"Natural history" is an umbrella term for what are now usually viewed as a number of distinct scientific disciplines. Most definitions include the study of living things (e.g. biology, including botany and zoology); other definitions extend the topic to include paleontology, ecology or biochemistry, as well as parts of geology and physics and even meteorology. A person interested in natural history is known as a naturalist. This was predominantly an amateur activity and not an occupation. The rise of interest in natural history in Britain is linked with the tradition of herbalists and apothecarians. This grew into specialist hobbies such as the study of birds, butterflies and wildflowers.
In the 18th century and well into the 19th century, natural history as a term was frequently used to refer to all scientific studies, as opposed to political or ecclesiastical history. As such, the subject area would include all aspects of physics, astronomy, archeology, etc. This broad usage is still used for some institutions including museums and societies.
Famous natural history museums
The term "natural history" forms the descriptive part of institution names, such as the Natural History Museum in London, the Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which also publishes a magazine called Natural History.
For more museums, see Natural history museums
Natural history societies
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 birds (ornithology), mammals, insects (entomology) and plants (botany). They may also have microscopical and geological sections.
Examples of these societies in Britain include the British Entomological and Natural History Society founded in 1872, Birmingham Natural History Society, Glasgow Natural History Society, London Natural History Society, Manchester Microscopical and Natural History Society established in 1880 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)
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13