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Deep Things out of Darkness: A History of Natural History

John G. T. Anderson
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 366
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  • Book Info
    Deep Things out of Darkness
    Book Description:

    Natural history, the deliberate observation of the environment, is arguably the oldest science. From purely practical beginnings as a way of finding food and shelter, natural history evolved into the holistic, systematic study of plants, animals, and the landscape.Deep Things out of Darknesschronicles the rise, decline, and ultimate revival of natural history within the realms of science and public discourse. Ecologist John G. T. Anderson focuses his account on the lives and contributions of an eclectic group of men and women, from John Ray, John Muir, Charles Darwin, and Rachel Carson, who endured remarkable hardships and privations in order to learn more about their surroundings. Written in an engaging narrative style and with an extensive bibliography of primary sources, the book charts the journey of the naturalist's endeavor from prehistory to the present, underscoring the need for natural history in an era of dynamic environmental change.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95445-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction: Adam’s Task, Job’s Challenge
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book is neither by nor intended for a professional historian. I am advancing no overarching thesis about the development of science or culture. Instead, I aim to resurrect the people and the stories that set the stage for modern ecological understanding. I am writing, first of all, for the advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students who have so enriched my own teaching and research experience. Second, but of equal importance, I am writing for the serious amateur naturalist—the sort of person who has played such an important part in the development and recognition of natural history across time,...

  7. ONE From Hunter-Gatherers to Kings of Kings
    (pp. 7-13)

    By definition, prehistoric peoples did not leave us a written record of who they were or what they did. We are forced to infer their stories from artifacts, from oral histories, or through comparative studies of more recent humans who seem to have made use of similar technologies and resources in similar environments. There are obvious dangers in all this, particularly when we must base our assumptions on what are often only fragments of a civilization or culture.¹ Some patterns, however, do seem to recur with enough frequency that it may be safe to suggest at least a working hypothesis...

  8. TWO A Wonderful Man: Aristotle and Greek Natural History
    (pp. 14-21)

    From his earliest days as a naturalist, Charles Darwin was a voracious reader who always rejoiced in the excitement he found in the works of earlier authors. In a letter written just two months before he died, Darwin said: “I had a high notion of Aristotle’s merits, but I had not the most remote notion of what a wonderful man he was. Linnaeus and Cuvier have been my two gods, though in very different ways, but they were mere schoolboys to old Aristotle.”¹

    Although much of Darwin’s work was firmly lodged in the Aristotelian tradition of careful observation and recording...

  9. THREE The Spoils of an Empire
    (pp. 22-29)

    Alexander died in 323 BCE—a year before Aristotle’s death—and his empire immediately came apart at the seams. In the absence of any adult biological heir (Alexander’s sons were infants and easily disposed of), his generals carved things up into separate domains. Ptolemy (367–283 BCE), perhaps the most sensible of Alexander’s successors, centered his dynastic kingdom at Alexandria, Egypt, protected on three sides by desert and on the fourth by the Mediterranean Sea.

    Ptolemy was of the right age to have been in court when Aristotle was in Macedon. Whether he was actually part of the group of...

  10. FOUR An Emperor and His Descendants
    (pp. 30-42)

    It is often popular to view the thousand years between the fall of Rome and the beginning of the Renaissance as a miserable Dark Age, undistinguished by any real advances in the sciences or humanities. Huxley says: “From the end of the Classical period until the beginning of the 15th century, original thought and speculations about Natural History were effectively stifled.”¹ Earlier authors were even more brutal. Nicholson gives a brief nod to Pliny and ignores other Roman authors entirely, saying: “With the death of Aristotle, the scientific prosecution of natural history practically came to a close, not for a...

  11. FIVE New Worlds
    (pp. 43-51)

    By the end of the fifteenth century, Europeans had known for some time that the world was much larger than their studies of Greek and Roman texts might suggest. Early mapmaking had relied heavily on the depictions of the world produced by Claudius Ptolemaeus or Ptolemy (90–168 CE). Ptolemy had created both a system of mapmaking and a series of maps of his own, but no originals have survived.¹ Ptolemy’s maps had depicted rough outlines of the coast of India, and had extended as far as Indochina, with even hints of Japan, but they seriously underestimated the distances involved....

  12. SIX Ray, Linnaeus, and the Ordering of the World
    (pp. 52-72)

    The seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries marked a remarkable period for science in general and natural history in particular. The first decade of the new century saw the staging of Shakespeare’sThe Tempest,featuring Prospero, almost the archetype of the medieval sorcerer-scientist. By the end of the century, Isaac Newton had published hisPrincipia,John Ray and his colleagues had moved botany out of the realm of the herbalists, William Harvey had demonstrated the circulation of the blood in vertebrates, and science and magic had parted ways once and for all. Of particular importance to the creation of a modern...

  13. SEVEN Journeys Near and Far
    (pp. 73-90)

    Linnaeus’s travels in Lapland in the second quarter of the eighteenth century were part of a much more general trend of naturalist-explorers who took it upon themselves to go and see and bring back for study examples of the expanding natural world. Sometimes these intrepid adventurers went with the support of wealthy patrons or the learned societies that were springing up throughout Europe; sometimes they relied on their own resources to get them where they wanted to go. Some came back to fame and position, some were soon forgotten, and some never returned at all. But between 1700 and 1900,...

  14. EIGHT Before the Origin
    (pp. 91-102)

    Darwinian biology, or Darwinism, as Alfred Russel Wallace christened it, was deeply rooted in natural history.¹ Both Charles Darwin and Wallace were supremely confident natural historians and keen observers of a broad range of phenomena; both traveled widely during some part of their careers; and both were fully aware of the attempts of their predecessors to study and make sense of the natural world.

    The primary elements of Darwinism were born from studies of natural history and the taxonomy that was built out of it.² Natural selection itself is one of those ideas that, after the fact, simply makes sense...

  15. NINE Forms Most Beautiful: Darwin
    (pp. 103-127)

    Charles Robert Darwin (1809–82) was the fifth of six children born to Dr. Robert Darwin and Susannah DarwinnéeWedgewood. By the time Charles was born, the Darwin and Wedgewood family fortunes were well established. Charles’s father had followed Erasmus Darwin into medicine and had also taken advantage of the family’s Lunar Society connections to become very well off. His marriage to Susannah also brought with it a piece of Wedgewood capital and cemented what had already become a multigenerational friendship between the families.

    Robert constructed the Mount, a substantial Georgian house for himself and his growing family, in...

  16. TEN The Geography of Nature: Humboldt
    (pp. 128-145)

    When Darwin departed on his circumnavigation of the globe, he was following in the footsteps of a growing army of natural historians who were taking advantage of the ever easier modes of travel that were opening up the world to settlement and study. Joseph Banks had been an early model, and we know from Darwin’s letters that he had read accounts of Cook’s voyages, and indeed was thrilled to see some of the very sights that had so impressed the earlier explorers. Darwin’s interest in traveling through south America was also fired by another traveler, who wrote, some time before...

  17. ELEVEN Hearts of Light: Wallace and Bates
    (pp. 146-172)

    There is a literary tradition, exemplified by Joseph Conrad, in which a supposedly civilized European or American penetrates into some savage backwater and proceeds to regress into a form of bestial savagery that makes a lie of everything that he or she is supposed to represent. There is something very appealing about this idea: the thin veneer of civility is ripped away by the harsh reality of untamed nature. The trouble is that, as with all such fables, it isn’t necessarily true. In chapter 10, we have already seen Humboldt and Bonpland, two of the most civilized naturalists on record,...

  18. TWELVE Spoils of Other Empires
    (pp. 173-192)

    From the fifteenth through the first third of the twentieth centuries, the nations of Europe moved outward, conquering much of the rest of the world, destroying or subduing local human populations, and in some cases transforming large areas of other continents to resemble the European homeland. At its peak at the beginning of the twentieth century, the British Empire ruled over a quarter of the land surface of the earth and also over more than 425 million people, out of a global population of fewer than two billion.¹ Other European countries never quite achieved this scale, but not for want...

  19. THIRTEEN Breadfruit and Icebergs
    (pp. 193-207)

    At sea, too, the course of empire was continuing the tradition of exploration in natural history. We have already discussed James Cook’s First Voyage in relation to Joseph Banks, but in his role as a global explorer and navigator of great skill, Cook was of importance to several other people involved in natural history. Cook was born the son of a farmhand on October 27, 1728.¹ There was no immediate nautical tradition in his family, but Cook was fascinated by the sea from an early age. In 1742, at the age of fourteen, Cook literally ran away to sea, signing...

  20. FOURTEEN Naturalists in New England: Thoreau, Agassiz, and Gray
    (pp. 208-225)

    In July 1896, the following paragraph appeared inScience,the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

    After having published some fifty volumes in the series of “Classics for Children,” it is time that Ginn & Co. should include a scientific selection. They have done well in choosing Gilbert White’sNatural History of Selbourne[sic]. . . .It would not be possible to place a better book in the hands of a boy of fourteen. Observers of nature, such as White, Thoreau, and Audubon, seem to be lacking at the present time. Biology has perhaps become...

  21. FIFTEEN From Muir and Alexander to Leopold and Carson
    (pp. 226-248)

    In 1869, the German embryologist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) wrote that “the body of knowledge concerning the economy of nature—the investigation of the total relations of the animal both to its inorganic and to its organic environment . . .in a word, ecology is the study of all those complex interrelations referred to by Darwin as the conditions for the struggle for existence. . . . The science of ecology, often inaccurately referred to as ‘biology’ in a narrow sense, has thus far formed the principal component of what is commonly referred to as ‘Natural History.’ ”¹

    Whether Haeckel...

  22. SIXTEEN The Slow Death (and Resurrection) of Natural History
    (pp. 249-258)

    The transition between field and lab science as a dominant feature in twentieth-century American biology has been discussed in depth by Robert Kohler.¹ His thesis is that the important shift from more traditional natural history to contemporary ecology occurred sometime in the 1930s, with an increasing emphasis on quantitative methodology, hypothesis testing, and attempts at what were referred to as natural experiments. Kohler’s examples are compelling, and I agree with his labeling of many forms of study in field biology as “border practices” in the broader scheme of biology. As I discussed in the previous chapter, however, the conflicts and...

  23. NOTES
    (pp. 259-292)
    (pp. 293-318)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 319-346)