After a year spent wandering North West England, working on natural history collections, one question that comes up is “What do you mean by ‘natural history’?”
It’s not an easy question to answer. The obvious answer, the one most people think of, is a definition that includes any preserved specimen of a once-living creature. So zoology, entomology, conchology, botany etc. However, that excludes geology, which in my opinion also belongs. So we now move to a definition that encompasses any “natural” product of the Earth: anything that isn’t ‘man-made’ basically.
But what about representations of the natural world? A copy of Audubon’s Birds of America just sold for £7.3m. Isn’t a book like this also ‘natural history’? What about conventional natural history specimens that have been altered by man, let’s say an egg with an image carved or painted onto it. Are they ‘natural history’ or ‘man-made’?
So, here is a specimen. I’m not going to tell you anything about it. But I’d like you to tell me: Is it a natural history specimen, or not?