The theme in my undergraduate field biology course this term is “Natural History”. This is proving very interesting, in part because defining natural history is difficult.
What is Natural History?
Thankfully, my colleague Terry Wheeler wrote a terrific post on this topic recently. I urge you to read this, as I think it brings a lot of clarity to this issue. In that post, Terry states his scientific definition of the concept: Natural History is the search for, and description of, patterns in nature.
Terry’s definition resonates with me, but I was curious about what natural history might mean to undergraduate students. I wanted to share with you some ideas about natural history that were proposed by some of my students. I had asked them to think about defining natural history, and to think of this concept as it might relate to the discipline of Ecology.
Here is some of what they said, paraphrased by me:
Ecology is a thorough interpretation of natural history
It’s not possible to study ecology without indirectly studying natural history
Natural history is studied with observation rather than experimental methods
Natural history is an indispensable part of science and culture.
Natural History can be represented in an artistic manner.
Natural history is a priceless source of information for biology and ecology.
The field of ecology sprouts from natural history.
Field work is natural history in action.
Natural history is a science which tries to show life and its diversity to a larger public.
Natural history is familiarity with nature, with or without an explanation.
Data gathered from natural history is not necessarily conclusive.
Do these ideas resonate with you?
What does natural history mean to you?