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Darwin-L Message Log 6:68 (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.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<6:68>From DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu  Sat Feb 12 20:26:40 1994

Date: Sat, 12 Feb 1994 21:29:49 -0400 (EDT)
From: DARWIN@iris.uncg.edu
Subject: Natural history, botany, and boys and girls
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Organization: University of NC at Greensboro

With regard to Peter Stevens's musings on botany, natural history, and
boys and girls, one useful reference might be:

  Sewall, Richard B.  1992.  Science and the poet: Emily Dickinson's
    herbarium and "the clue divine".  _Harvard Library Bulletin_, 3:11-26.

At age fourteen (1844), ED writes to a friend: "Have you made an herbarium
yet?  I hope you will if you have not, it would be such a treasure to you;
'most all the girls are making one."  (This paper might also be of interest
to Peter personally because he will find that the collection it describes is
mistakenly housed at the wrong end of Divinity Avenue; perhaps he should go
retrieve it?)  ;-)

Dickinson's education in natural history (including botany and geology) was
rather extraordinary, and as far as I've seen it was quite typical of school
children of her time and situation.  It allowed her later to include quite
a few precise scientific allusions in her poetry:

     The Lilac is an ancient shrub
     But ancienter than that
     The Firmamental Lilac
     Upon the Hill tonight --
     The Sun subsiding on his Course
     Bequeathes this final Plant
     To Contemplation -- not to Touch --
     The Flower of the Occident.
     Of one Corolla is the West --
     The Calyx is the Earth --
     The Capsules burnished Seeds the Stars --
     The Scientist of Faith
     His research has but just begun --
     Above his synthesis
     The Flora unimpeachable
     To Time's Analysis --
     "Eye hath not seen" may possibly
     Be current with the Blind
     But let not Revelation
     By theses be detained --

Later in the nineteenth century I've always had the feeling that Louis
Agassiz's educational shadow was quite long (at least in the United States),
and since he was strongly anti-evolutionary I wonder if all the school
teachers he taught natural history to didn't in fact contribute somewhat to
the decline of natural history as a "scientific" subject, and the rise of the
twentieth century sense of "natural history" as a popular subject with vaguely
natural-theology overtones (such as can be seen today in most nature shows on
TV).  This is just speculation, of course; I know there was lots of popular
natural history well before Louis; I wonder though if he didn't help to
entrench it.

Bob O'Hara, Darwin-L list owner

Robert J. O'Hara (darwin@iris.uncg.edu)
Center for Critical Inquiry and Department of Biology
100 Foust Building, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.

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