Natural History, Naturally

History covers all sorts of topics and usually we assume “history” means social history – the study of groups of people, the way they live, their actions, and specifically their interactions, peaceful or violent. But let’s not forget natural history.

Natural history is the study of plants and animals, the natural world. Nowadays we have more specific scientific names for all the various sub-categories. Natural history museums are in every major city and usually at every university. There you will learn about the indigenous peoples of the area (why they are tagged with plants and animals and not with human history I have no idea), geological formations and distinguishing characteristics, local animal and plant species, etc.

Pliny of this and Pliny of that

Way back when, Pliny the Elder published his Naturalis Historiae in 77-79 AD. It covers a multitude of subjects and is, according to our friends at Wikipedia, a compendium of ancient knowledge from sources and experts extant at that time relating to and drawing on the natural world. His work served as the model for the study of natural history through the centuries.

Natural history, quite naturally, relates to social history because people did and still do make their living from the natural world. Despite those nice glossy “modern” dwellings and all our digitized efforts, we still have to root around in the dirt to get our veggies and I guarantee without agriculture our societies will collapse in famine and pestilence.

Know the natural world

What I mean to impart is that it is as important to understand how the natural world really works (be careful, there are experts who purport to know and whose theories of climate, health, and ecology drawn on more supposition than fact) as it is to have a good grip on social history.

It also serves to remember that we haven’t been industrialized all that long, so knowing how the ancients and the denizens of the “olden days” lived helps us to gauge if society is moving in a positive technological direction or toward disaster.

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