Natural history is the scientific research of plants or animals, usually leaning toward the observational rather than the experimental, and encompasses more research that is published in magazines than in academic journals. Natural history involves the research and formation of statements that make elements of life and life styles comprehensible by describing the relevant structures, operations and circumstances of various species, such as diet, reproduction, and social grouping. The term has grown to be an umbrella term for what are now often viewed as several distinct scientific disciplines of integrative organismal biology. 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 climatology.
Natural history is 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.—Stephen Herman, 2002
It has historically been a haphazard study, description, and classification of natural objects, such as animals, plants, minerals, and placed an importance and significance on fieldwork rather than lab work. A person interested in natural history is known as a naturalist or natural historian. Natural History is not commonly applied to the fields of astronomy, physics, or chemistry.
The History of natural history
The roots of natural history go back to Aristotle and other ancient philosophers who analyzed the diversity of the natural world. From the ancient Greeks until the work of Carolus Linnaeus and other 18th century naturalists, the central concept tying together the various domains of natural history was the scala naturae or Great Chain of Being, which arranged minerals, vegetables, animals, and higher beings on a linear scale of increasing "perfection." Natural history was basically static through the Middle Ages, when the work of Aristotle was adapted into Christian philosophy, particularly by Thomas Aquinas, forming the basis for natural theology. In 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. 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 Linnaeus.
The study of how organisms in a particular area are influenced by factors such as climate, soils, predators, competitors and evolutionary history.
In the 18th century and well into the 19th century, natural history as a term was frequently used to refer to all descriptive aspects of the study of nature, as opposed to political or ecclesiastical history; it was the counterpart to the analytical study of nature, natural philosophy. Roughly it may be said that natural philosophy corresponded to modern physics and chemistry, while natural history included the biological and geological sciences.
Beginning in 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. Particularly in Britain and the United States, this grew into specialist hobbies such as the study of birds, butterflies 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 continued to play a part in late 19th- and early 20th-century biology, especially ecology, ethology, and evolutionary biology, 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 19th and early-20th centuries, particularly the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.
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 Grigore Antipa Museum of Natural History in Bucharest, the Smithsonian'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, the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which also publishes a magazine called Natural History.
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.
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 (mammology), insects (entomology), fungi (mycology) 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 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)
- Natural philosophy
- Natural science
- Naturalism (philosophy)
- Nature documentary
- Nature writing
- Nature study
- Big History
- Timeline of evolution
- Citations and notes
- ↑ Natural History WordNet Search, princeton.edu.
- ↑ http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Primates/glossary.cfm
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 http://alpha.fdu.edu/~jbecker/nature/natureglossary.html
- General information
- Herman, Stephen G. Wildlife biology and natural history: time for a reunion. Journal of Wildlife Management (2002) 66(4):933–946
- 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.
- Natural History Museum, London
- London Natural History Society
- Birmingham Natural History Society
- Bombay Natural History Society, India
- Glasgow Natural History Society
- Manchester Microscopical & Natural History Society
- Scarborough Field Naturalists' Society
- Sorby Natural History Society, Sheffield
- American Museum of Natural History, New York
- Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle
- Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago
- Rhode Island Natural History Survey
- Natural History New Zealand Ltd
- The Naturalist's Net Online Forum
- Slater Museum of Natural History, Tacoma
- University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Eugene
- Vancouver Natural History Society, Vancouver Canada
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