The early period of nature study

Nature study was the common name of the following sciences: zoology, botany, mineralogy, petrology and palaeontology in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it mostly consisted of collecting, systematising and expounding knowledge based on observations. As the expression ‘nature study’ became old-fashioned after the uprise of sciences based on experiments in the 20th century, the denomination ‘natural science’ replaced it. In this week’s virtual exhibition, we have chosen some quotations and illustrations from the natural study works of old times.

Animals as ‘soulful creatures’

Ec_462_135_b.jpgIn ancient times, natural science included everything that was related to nature. One of the main characteristics of medieval natural science studies was that it consisted of examining different texts mostly. As the role of observation, illustration and independent studying came into prominence, nature study was born. In fact, it developed a lot in course of time, but it was not disassociated from theological explanations for a long time. Thus, you can find theological statements even in its doctrines from the middle of the 19th century.  

 “Everything that is created by God, we name creature. The science that leads us to know the creatures is called creature study. There are three kinds of creatures: animals, plants and minerals. The animals are soulful creatures, who live, feel, and move from one place to another and search food.” – Jakab Zimmermann, 1861


Basics of nature study, economics and domestic science - Szendrői Közművelődési Központ és Könyvtár, PDM

“Animal country, plant country and mineral country”

_MG_1628_kiv.jpg“As there are three kinds of creatures: the whole nature can be divided into three main parts: animal country, plant country and mineral country” (…) “A bird has a spine and its blood is warm and red; its body is covered with feathers; it has two wings and two feet, its nose is hard and pipe-shaped, it is called beak; it can reproduce by eggs. Some birds feed their nestlings (like storks, swallows and sparrows) others just help them find their food (like hens).” – Jakab Zimmermann, 1861


Wall creeper, scarlet honeycreeper or ʻIʻiwi in Hawaiian, the extinct dodo and two kinds of tree-creepers - Abbildungen naturhistorischer Gegenstände. 1810 - ELTE Egyetemi Könyvtár és Levéltár, PDM

“Insects are tiny animals mostly with wings (…) they transform several times during their lives.” – Jakab Zimmermann, 1861

A termite loves chewing wood

Ec_462_47_o_b.jpg“The so-called white ant (Termes fatalis; die weisse Ameise) is even more remarkable regarding its life-style, which resembles to an ant in certain features, but its body parts look like those of a louse. It loves chewing wood; its abdomen is a quarter of an inch long, flat and whitish coloured.” – András Nádaskay, 1828

Ec_462_127_o.jpgLocust - Abbildungen naturhistorischer Gegenstände. 1810 - ELTE Egyetemi Könyvtár és Levéltár, PDM

You can see a Locusta migratoria in the picture, but its former Latin name (Gryllus migratorius) hints that it was classified as a grasshopper back then.

Ectotherms are cold-blooded

“Ectotherms’ blood is cold, thus their bodies are also cold or cooled, and that’s why they are called ‘hüllők’ (cooled). They live on the land and the water; they lay tiny eggs or ova, but they do not hatch them as birds do, but leave them to the warmth of the sun.” – Jakab Zimmermann, 1861


 Crocodile is hatching from an egg, and a nestling is developing in an egg. 1810  - Abbildungen naturhistorischer Gegenstände - ELTE Egyetemi Könyvtár és Levéltár, PDM


Pangolin, water shrew, pygmy anteater, crocodile – book illustration from 1810 - Abbildungen naturhistorischer Gegenstände. - ELTE Egyetemi Könyvtár és Levéltár, PDM

Fish live only in water!

“Fish are cold red-blooded animals that live only in water and breathe with gills; they swim with their tails or fins in the water; if they inhale air into their swim bladder they lift up in water, if they empty it, they descend.” – Jakab Zimmermann, 1861


Fishes and different aquatic mammals (whale, dolphin, narwhale and flying fish)  - Abbildungen naturhistorischer Gegenstände 1810 - ELTE Egyetemi Könyvtár és Levéltár, PDM

Fossils and prehistoric animals as initial creatures

“A prehistoric creature means an initial creature, from which all other creatures stemmed, just like God. In a broader sense, all the creatures, if the succeeding ones stemmed from it.” – Hungarian language dictionary, 1861


Animal and plant world before the flood - Piarista Rend Magyar Tartománya, CC BY-NC-ND


 Drawing about a skeleton of a reconstructed narwhale fossil (book illustration from 1749) Summi Polyhistoris Godefridi Guilielmi Leibnitii Protogaea - Miskolci Egyetem, PDM


 Book illustration of shell fossils from 1777 - Des Ritters Carl von Linné Natursystem des Mineralreichs - Miskolci Egyetem, PDM

Crustaceans, annelids and molluscs

“Crustaceans’ bodies are covered with hard crusts. They live in water and wet places and eat zoogenic materials. Crabs belong to them. (…) The annelids’ skins consist of rings or segments; most of them live in wet places (for example the earthworm). (…) Molluscs’ bodies are soft and slimy, and they secrete moisture to form their shells. Snails belong to them.” – Jakab Zimmermann, 1861


  Extinct ammonite, shell and snail fossils – book illustration from 1777 - Des Ritters Carl von Linné Natursystem des Mineralreichs - Miskolci Egyetem, PDM

Earthbound creatures: the plants

“Plants also live, but they do not feel; they cannot change their places, because they are tied to the ground; they receive their nutrition from the soil and the air. Minerals are creatures without life, which constitute the Earth’s crust, from where people mine them, so they are called minerals.” – Jakab Zimmermann, 1861 


Illustration of a thesis written on herbal botany from 1779- Dissertatio inauguralis medico-botanica de Tataria Hungarica - ELTE Egyetemi Könyvtár és Levéltár, PDM


Book illustration related to minerals from 1777 - Natursystem des Mineralreichs - Miskolci Egyetem, PDM

Erdélyi Károly

Translated by Zita Aknai



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