Natural History

Fallen Angels: Birds of Paradise in Early Modern Europe

Fallen Angels: Birds of Paradise in Early Modern Europe

When birds of paradise first arrived to Europe, as dried specimens with legs and wings removed, they were seen in almost mythical terms — as angelic beings forever airborne, nourished by dew and the "nectar" of sunlight. Natalie Lawrence looks at how European naturalists of the 16th and 17th centuries attempted to make sense of these entirely novel and exotic creatures from the East. more

Pods, Pots, and Potions: Putting Cacao to Paper in Early Modern Europe

Pods, Pots, and Potions: Putting Cacao to Paper in Early Modern Europe

Christine Jones explores the different ways the cacao tree has been depicted through history — from 16th-century codices to 18th-century botanicals — and what this changing iconography reveals about cacao's journey into European culture. more

Human Forms in Nature: Ernst Haeckel's Trip to South Asia and Its Aftermath

Human Forms in Nature: Ernst Haeckel's Trip to South Asia and Its Aftermath

An early promoter and populariser of Darwin's evolutionary theory, the German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel was a hugely influential figure of the late 19th century. Bernd Brunner looks at how a trip to Sri Lanka sowed the seeds for not only Haeckel's majestic illustrations from his Art Forms in Nature, for which he is perhaps best known today, but also his disturbing ideas on race and eugenics. more

Decoding the Morse: The History of 16th-Century Narcoleptic Walruses

Decoding the Morse: The History of 16th-Century Narcoleptic Walruses

Amongst the assorted curiosities described in Olaus Magnus' 1555 tome on Nordic life was the morse — a hirsute, fearsome walrus-like beast, that was said to snooze upon cliffs while hanging by its teeth. Natalie Lawrence explores the career of this chimerical wonder, shaped by both scholarly images of a fabulous North and the grisly corporeality of the trade in walrus skins, teeth, and bone. more

Visions of Algae in Eighteenth-Century Botany

Visions of Algae in Eighteenth-Century Botany

Although not normally considered the most glamorous of Mother Nature's offerings, algae has found itself at the heart of many a key moment in the last few hundred years of botanical science. Ryan Feigenbaum traces the surprising history of one particular species — Conferva fontinalis — from the vials of Joseph Priestley's laboratory to its possible role as inspiration for Shelley's Frankenstein. more

Richard Spruce and the Trials of Victorian Bryology

Richard Spruce and the Trials of Victorian Bryology

Obsessed with the smallest and seemingly least exciting of plants — mosses and liverworts — the 19th-century botanist Richard Spruce never achieved the fame of his more popularist contemporaries. Elaine Ayers explores the work of this unsung hero of Victorian plant science and how his complexities echoed the very subject of his study. more

Sex and Science in Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora

Sex and Science in Robert Thornton's Temple of Flora

Bridal beds, blushing captives, and swollen trunks - Carl Linnaeus' taxonomy of plants heralded a whole new era in 18th-century Europe of plants being spoken of in sexualised terms. Martin Kemp explores* how this association between the floral and erotic reached its visual zenith in Robert Thornton's exquisitely illustrated Temple of Flora. more

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