Departmental Papers (HSS)
Date of this Version
Worlds of Natural History
In the naturalist tradition, knowledge of nature has been closely tied to the embodied experience of place. Indeed, it is the direct and unmediated encounter with particular places and the natural objects found within them that has often been held to distinguish naturalists from other students of the natural world, particularly from laboratory scientists. In his 1994 memoir Naturalist, for example, E.O. Wilson writes of a formative childhood summer spent at Florida's Paradise Beach encountering jellyfish, stingrays, and other forms of sea life: 'Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist.' Similar claims for the importance of emplaced, embodied experience in the establishment of naturalists' identities and expertise have been embraced by historians of natural history and of the range of specialised field sciences that have emerged from it over the past two centuries, from geology to ecology. From this perspective, the scientist's placeless and universalist form of expertise may flourish in the sterile atmosphere of the laboratory, but it can never rival the holistic, experiential and embodied knowledge acquired by the naturalist in direct contact with the natural world in all its messy complexity.1
This material has been published in Worlds of Natural History edited by H.A. Curry, N. Jardine, J.A. Secord, & E.C. Spary. This version is free to view and download for personal use only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Cambridge University Press.
Benson, E.S. (2018). "Fieldwork Out of Place." In Worlds of Natural History, edited by H.A. Curry, N. Jardine, J.A. Secord, & E.C. Spary, 504-517. Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/9781108225229.032
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Date Posted: 19 February 2019