Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms including animals, fungi and plants in their environment; leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. A person who studies natural history is called a naturalist or natural historian.
Natural history encompasses scientific research but is not limited to it. It involves the systematic study of any category of natural objects or organisms. 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 multi-disciplinary nature.
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 which used materials drawn from nature, such as Pliny the Elder's encyclopedia of this title, published circa 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 seventeenth century.
Natural history had been encouraged by practical motives, such as Linnaeus' aspiration to improve the economic condition of Sweden. Similarly, the Industrial Revolution prompted the development of geology to help find useful mineral deposits.
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.
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" 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".
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".
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".
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". 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", 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". 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).
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, or include both cultural and natural components of the world.
The plurality of definitions for this field has been recognized as both a weakness and a strength, and a range of definitions have recently been offered by practitioners in a recent collection of views on natural history.
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.
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.
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 thirteenth 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. 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.
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.
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 it was believed that the study of natural history contributed to good mental health. 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 D.C.
Three of the greatest English naturalists of the nineteenth century, Henry Walter Bates, Charles Darwin, and Alfred Russel Wallace—who all 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.
Natural history museums, which evolved from cabinets of curiosities, played an important role in the emergence of professional biological disciplines and research programs. Particularly back 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.
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, 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)
81st Street–Museum of Natural History is a local station on the IND Eighth Avenue Line of the New York City Subway. It is served by the B on weekdays, the C train at all times except nights, and the A train during late nights only.Amazon rainforest
The Amazon rainforest (Portuguese: Floresta Amazônica or Amazônia; Spanish: Selva Amazónica, Amazonía or usually Amazonia; French: Forêt amazonienne; Dutch: Amazoneregenwoud), also known in English as Amazonia or the Amazon Jungle, is a moist broadleaf forest in the Amazon biome that covers most of the Amazon basin of South America. This basin encompasses 7,000,000 km2 (2,700,000 sq mi), of which 5,500,000 km2 (2,100,000 sq mi) are covered by the rainforest. This region includes territory belonging to nine nations. The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with 60% of the rainforest, followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and France (French Guiana). States or departments in four nations contain "Amazonas" in their names. The Amazon represents over half of the planet's remaining rainforests, and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, with an estimated 390 billion individual trees divided into 16,000 species.American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History (abbreviated as AMNH), located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York City, is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. Located in Theodore Roosevelt Park across the street from Central Park, the museum complex comprises 28 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibition halls, in addition to a planetarium and a library. The museum collections contain over 33 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts, of which only a small fraction can be displayed at any given time, and occupies more than 2 million square feet (0.19×10^6 m2). The museum has a full-time scientific staff of 225, sponsors over 120 special field expeditions each year, and averages about five million visits annually.The one mission statement of the American Museum of Natural History is: "To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe."Chaparral
Chaparral () is a shrubland or heathland plant community found primarily in the US state of California and in the northern portion of the Baja California Peninsula, Mexico. It is shaped by a Mediterranean climate (mild, wet winters and hot dry summers) and wildfire, featuring summer-drought-tolerant plants with hard sclerophyllous evergreen leaves, as contrasted with the associated soft-leaved, drought-deciduous, scrub community of coastal sage scrub, found below the chaparral biome. Chaparral covers 5% of the state of California and associated Mediterranean shrubland an additional 3.5%. The name comes from the Spanish word chaparro, for evergreen oak shrubland.Chihuahuan Desert
The Chihuahuan Desert (Spanish: Desierto de Chihuahua) is a desert and ecoregion designation covering parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. It occupies much of West Texas, parts of the middle and lower Rio Grande Valley and the lower Pecos Valley in New Mexico, and a portion of southeastern Arizona, as well as the central and northern portions of the Mexican Plateau. It is bordered on the west by the extensive Sierra Madre Occidental range, along with northwestern lowlands of the Sierra Madre Oriental range. On the Mexican side, it covers a large portion of the state of Chihuahua, along with portions of Coahuila, north-eastern Durango, the extreme northern part of Zacatecas, and small western portions of Nuevo León. With an area of about 362,000 km2 (139,769 sq mi), it is the third largest desert of the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in North America, after the Great Basin Desert.David Attenborough
Sir David Frederick Attenborough (; born 8 May 1926) is an English broadcaster and natural historian. He is best known for writing and presenting, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, the nine natural history documentary series forming the Life collection that together constitute a comprehensive survey of animal and plant life on Earth. He is a former senior manager at the BBC, having served as controller of BBC Two and director of programming for BBC Television in the 1960s and 1970s. He is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programmes in each of black and white, colour, HD, 3D and 4K.Attenborough is widely considered a national treasure in Britain, although he himself does not like the term. In 2002 he was named among the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide poll for the BBC. He is the younger brother of the director, producer and actor Richard Attenborough, and older brother of the motor executive John Attenborough.Entomology
Entomology (from Ancient Greek ἔντομον (entomon), meaning 'insect', and -λογία (-logia), meaning 'study of') is the scientific study of insects, a branch of zoology. In the past the term "insect" was more vague, and historically the definition of entomology included the study of terrestrial animals in other arthropod groups or other phyla, such as arachnids, myriapods, earthworms, land snails, and slugs. This wider meaning may still be encountered in informal use.
Like several of the other fields that are categorized within zoology, entomology is a taxon-based category; any form of scientific study in which there is a focus on insect-related inquiries is, by definition, entomology. Entomology therefore overlaps with a cross-section of topics as diverse as molecular genetics, behavior, biomechanics, biochemistry, systematics, physiology, developmental biology, ecology, morphology, and paleontology.
At some 1.3 million described species, insects account for more than two-thirds of all known organisms, date back some 400 million years, and have many kinds of interactions with humans and other forms of life on earth.Field Museum of Natural History
The Field Museum of Natural History (FMNH), also known as The Field Museum, is a natural history museum in Chicago, and is one of the largest such museums in the world. The museum maintains its status as a premier natural-history museum through the size and quality of its educational and scientific programs, as well as due to its extensive scientific-specimen and artifact collections. The diverse, high-quality permanent exhibitions, which attract up to two million visitors annually, range from the earliest fossils to past and current cultures from around the world to interactive programming demonstrating today's urgent conservation needs. The museum is named in honor of its first major benefactor, the department-store magnate Marshall Field. The museum and its collections originated from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the artifacts displayed at the fair.The museum maintains a temporary exhibition program of traveling shows as well as in-house produced topical exhibitions. The professional staff maintains collections of over 24 million specimens and objects that provide the basis for the museum’s scientific-research programs. These collections include the full range of existing biodiversity, gems, meteorites, fossils, and rich anthropological collections and cultural artifacts from around the globe. The museum's library, which contains over 275,000 books, journals, and photo archives focused on biological systematics, evolutionary biology, geology, archaeology, ethnology and material culture, supports the museum’s academic-research faculty and exhibit development. The academic faculty and scientific staff engage in field expeditions, in biodiversity and cultural research on every continent, in local and foreign student training, and in stewardship of the rich specimen and artifact collections. They work in close collaboration with public programming exhibitions and education initiatives.Melanesia
Melanesia (UK: , US: ) is a subregion of Oceania extending from New Guinea island in the southwestern Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji.
The region includes the four independent countries of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea, as well as the French special collectivity of New Caledonia, and the Indonesian region of Western New Guinea. Most of the region is in the Southern Hemisphere, with a few small northwestern islands of Western New Guinea in the Northern Hemisphere.
The name Melanesia (in French Mélanésie) was first used by Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1832 to denote an ethnic and geographical grouping of islands whose inhabitants he thought were distinct from those of Micronesia and Polynesia.National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History is a natural history museum administered by the Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., United States. It has free admission and is open 364 days a year. In 2016, with 7.1 million visitors, it was the fourth most visited museum in the world and the most visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum on the National Mall was one of the first Smithsonian buildings constructed exclusively to hold the national collections and research facilities. The main building has an overall area of 1,500,000 square feet (140,000 m2) with 325,000 square feet (30,200 m2) of exhibition and public space and houses over 1,000 employees.The museum's collections contain over 126 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, human remains, and human cultural artifacts. It is also home to about 185 professional natural history scientists—the largest group of scientists dedicated to the study of natural and cultural history in the world.National Museum of Natural History (France)
The French National Museum of Natural History, known in French as the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle (abbreviation MNHN), is the national natural history museum of France and a grand établissement of higher education part of Sorbonne Universities. The main museum is located in Paris, France, on the left bank of the River Seine. It was founded in 1793 during the French Revolution, but was established earlier in 1635. As of 2017, the museum has 14 sites throughout France, with four in Paris, including the original location at the royal botanical garden, the Jardin des Plantes, which remains one of the seven departments of MNHN.Natural History (Pliny)
The Natural History (Latin: Naturalis Historia) is a book about the whole of the natural world in Latin by Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and naval commander who died in 79 AD.
It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover all ancient knowledge. The work's subject area is thus not limited to what is today understood by natural history; Pliny himself defines his scope as "the natural world, or life". It is encyclopedic in scope, but its structure is not like that of a modern encyclopedia.
The work is divided into 37 books, organised into ten volumes. These cover topics including astronomy, mathematics, geography, ethnography, anthropology, human physiology, zoology, botany, agriculture, horticulture, pharmacology, mining, mineralogy, sculpture, painting, and precious stones.
Pliny's Natural History became a model for later encyclopedias and scholarly works as a result of its breadth of subject matter, its referencing of original authors, and its index. The work is dedicated to the emperor Titus, a son of Pliny's close friend, the emperor Vespasian, in the first year of Titus's reign. It is the only work by Pliny to have survived, and the last that he published. He began it in 77, and had not made a final revision at the time of his death during the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius.Natural History Museum, London
The Natural History Museum in London is a natural history museum that exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. It is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the others being the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum's main frontage, however, is on Cromwell Road.
The museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. The museum is a centre of research specialising in taxonomy, identification and conservation. Given the age of the institution, many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The museum is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons and ornate architecture—sometimes dubbed a cathedral of nature—both exemplified by the large Diplodocus cast that dominated the vaulted central hall before it was replaced in 2017 with the skeleton of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling. The Natural History Museum Library contains extensive books, journals, manuscripts, and artwork collections linked to the work and research of the scientific departments; access to the library is by appointment only. The museum is recognised as the pre-eminent centre of natural history and research of related fields in the world.
Although commonly referred to as the Natural History Museum, it was officially known as British Museum (Natural History) until 1992, despite legal separation from the British Museum itself in 1963. Originating from collections within the British Museum, the landmark Alfred Waterhouse building was built and opened by 1881 and later incorporated the Geological Museum. The Darwin Centre is a more recent addition, partly designed as a modern facility for storing the valuable collections.
Like other publicly funded national museums in the United Kingdom, the Natural History Museum does not charge an admission fee. (It did but was scrapped in 2001)
The museum is an exempt charity and a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is a patron of the museum. There are approximately 850 staff at the Museum. The two largest strategic groups are the Public Engagement Group and Science Group.Neotropical realm
The Neotropical realm is one of the eight biogeographic realms constituting the Earth's land surface. Physically, it includes the tropical terrestrial ecoregions of the Americas and the entire South American temperate zone.New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Sciences (originally the Lyceum of Natural History) was founded in January 1817. It is one of the oldest scientific societies in the United States. An independent, non-profit organization with more than 20,000 members in 100 countries, the Academy's mission is "to advance scientific research and knowledge; to support scientific literacy; and to promote the resolution of society's global challenges through science-based solutions". The current President and CEO is Ellis Rubinstein; the current chair of the board of governors of the Academy is NYU professor and longtime Senior Vice President of all research for IBM, Paul Horn. He succeeds Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor, The State University of New York (SUNY).Pacific Plate
The Pacific Plate is an oceanic tectonic plate that lies beneath the Pacific Ocean. At 103 million square kilometres (40,000,000 sq mi), it is the largest tectonic plate.The Pacific Plate contains an interior hot spot forming the Hawaiian Islands.Hillis and Müller are reported to consider the Bird's Head Plate to be moving in unison with the Pacific Plate. Bird considers them to be unconnected.Palearctic realm
The Palearctic or Palaearctic is one of the eight biogeographic realms on the Earth's surface, first identified in the 19th century, and still in use today as the basis for zoogeographic classification. The Palearctic is the largest of the eight realms. It stretches across all of Europe, Asia north of the foothills of the Himalayas, North Africa, and the northern and central parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
The realm consists of several ecoregions: the Euro-Siberian region; the Mediterranean Basin; the Sahara and Arabian Deserts; and Western, Central and East Asia. The Palaearctic realm also has numerous rivers and lakes, forming several freshwater ecoregions. Some of the rivers were the source of water for the earliest recorded civilizations that used irrigation methods.Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution ( smith-SOH-nee-ən), founded on August 10, 1846 "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge," is a group of museums and research centers administered by the Government of the United States. The institution is named after its founding donor, British scientist James Smithson. Originally organized as the "United States National Museum," that name ceased to exist as an administrative entity in 1967.Termed "the nation's attic"
for its eclectic holdings of 154 million items, the Institution's nineteen museums, nine research centers, and zoo include historical and architectural landmarks, mostly located in the District of Columbia. Additional facilities are located in Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York City, Pittsburgh, Texas, Virginia, and Panama. More than 200 institutions and museums in 45 states, Puerto Rico, and Panama are Smithsonian Affiliates.The Institution's thirty million annual visitors are admitted without charge. Its annual budget is around $1.2 billion with two-thirds coming from annual federal appropriations. Other funding comes from the Institution's endowment, private and corporate contributions, membership dues, and earned retail, concession, and licensing revenue. Institution publications include Smithsonian and Air & Space magazines.World Spider Catalog
The World Spider Catalog (WSC) is an online searchable database concerned with spider taxonomy. It aims to list all accepted families, genera and species, as well as provide access to the related taxonomic literature. The WSC began as a series of individual web pages in 2000, created by Norman I. Platnick of the American Museum of Natural History. After Platnick's retirement in 2014, the Natural History Museum of Bern (Switzerland) took over the catalog, converting it to a relational database.As of October 2017, 46,932 accepted species were listed.The order Araneae (spiders) has the seventh-largest number of species of all orders. The existence of the World Spider Catalog makes spiders the largest taxon with an online listing that is updated regularly. It has been described as an "exhaustive resource" that has "promoted rigorous scholarship and amplified productivity" in the taxonomy of spiders.
|Apostles of Linnaeus|