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Natural History (Civ6)

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"In all works on Natural History, we constantly find details of the marvelous adaptation of animals to their food, their habits, and the localities in which they are found."
–Alfred Wallace
"Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe."
–Nelson Algren



Historical Context Edit

A beautiful, old-fashioned term but puzzling … since everyone knows what “natural” means and what “history” is, isn’t “natural history” the study of non-human life on Earth in the past? No, it isn’t. Natural History is the study of animals, plants, fungi and such in their environment. Leaning on observational rather than experimental research, natural historians tend to wander about grubby places and occasionally publish.

Aristotle was the first to apply reason to what he observed of the diversity of nature, but it was Pedanius Dioscorides who first found practical applications for natural history in pharmacology. The medicinal uses of nature remained the primary emphasis of the field through the 18th Century AD. Throughout, the major principle of natural history was the scala naturae (or “Great Chain of Being”) decreed by God, an arrangement on a linear scale of all things – minerals, plants, primitive animals to more complex animals – in increasing perfection, culminating in humanity. It was a concept quite acceptable to the Catholic Church.

Until that is, the exploration of the wider world during the Renaissance brought all sorts of new organisms to light. The rapid increase in the number of known species prompted attempts at systematic classification of these into taxonomic groups, culminating in the revolutionary system of Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus published in 1735. Study of natural history, once freed of the heavy hand of the Church, expanded phenomenally. Commencing in 1749 and continuing through 1804, the Histoire Naturelle, générale et particuliere was an encyclopedic collection of everything known of natural history compiled by the Comte de Buffon in 36 volumes.

By the Industrial era, natural history was all the rage. Amateur naturalists crawled out of every garden, and explorers kept bringing back odd creatures from distant places. Across Europe and the Americas natural history societies sprang into being, and gigantic public museums – such as those in London and Washington – were built to display bones, pelts and bugs on pins for the edification of school children for all time.

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