Darwin-L Message Log 6:45 (February 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<6:45>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Wed Feb  9 23:18:32 1994

Date: Thu, 10 Feb 1994 00:21:29 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: "Natural history" and "botany"
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

Peter Stevens sent me these thoughts on the scope of "natural history" and
"botany" in the 1800s and invited me to pass them on to the list, which
I here do.

Bob O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)


There is a development already evident by the very early 1800s in that writers
for semi-popular audiences on animal matters may sometimes entitle their books
like "The philosophy of natural history", or "Natural History of the world".
However, I have found -no- botanical titles like this (there are a few titles
like "the natural history of tea and coffee", but these are a) uncommon and b)
for more specialist audiences).  Botanical authors use the word "botany" in
their titles if they are talking about plants alone.  Interestingly, the
botany "described" is often (Linnaean) classification, and this results in the
books being heavily freighted with terms and their explanations (note that
there are also "botany" books that include physiology, etc.).  This botany is
like the botany "proprement dite" of Candolle and others -- classificatory.
This distinction between botany and zoological natural history can be seen in
the cover of the "Penny Magazine" (there is a nice illustration in Barber's
"The heyday of natural history").

Natural history -- animals -- was at times for boys (there is a nice comment
by H. G. Wells in the introduction to one book that "no young -gentleman-"
could afford to be without the book...).

I wonder if "botany" = classification became somewhat trivialised by being
associated with classification-type studies in the semi-popular and popular
secondary literature -- and these studies were either explicitly for women, or
written by women for the education of children.  I also wonder what zoological
systematists called themselves is the nineteenth century.  Darwin and Huxley
sometimes equate "natural history" and collecting/classificatory studies, but
I have not yet camped in the library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology to
try and work out the relevant zoological nomenclature.

I find this kind of thing potentially interesting because it may help to
explain how words come to have particular associations in the popular mind
which may or may not be the same as the associations made by the


Peter Stevens

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