Six elements, or ‘strands’, in the progress of odonatology are identified, and the main features of each are discussed. During the immensely long (mainly pre-Linnaean) Exploring Strand, subjective perceptions and broad biological facts about dragonflies were established. Progress was rapid with the onset of the Codifying (1758-) and Classifying (1820-) Strands, as systems became available for formalising species-specific information and for visualising hierarchical relationships-achiship-achievements that made possible the Integrating Strand (1913-) during which biological information of many kinds was drawn together to produce a picture of the Order as a whole. The two most recent Strands arose in response to exogenous pressures; the Intercommunicating Strand (1971-) was necessitated by the information explosion, and the Conserving Strand (1980-) by the effects of habitat destruction due to increasing human impact. The future of odonatology as a viable and rewarding endeavour now depends largely on the success of the Conserving Strand.