Catching Nature In The Act: Réaumur And The Practice Of Natural History In The Eighteenth Century

Hardcover | April 16, 2014

byMary Terrall

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Natural history in the eighteenth century was many things to many people—diversion, obsession, medically or economically useful knowledge, spectacle, evidence for God’s providence and wisdom, or even the foundation of all natural knowledge. Because natural history was pursued by such a variety of people around the globe, with practitioners sharing neither methods nor training, it has been characterized as a science of straightforward description, devoted to amassing observations as the raw material for classification and thus fundamentally distinct from experimental physical science. In Catching Nature in the Act, Mary Terrall revises this picture, revealing how eighteenth-century natural historians incorporated various experimental techniques and strategies into their practice.
           
At the center of Terrall’s study is René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (1683–1757)—the definitive authority on natural history in the middle decades of the eighteenth century—and his many correspondents, assistants, and collaborators. Through a close examination of Réaumur’s publications, papers, and letters, Terrall reconstructs the working relationships among these naturalists and shows how observing, collecting, and experimenting fit into their daily lives. Essential reading for historians of science and early modern Europe, Catching Nature in the Act defines and excavates a dynamic field of francophone natural history that has been inadequately mined and understood to date.

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Natural history in the eighteenth century was many things to many people—diversion, obsession, medically or economically useful knowledge, spectacle, evidence for God’s providence and wisdom, or even the foundation of all natural knowledge. Because natural history was pursued by such a variety of people around the globe, with practitio...

Mary Terrall is professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of The Man Who Flattened the Earth: Maupertuis and the Sciences in the Enlightenment, also published by the University of Chicago Press. She lives in Altadena, CA.

other books by Mary Terrall

Format:HardcoverDimensions:264 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.1 inPublished:April 16, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022608860X

ISBN - 13:9780226088600

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

1. The Terrain of Natural History

2. "Catching Nature in the Act"

3. Seeing Again and Again: Illustration and Observation in Domestic Surroundings

4. Recruiting Observers and Training "Philosophical Eyes"

5. Natural Prodigies: Asexual Reproduction and Regeneration

6. A Spectacle Pleasing to the Mind: Natural History on Display

7. Chickens, Eggs, and the Perennial Question of the Generation of Animals

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index

Editorial Reviews

“In this insightful study of the French naturalist René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur and his circle, Terrall restores natural history to its proper place in the history of early eighteenth-century science. For Réaumur and his collaborators, natural history was not opposed to physics; rather, both were inspired by the same problem-solving spirit. Terrall offers an exemplary reconstruction of the techniques that naturalists devised to carefully observe insects, polyps, chickens, and other forms of animal life, and shows us how those observations, in turn, helped address big questions about generation, instinct, and the nature of life.”