New Natural History Exhibit in Special Collections!

Making the Pages Come Alive: Four Centuries of Natural History In Print

Walter Havighurst Special Collections (3rd floor, King Library)

January 14 – May 10, 2013

From Thomas Say’s American Entomology

We’re happy to announce that our new spring semester exhibit is open to visitors!  This was a very fun exhibit to curate and a great excuse to look at pretty pictures of birds, flowers and animals in our collections.  So often our exhibits are focused on the arts and the humanities, we wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to highlight our science-related collections, as well.  The images shown here are just a few of the beautiful natural science illustrations on exhibit.

From Thomas Pennant’s Arctic Zoology

The field of natural history, the observation-based study of plants and animals in their environment, has its origins in the ancient Greco-Roman world, most notably in the pages of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia completed between AD 77 and 79.  However, humans have been recording their observations of nature in multiple ways since the first cave paintings portrayed animals and plants.  During the middle ages artistic interpretations of the natural world could be found in sculpture, paintings, and folk crafts, while early scientific findings were recorded in the pages of illuminated manuscripts called herbals and bestiaries. 

From John James Audubon’s Birds of America

As with all scholarly information of the period, the advent of print in the 15th century provided natural history scholars, and their talented illustrators, a wider audience for their work and more accuracy in the dissemination of their findings.  

The books showcased here demonstrate the various ways that natural history subjects have been depicted in print from the 16th through the 19th centuries.  The oldest book in the exhibit is a 1534 edition of Pliny’s foundational work, while the most recent publication is Sherman Foote Denton’s Moths and Butterflies of the United States, published in 1900, which is noted for the author’s innovative method of illustration.

From Pier Antonio Micheli’s Nova plantarum genera

Whether it’s an early woodcut engraving of an exotic animal, a famous bird illustration by John James Audubon, or the colorful flowers of The Botanical Magazine, the illustrations on these pages truly make nature come alive.

Kimberly Tully
Special Collections Librarian