The World of Renaissance Natural History

in The Science of Describing

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780226620879
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226620862 | DOI:
The World of Renaissance Natural History

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This chapter explores the formation of natural history in the late Renaissance. Over the course of a little more than a century, natural history developed out of medical humanism into a distinct scholarly discipline, practiced by a self-identified group of naturalists, most of whom were tightly integrated into local communities of naturalists centered on universities or courts; those communities, in turn, were closely connected through correspondence and travel. Naturalists imagined themselves as a distinct community and as part of a broader Republic of Letters. Such was not the case in classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. What would become “natural history” in the Renaissance sense comprised three distinct traditions: natural philosophy, pharmacy, and agriculture. Renaissance naturalists drew upon these traditions in their own work, but they did more: they retrospectively invented a unitary tradition out of distinct ancient and medieval strands in order to justify and legitimate the activities of their imagined community. It is this double story—the ancient and medieval background and Renaissance naturalists' creative interpretation of it—that the next chapter relates.

Keywords: Renaissance natural history; medical humanism; natural philosophy; pharmacy; agriculture; unitary tradition

Chapter.  26497 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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