Natural history

Last updated

Tables of natural history, from Ephraim Chambers's 1728 Cyclopaedia Table of Natural History, Cyclopaedia, Volume 2.jpg
Tables of natural history, from Ephraim Chambers's 1728 Cyclopaedia

Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms, including animals, fungi, and plants, in their natural environment, leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. A person who studies natural history is called a naturalist or natural historian.

Contents

Natural history encompasses scientific research but is not limited to it. [1] It involves the systematic study of any category of natural objects or organisms. [2] So while it dates from studies in the ancient Greco-Roman world and the mediaeval Arabic world, through to European Renaissance naturalists working in near isolation, today's natural history is a cross-discipline umbrella of many specialty sciences; e.g., geobiology has a strong multidisciplinary nature.

Definitions

Before 1900

The meaning of the English term "natural history" (a calque of the Latin historia naturalis) has narrowed progressively with time, while, by contrast, the meaning of the related term "nature" has widened (see also History below).

In antiquity, "natural history" covered essentially anything connected with nature, or used materials drawn from nature, such as Pliny the Elder's encyclopedia of this title, published c.77 to 79 AD, which covers astronomy, geography, humans and their technology, medicine, and superstition, as well as animals and plants.

Medieval European academics considered knowledge to have two main divisions: the humanities (primarily what is now known as classics) and divinity, with science studied largely through texts rather than observation or experiment. The study of nature revived in the Renaissance, and quickly became a third branch of academic knowledge, itself divided into descriptive natural history and natural philosophy, 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 people 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 17th century.

Natural history had been encouraged by practical motives, such as Linnaeus' aspiration to improve the economic condition of Sweden. [3] Similarly, the Industrial Revolution prompted the development of geology to help find useful mineral deposits. [4]

Since 1900

A natural history collection in a French public secondary school Lycee Michelet Vanves bibliotheque collection histoire naturelle.jpg
A natural history collection in a French public secondary school

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]

Definitions from biologists often focus on the scientific study of individual organisms in their environment, as seen in this definition by Marston 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 environments, 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] 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 (Inuit). [13]

A slightly different framework for natural history, covering a similar range of themes, 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]

The plurality of definitions for this field has been recognized as both a weakness and a strength, and a range of definitions has recently been offered by practitioners in a recent collection of views on natural history. [17]

History

Ancient

Blackberry from the sixth-century Vienna Dioscurides manuscript ViennaDioscoridesPlant.jpg
Blackberry from the sixth-century Vienna Dioscurides manuscript

Natural history begins with Aristotle and other ancient philosophers who analyzed the diversity of the natural world. Natural history was understood by Pliny the Elder to cover anything that could be found in the world, including living things, geology, astronomy, technology, art, and humanity. [18]

De Materia Medica was written between 50 and 70 AD by Pedanius Dioscorides, a Roman physician of Greek origin. It was widely read for more than 1,500 years until supplanted in the Renaissance, making it one of the longest-lasting of all natural history books.

From the ancient Greeks until the work of Carl Linnaeus and other 18th-century naturalists, a major concept of natural history was the scala naturae or Great Chain of Being, an arrangement of minerals, vegetables, more primitive forms of animals, and more complex life forms on a linear scale of supposedly increasing perfection, culminating in our species. [19]

Medieval

Natural history was basically static through the Middle Ages in Europe—although in the Arabic and Oriental world, it proceeded at a much brisker pace. 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. Leonhart Fuchs was one of the three founding fathers of botany, along with Otto Brunfels and Hieronymus Bock. Other important contributors to the field were Valerius Cordus, Konrad Gesner ( Historiae animalium ), Frederik Ruysch, and Gaspard Bauhin. [20] 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. [20]

The British historian of Chinese science Joseph Needham calls Li Shizhen "the 'uncrowned king' of Chinese naturalists",[ This quote needs a citation ] and his Bencao gangmu "undoubtedly the greatest scientific achievement of the Ming".[ This quote needs a citation ] His works translated to many languages direct or influence many scholars and researchers.[ citation needed ]

Modern

Georges Buffon is best remembered for his Histoire naturelle, a 44-volume encyclopedia describing quadrupeds, birds, minerals, and some science and technology. Reptiles and fish were covered in supplements by Bernard Germain de Lacepede. Buffon 1707-1788.jpg
Georges Buffon is best remembered for his Histoire naturelle , a 44-volume encyclopedia describing quadrupeds, birds, minerals, and some science and technology. Reptiles and fish were covered in supplements by Bernard Germain de Lacépède.

A significant contribution to English natural history was made by parson-naturalists such as Gilbert White, William Kirby, John George Wood, and John Ray, who wrote about plants, animals, and other aspects of nature. Many of these men wrote about nature to make the natural theology argument for the existence or goodness of God. [21] Since early modern times, however, a great number of women made contributions to natural history, particularly in the field of botany, be it as authors, collectors, or illustrators. [22]

In modern Europe, professional disciplines such as botany, geology, mycology, palaeontology, physiology, and zoology 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, the study of natural history was believed to contribute to good mental health. [23] 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 world's large natural history collections, such as the Natural History Museum, London, and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Three of the greatest English naturalists of the 19th century, Henry Walter Bates, Charles Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace—who knew each other—each made natural history travels that took years, collected thousands of specimens, many of them new to science, and by their writings both advanced knowledge of "remote" parts of the world—the Amazon basin, the Galápagos Islands, and the Malay archipelago, among others—and in so doing helped to transform biology from a descriptive to a theory-based science.

The understanding of "Nature" as "an organism and not as a mechanism" can be traced to the writings of Alexander von Humboldt (Prussia, 1769–1859). Humboldt's copious writings and research were seminal influences for Charles Darwin, Simón Bolívar, Henry David Thoreau, Ernst Haeckel, and John Muir. [24]

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 monument of Jan Czekanowski, a president of Polish Copernicus Society of Naturalists (1923-1924), in Szczecin, Poland Szczecin pomnik Jana Czekanowskiego.jpg
The monument of Jan Czekanowski, a president of Polish Copernicus Society of Naturalists (1923–1924), in Szczecin, Poland

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

Examples of these societies in Britain include the Natural History Society of Northumbria founded in 1829, London Natural History Society (1858), Birmingham Natural History Society (1859), British Entomological and Natural History Society founded in 1872, Glasgow Natural History Society, Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society established in 1880, Whitby Naturalists' Club founded in 1913, [25] Scarborough Field Naturalists' Society and the Sorby Natural History Society, Sheffield, founded in 1918. [26] 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 the Britain. (See also: Indian natural history)

Societies in other countries include the American Society of Naturalists and Polish Copernicus Society of Naturalists.

See also

Related Research Articles

Outline of biology Outline of subdisciplines within biology

Biology – The natural science that studies life. Areas of focus include structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy.

Linnaean taxonomy Rank based classification system for organisms

Linnaean taxonomy can mean either of two related concepts:

  1. the particular form of biological classification (taxonomy) set up by Carl Linnaeus, as set forth in his Systema Naturae (1735) and subsequent works. In the taxonomy of Linnaeus there are three kingdoms, divided into classes, and they, in turn, into lower ranks in a hierarchical order.
  2. a term for rank-based classification of organisms, in general. That is, taxonomy in the traditional sense of the word: rank-based scientific classification. This term is especially used as opposed to cladistic systematics, which groups organisms into clades. It is attributed to Linnaeus, although he neither invented the concept of ranked classification nor gave it its present form. In fact, it does not have an exact present form, as "Linnaean taxonomy" as such does not really exist: it is a collective (abstracting) term for what actually are several separate fields, which use similar approaches.
Systematics Study of the diversification and relationships among living things through time

Biological systematics is the study of the diversification of living forms, both past and present, and the relationships among living things through time. Relationships are visualized as evolutionary trees. Phylogenies have two components: branching order and branch length. Phylogenetic trees of species and higher taxa are used to study the evolution of traits and the distribution of organisms (biogeography). Systematics, in other words, is used to understand the evolutionary history of life on Earth.

Taxonomy (biology) Science of naming, defining and classifying organisms

In biology, taxonomy is the scientific study of naming, defining (circumscribing) and classifying groups of biological organisms based on shared characteristics. Organisms are grouped into taxa and these groups are given a taxonomic rank; groups of a given rank can be aggregated to form a more inclusive group of higher rank, thus creating a taxonomic hierarchy. The principal ranks in modern use are domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is regarded as the founder of the current system of taxonomy, as he developed a ranked system known as Linnaean taxonomy for categorizing organisms and binominal nomenclature for naming organisms.

Zoology is the branch of biology that studies the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct, and how they interact with their ecosystems. The term is derived from Ancient Greek ζῷον, zōion ('animal'), and λόγος, logos.

Natural science Branch of science about the natural world

Natural science is a branch of science concerned with the description, understanding and prediction of natural phenomena, based on empirical evidence from observation and experimentation. Mechanisms such as peer review and repeatability of findings are used to try to ensure the validity of scientific advances.

Biogeography Study of the distribution of species and ecosystems in geographic space and through geological time

Biogeography is the study of the distribution of species and ecosystems in geographic space and through geological time. Organisms and biological communities often vary in a regular fashion along geographic gradients of latitude, elevation, isolation and habitat area. Phytogeography is the branch of biogeography that studies the distribution of plants. Zoogeography is the branch that studies distribution of animals. Mycogeography is the branch that studies distribution of fungi, such as mushrooms.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck French naturalist (1744–1829)

Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck, often known simply as Lamarck, was a French naturalist. He was a soldier, biologist, and academic, and an early proponent of the idea that biological evolution occurred and proceeded in accordance with natural laws.

The history of zoology before Charles Darwin's 1859 theory of evolution traces the organized study of the animal kingdom from ancient to modern times. Although the concept of zoology as a single coherent field arose much later, systematic study of zoology is seen in the works of Aristotle and Galen in the ancient Greco-Roman world. This work was developed in the Middle Ages by Islamic medicine and scholarship, and in turn their work was extended by European scholars such as Albertus Magnus.

History of biology History of the study of life from ancient to modern times

The history of biology traces the study of the living world from ancient to modern times. Although the concept of biology as a single coherent field arose in the 19th century, the biological sciences emerged from traditions of medicine and natural history reaching back to Ayurveda, ancient Egyptian medicine and the works of Aristotle and Galen in the ancient Greco-Roman world. This ancient work was further developed in the Middle Ages by Muslim physicians and scholars such as Avicenna. During the European Renaissance and early modern period, biological thought was revolutionized in Europe by a renewed interest in empiricism and the discovery of many novel organisms. Prominent in this movement were Vesalius and Harvey, who used experimentation and careful observation in physiology, and naturalists such as Linnaeus and Buffon who began to classify the diversity of life and the fossil record, as well as the development and behavior of organisms. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek revealed by means of microscopy the previously unknown world of microorganisms, laying the groundwork for cell theory. The growing importance of natural theology, partly a response to the rise of mechanical philosophy, encouraged the growth of natural history.

Evolutionary biology Study of the processes that produced the diversity of life

Evolutionary biology is the subfield of biology that studies the evolutionary processes that produced the diversity of life on Earth. Simply, it is also defined as the study of the history of life forms on Earth. In the 1930s, the discipline of evolutionary biology emerged through what Julian Huxley called the modern synthesis of understanding, from previously unrelated fields of biological research, such as genetics and ecology, systematics, and paleontology. A person who studies Evolutionary biology is called an Evolutionary biologist. The importance of studying Evolutionary biology is mainly to understand the principles behind the origin and extinction of species.

Fauna Set of animal species in any particular region and time

Fauna is all of the animal life present in a particular region or time. The corresponding term for plants is flora. Flora, fauna and other forms of life such as fungi are collectively referred to as biota. Zoologists and paleontologists use fauna to refer to a typical collection of animals found in a specific time or place, e.g. the "Sonoran Desert fauna" or the "Burgess Shale fauna". Paleontologists sometimes refer to a sequence of faunal stages, which is a series of rocks all containing similar fossils. The study of animals of a particular region is called faunistics.

Ecology is a new science and considered as an important branch of biological science, having only become prominent during the second half of the 20th century. Ecological thought is derivative of established currents in philosophy, particularly from ethics and politics.

Biologist Scientist studying living organisms

A biologist is a scientist who conducts research in biology. Biologists are interested in studying life on Earth, whether it is an individual cell, a multicellular organism, or a community of interacting populations. They usually specialize in a particular branch of biology and have a specific research focus.

Invertebrate zoology is the subdiscipline of zoology that consists of the study of invertebrates, animals without a backbone.

Humboldtian science Movement in science emphasizing precision and sensitivity

Humboldtian science refers to a movement in science in the 19th century closely connected to the work and writings of German scientist, naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. It maintained a certain ethics of precision and observation, which combined scientific field work with the sensitivity and aesthetic ideals of the age of Romanticism. Like Romanticism in science, it was rather popular in the 19th century. The term was coined by Susan Faye Cannon in 1978. The example of Humboldt's life and his writings allowed him to reach out beyond the academic community with his natural history and address a wider audience with popular science aspects. It has supplanted the older Baconian method, related as well to a single person, Francis Bacon.

The following outline is provided as a topical overview of science; the discipline of science is defined as both the systematic effort of acquiring knowledge through observation, experimentation and reasoning, and the body of knowledge thus acquired, the word "science" derives from the Latin word scientia meaning knowledge. A practitioner of science is called a "scientist". Modern science respects objective logical reasoning, and follows a set of core procedures or rules to determine the nature and underlying natural laws of all things, with a scope encompassing the entire universe. These procedures, or rules, are known as the scientific method.

The branches of science, also referred to as sciences, "scientific fields", or "scientific disciplines," are commonly divided into three major groups:

In biology, a species is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined.

Bibliography of biology Wikipedia bibliography

This bibliography of biology is a list of notable works, organized by subdiscipline, on the subject of biology.

References

  1. With "natural history" articles more often published today in science magazines than in academic journals.(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. Koerner, Lisbet (1999). Linnaeus: Nature and Nation. Harvard: Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-09745-2.
  4. Barry Barnes and Steven Shapin, "Natural order: historical studies of scientific culture", Sage, 1979.
  5. Thomas Lowe Fleischner, The Way of Natural History, Trinity University Press, 2011.
  6. Marston Bates, The nature of natural history, 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. American Museum of Natural History, Mission Statement Archived 2011-06-04 at the Wayback Machine
  15. Field Museum, Mission Statement Archived 2012-01-03 at the Wayback Machine
  16. The Natural History Museum, Mission Statement
  17. An Accepted Way of Viewing Art
  18. Pliny the Elder (2004). Natural History: A Selection. Penguin Classics. ISBN   978-0-14-044413-1.
  19. Arthur O. Lovejoy (1964) [1936], The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, ISBN   0-674-36153-9
  20. 1 2 "Natural History Timeline Archived 2010-12-31 at the Wayback Machine ". HistoryofScience.com.
  21. Patrick Armstrong (2000). The English Parson-naturalist: A Companionship Between Science and Religion. Gracewing Publishing. ISBN   978-0-85244-516-7 . Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  22. Women in Botany
  23. Finnegan, Diarmid A. (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
  24. Andrea Wulf (2015), The Invention of Nature , Knopf [ page needed ]
  25. "Whitby Naturalists' Club". whitbynaturalists.co.uk. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  26. Mabbett, Andy (20 November 2010). "Older Organisations". West Midland Bird Club. Archived from the original on 23 May 2013. Retrieved 11 February 2015.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)

Further reading