservation Group. Increasingly in later years Miller's energies were directed towards conservation of dragonflies and their habitats, especially through facilitating involvement of young people and non-specialists.” (Peter Miller obituary, the Independent, May 6, 1996.)

    In this copy Miller has made two notes in the text: On page 126, under the entry for the Downy Emerald, he wrote, “2 emerged c. 25/5/58 from [?] F. B. A. Windermere”. On page 139, under the entry for the Black-lined Orthetrum, “Nymph from F. B. A. Windermere... emerged c. 25/5/58”. The most extensive notes are on a blank postcard loosely inserted at page 181. Ink manuscript notes describe the larva (nymphs) of four dragonfly species, with pencilled drawings of three. On the back of the card are additional notes about the effect of temperature on dragonfly development, including a small bar graph showing a two-year larval cycle for a species.

    The author of this guide, Cynthia Longfield (1896-1989?), was one of Britain’s leading dragonfly specialist. She spent her career as an unpaid worker at the British Museum of Natural History, where she played a major role in collecting and systemising the records of British dragonflies (Ogilvie, Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science, p. 802), and she also served as president of the London Natural History Society. The Dragonflies of the the British Isles, originally published in 1939, was “accepted immediately as the authoritative guide” (Ogilvie).

  • London and New York: Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd., 1949.

    Duodecimo. Original green cloth, titles to spine and upper board and dragonfly device in gilt to upper board, publisher’s name and borders to boards blocked in black, pictorial endpapers. With the dust jacket with dragonfly illustration pasted-on to the front. 16 colour plates, 12 double-sided black & white photographic plates, illustrations within the text. Ownership signature of Peter L. Miller to the front free endpaper, some short notes in his hand in the text, and his and his wife’s bookplate to the verso of the same. Spine rolled, cloth lightly rubbed at the extremities, a little spotting to contents, particularly the edges of the text block. A very good copy in the rubbed, spotted, and dulled jacket with small nicks and chips from the ends of the spine panel.