The Humanist Invention of 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 Humanist Invention of Natural History

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The discipline of natural history was invented in the sixteenth century, but Renaissance naturalists drew upon ancient and medieval predecessors in the study of nature. Steeped in medical humanism, the first generation of naturalists turned naturally to the Roman and especially Greek classics to delineate their subject and defend their methods. Subsequent generations pursued lines of inquiry set out by ancient and medieval authors, even as those authors' works received less and less attention. Like any invention, natural history was not created ex nihilo. Naturalists creatively appropriated elements of the ancient and medieval tradition, turning them to new ends. In large part, though, the ancient and medieval tradition was itself invented by Renaissance naturalists. Out of a congeries of texts produced over the course of two millennia, Renaissance naturalists forged a unitary tradition, a series of naturalists like themselves who were engaged in a common project.

Keywords: Renaissance naturalists; natural history; medical humanism; medieval tradition; unitary tradition; Greek classics

Chapter.  21084 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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