Natural history


Natural history
Tables of natural history, from the 1728 Cyclopaedia

Natural history is the scientific research of plants or animals, leaning more towards observational rather than experimental methods of study, and encompasses more research published in magazines than in academic journals.[1] Grouped among the natural sciences, natural history is the systematic study of any category of natural objects or organisms.[2] That is a very broad designation in a world filled with many narrowly focused disciplines. So while modern natural history dates historically from studies in the ancient Greco-Roman world and the medieval Arabic world through to the scattered European Renaissance scientists working in near isolation, today's field is more of a cross discipline umbrella of many specialty sciences. For example, geobiology has a strong multi-disciplinary nature combining scientists and scientific knowledge of many specialty sciences.

A person who studies natural history is known as a naturalist or "natural historian".

Contents

Definitions

Historical

The English term 'natural history' is a translation of the Latin naturalis historia. Its meaning has narrowed considerably over time (see also History below). In antiquity, it covered more-or-less anything which is connected with nature or which uses materials drawn from nature; see for example the contents of Pliny's encyclopedia of this title, published circa AD 77-79.

Until well into the nineteenth century, knowledge was considered by Europeans to have two main divisions: the humanities (including theology), and studies of nature. Studies of nature could in turn be divided, with natural history being the descriptive counterpart to natural philosophy which was the analytical study of nature. In modern terms, natural philosophy roughly corresponded to modern physics and chemistry, while natural history included the biological and geological sciences. The two were strongly associated. During the heyday of the gentleman scientists, many figures contributed to both fields, and early papers in both were commonly read at professional science society meetings such as the Royal Society and the French Academy of Sciences – both founded during the seventeenth century.

Natural history had been encouraged by practical motives, such as the work of Linnaeus motivated by the desire to improve the economical condition of the Swedish kingdom.[3] Similarly, the Industrial Revolution prompted the development of the science of geology through the need to analyze rock strata (layers) in order to find mineral deposits.[4]

Modern

Modern definitions of natural history come from a variety of fields and sources, and many of the modern definitions emphasize a particular aspect of the field, creating a plurality of definitions with a number of common themes among them. For example, while natural history is most often defined as a type of observation and a subject of study, it can also be defined as a body of knowledge, and as a craft or a practice, in which the emphasis is placed more on the observer than on the observed.[5]

Modern definitions from biologists often focus on the scientific study of individual organisms in their environment, as seen in this definition by M. Bates: "Natural history is the study of animals and Plants - of organisms. ... I like to think, then, of natural history as the study of life at the level of the individual - of what plants and animals do, how they react to each other and their environment, how they are organized into larger groupings like populations and communities"[6] and this more recent definition by D.S. Wilcove and T. Eisner: "The close observation of organisms—their origins, their evolution, their behavior, and their relationships with other species".[7] This focus on organisms in their environment is also echoed by H.W. Greene and J.B. Losos: "Natural history focuses on where organisms are and what they do in their environment, including interactions with other organisms. It encompasses changes in internal states insofar as they pertain to what organisms do".[8] Some definitions go further, focusing on direct observation of organisms in their environment, both past and present, such as this one by G.A. Bartholomew: "A student of natural history, or a naturalist, studies the world by observing plants and animals directly. Because organisms are functionally inseparable from the environment in which they live and because their structure and function cannot be adequately interpreted without knowing some of their evolutionary history, the study of natural history embraces the study of fossils as well as physiographic and other aspects of the physical environment".[9] A common thread in many definitions of natural history is the inclusion of a descriptive component, as seen in a recent definition by H.W. Greene: "Descriptive ecology and ethology".[10]

Recently, several authors have argued for a more expansive view of natural history, including S. Herman, who defines the field as "the scientific study of plants and animals in their natural environments. It is concerned with levels of organization from the individual organism to the ecosystem, and stresses identification, life history, distribution, abundance, and inter-relationships. It often and appropriately includes an esthetic component",[11] and T. Fleischner, who defines the field even more broadly, as “A practice of intentional, focused attentiveness and receptivity to the more-than-human world, guided by honesty and accuracy".[12] These definitions explicitly include the arts in the field of natural history, and are aligned with the broad definition outlined by B. Lopez, who defines the field as the "Patient interrogation of a landscape" while referring to the natural history knowledge of the Eskimo.[13]

A slightly different, but equally expansive framework for natural history is also implied in the scope of work encompassed by many leading natural history museums, which often include elements of Anthropology, Geology, Paleontology and Astronomy along with Botany and Zoology,[14][15] or include both cultural and natural components of the world.[16][17]

The plurality of definitions for this field has recently been recognized as both a weakness and a strength,[18] and a range of definitions have recently been offered by practitioners in a recent collection of views on natural history.[19]

History

Natural history begins with Aristotle and other ancient philosophers who analyzed the diversity of the natural world. Natural history, as a discipline, had existed since classical times, and fifteenth-century Europeans were very familiar with Pliny the Elder's Historia Naturalis. From the ancient Greeks until the work of Carolus Linnaeus (also known as Carl Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné) and other 18th century naturalists, the main concept of natural history was the scala naturae or Great Chain of Being, a conceptual arrangement of minerals, vegetables, more primitive forms of animals, and more complex life forms on a linear scale of increasing "perfection", culminating in our species.

Dioscorides' De Materia Medica is often said to be the oldest and most valuable work in the history of botany.[20] A Greek manuscript of Aristotle's Biological Works, written in Constantinople in the mid-9th century, and preserved at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, is probably the oldest surviving manuscript of texts that founded the science of biology.[21]

While natural history was basically static in medieval Europe, it continued to be developed by Arabic scholars during the Arab Agricultural Revolution. Al-Jahiz described early natural history ideas such as the "struggle for existence" (Malthus' phrase),[22] and the idea of a food chain.[23][verification needed] He was an early adherent of environmental determinism.[24][verification needed] Al-Dinawari is considered the founder of Arabic botany for his Book of Plants, in which he described at least 637 plants and discussed plant development from germination (sprouting) to death, describing the phases of plant growth and the production of flowers and fruit.[25] Abu al-Abbas al-Nabati developed an early scientific method for botany, introducing empirical and experimental techniques in the testing, description and identification of numerous materia medica, and separating unverified reports from those supported by actual tests and observations.[26] His student Ibn al-Baitar wrote a pharmaceutical encyclopedia describing 1,400 plants, foods, and drugs, 300 of which were his own original discoveries. A Latin translation of his work was useful to European biologists and pharmacists in the 18th and 19th centuries.[27] Earth sciences such as geology were also studied extensively by Arabic geologists, but by Avicenna's time, around 1000, the Arab Empire was in decline and scientists were not free to publish their ideas.[28]

Georges Buffon is best remembered for his Histoire naturelle, a 44 volume encyclopedia describing everything known about the natural world.

From the 13th century, the work of Aristotle was adapted rather rigidly into Christian philosophy, particularly by Thomas Aquinas, forming the basis for natural theology. During the Renaissance, scholars (herbalists and humanists, particularly) returned to direct observation of plants and animals for natural history, and many began to accumulate large collections of exotic specimens and unusual monsters. Andrea Cesalpino was the creator of one of the first herbaria and the inventor of botanical systematics. Leonhart Fuchs was one of the three founding fathers of botany, along with Otto Brunfels and Hieronymus Bock. Important contributors to the field were also Valerius Cordus, Konrad Gesner (Historiae animalium), Frederik Ruysch, or Gaspard Bauhin.[21] The rapid increase in the number of known organisms prompted many attempts at classifying and organizing species into taxonomic groups, culminating in the system of the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus.[21]

In modern Europe, professional disciplines such as physiology, botany, zoology, geology, and palaeontology were formed. Natural history, formerly the main subject taught by college science professors, was increasingly scorned by scientists of a more specialized manner and relegated to an "amateur" activity, rather than a part of science proper. In Victorian Scotland it was believed that the study of natural history contributed to good mental health.[29] Particularly in Britain and the United States, this grew into specialist hobbies such as the study of birds, butterflies, seashells (malacology/conchology), beetles and wildflowers; meanwhile, scientists tried to define a unified discipline of biology (though with only partial success, at least until the modern evolutionary synthesis). Still, the traditions of natural history continue to play a part in the study of biology, especially ecology (the study of natural systems involving living organisms and the inorganic components of the Earth's biosphere that support them), ethology (the scientific study of animal behavior), and evolutionary biology (the study of the relationships between life-forms over very long periods of time), and re-emerges today as integrative organismal biology.

Amateur collectors and natural history entrepreneurs played an important role in building the large natural history collections of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

Museums

Natural history museums, which evolved from cabinets of curiosities, played an important role in the emergence of professional biological disciplines and research programs. Particularly in the 19th century, scientists began to use their natural history collections as teaching tools for advanced students and the basis for their own morphological research.

Societies

The term "natural history" alone, or sometimes together with archeology, forms the name of many national, regional and local natural history societies that maintain records for birds (ornithology), mammals (mammalogy), insects (entomology), fungi (mycology) and plants (botany). They may also have microscopical and geological sections.

Examples of these societies in Britain include the Natural History Society of Northumbria founded in 1829, British Entomological and Natural History Society founded in 1872, Birmingham Natural History Society, Glasgow Natural History Society, London Natural History Society founded in 1858, Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society established in 1880, Scarborough Field Naturalists' Society and the Sorby Natural History Society, Sheffield, founded in 1918. The growth of natural history societies was also spurred due to the growth of British colonies in tropical regions with numerous new species to be discovered. Many civil servants took an interest in their new surroundings, sending specimens back to museums in Britain. (See also Indian natural history)

See also

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References

Citations and notes
  1. ^ Natural History WordNet Search, princeton.edu.
  2. ^ Brown, Lesley (1993), The New shorter Oxford English dictionary on historical principles, Oxford [Eng.]: Clarendon, ISBN 0-19-861271-0 
  3. ^ Lisbet Koerner, "Linnaeus: Nature and Nation", Harvard University Press, 1999.
  4. ^ Barry Barnes and Steven Shapin, "Natural order: historical studies of scientific culture", Sage Publications, 1979, Beverly Hills, London
  5. ^ Thomas Lowe Fleischner, The Way of Natural History (Trinity University Press, 2011)
  6. ^ Marston Bates, The nature of natural history (New York: Scribners, 1954)
  7. ^ D. S Wilcove and T. Eisner, "The impending extinction of natural history," Chronicle of Higher Education 15 (2000): B24
  8. ^ H. W. Greene and J. B. Losos, "Systematics, Natural-History, and Conservation - Field Biologists Must Fight a Public-Image Problem," Bioscience 38 (1988): 458-462
  9. ^ G. A. Bartholomew, "The Role of Natural History in Contemporary Biology", Bioscience 36 (1986): 324-329
  10. ^ H.W. Greene, "Organisms in nature as a central focus for biology," Trends in Ecology & Evolution 20 (2005):23-27
  11. ^ S. G Herman, “Wildlife biology and natural history: time for a reunion," The Journal of wildlife management 66, no. 4 (2002): 933–946
  12. ^ T. L. Fleischner, "Natural history and the spiral of offering," Wild Earth 11, no. 3/4 (2002): 10–13
  13. ^ Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams (Vintage, 1986)
  14. ^ Amerian Museum of Ntural History, Mission Statement, http://www.amnh.org/about/
  15. ^ Field Museum, Mission Statement, http://fieldmuseum.org/about/mission
  16. ^ The Natural History Museum, Mission Statement, http://www.nhm.ac.uk/about-us/index.html
  17. ^ National Natural History Museum of Chile, Mission Statement, http://www.dibam.cl/historia_natural/contenido.asp?id_contenido=277&id_submenu=650&id_menu=43
  18. ^ http://declinetorebirth.org/conversations/an-accepted-way-of-viewing-art
  19. ^ http://declinetorebirth.org/
  20. ^ Gulsel M. Kavalali (2003). "Urtica: therapeutic and nutritional aspects of stinging nettles". CRC Press. p.15. ISBN 041530833X
  21. ^ a b c "Natural History Timeline". HistoryofScience.com.
  22. ^ Conway Zirkle (1941), Natural Selection before the "Origin of Species", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 84 (1): 71-123.
  23. ^ Frank N. Egerton, "A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 6: Arabic Language Science - Origins and Zoological", Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, April 2002: 142-146 [143]
  24. ^ Lawrence I. Conrad (1982), "Taun and Waba: Conceptions of Plague and Pestilence in Early Islam", Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 25 (3), pp. 268-307 [278].
  25. ^ Fahd, Toufic, "Botany and agriculture", pp. 815 , in Morelon, Régis; Rashed, Roshdi (1996), Encyclopedia of the History of Arabic Science, 3, Routledge, ISBN 0415124107 
  26. ^ Huff, Toby (2003), The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West, Cambridge University Press, p. 218, ISBN 0521529948 
  27. ^ Diane Boulanger (2002), "The Islamic Contribution to Science, Mathematics and Technology", OISE Papers, in STSE Education, Vol. 3.
  28. ^ Richard Myers (2003). "The Basics of Chemistry". Greenwood Publishing Group. p.13. ISBN 0313316643
  29. ^ Diarmid A. Finnegan (2008), "'An aid to mental health': natural history, alienists and therapeutics in Victorian Scotland", Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39 (3): 326–337, doi:10.1016/j.shpsc.2008.06.006, PMID 18761284 
General information
  • Allen, David Elliston (1994), The Naturalist in Britain: a social history, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 270, ISBN 0-691-03632-2 
  • Peter Anstey, "Two Forms of Natural History", Early Modern Experimental Philosophy, 17 January 2011.
  • Atran, Scott (1990), Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 376, ISBN 978-0521438711 
  • Kohler, Robert E. Landscapes and Labscapes: Exploring the Lab-Field Border in Biology. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2002.
  • Mayr, Ernst. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982.
  • Rainger, Ronald; Keith R. Benson; and Jane Maienschein, editors. The American Development of Biology. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 1988.

External links


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Natural History — or (in Latin) Naturalis Historia is the scientific study of plants or animals.Natural History may also refer to:In science and medicine: * Natural History (Pliny) , Naturalis Historia , a 1st century work by Pliny the Elder * Natural History… …   Wikipedia

  • Natural history — Natural Nat u*ral (?; 135), a. [OE. naturel, F. naturel, fr. L. naturalis, fr. natura. See {Nature}.] 1. Fixed or determined by nature; pertaining to the constitution of a thing; belonging to native character; according to nature; essential;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • natural history — Natural Nat u*ral (?; 135), a. [OE. naturel, F. naturel, fr. L. naturalis, fr. natura. See {Nature}.] 1. Fixed or determined by nature; pertaining to the constitution of a thing; belonging to native character; according to nature; essential;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Natural History — Beschreibung Fachzeitschrift Fachgebiet Naturwissenschaften Sprache Englisch …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Natural history — History His to*ry, n.; pl. {Histories}. [L. historia, Gr. istori a history, information, inquiry, fr. istwr, istwr, knowing, learned, from the root of ? to know; akin to E. wit. See {Wit}, and cf. {Story}.] [1913 Webster] 1. A learning or knowing …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • natural history — n [U] the study of plants, animals, and minerals ▪ the Natural History Museum …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • natural history — n the natural development of something (as an organism or disease) over a period of time <increasing knowledge of the natural histories of tumors (H. S. N. Greene)> …   Medical dictionary

  • natural history — noun uncount the study of living things and their natural environments …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • natural history — ► NOUN ▪ the scientific study of animals or plants, especially as concerned with observation rather than experiment …   English terms dictionary

  • natural history — n. the study of zoology, botany, mineralogy, geology, and other subjects dealing with the physical world, esp. in a popular, nontechnical manner …   English World dictionary


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