Editorial

The Natural History Renaissance Continues

Stephen C. Trombulak and Thomas L. FleischnerDownload PDF | Volume 12, 2018

Eleven years ago, we wrote with both excitement and determination about the need for a “natural history renaissance” (Trombulak and Fleischner 2007).  The determination came from the recognition that natural history as a practice and a way of engaging with the more than just human world, despite its critical importance (Tewksbury et al. 2014), was in serious jeopardy of being lost from society at large (Louv 2006, Fleischner et al. 2017).  The excitement came from the launch of a new initiative – the Natural History Network – whose founders (which included the two of us) believed that the creation of a focused community of natural historians from across the spectrum of practices, including art, literature, sciences, and education, could mark a path forward to reversing this decline.

Since its founding in 2007, the Natural History Network launched a number of initiatives to promote that mission, including (1) a series of regional annual gatherings for natural history practitioners, (2) a collaboration with Prescott College and the University of Washington to create four summits, funded by the National Science Foundation, to design strategies for improving the trajectory for natural history’s place within society and the academy, and (3) a compilation of voices about the importance of natural history in society (The Natural Histories Project, http://naturalhistoriesproject.org/).

Yet, the most important ongoing initiative of the Network was the launch of an on-line journal, originally called Journal of Natural History Education but now Journal of Natural History Education and Experience.  In the language of classical systems theory (Meadows 2008), the decline in natural history as a practice can be seen as a positive feedback loop, where the decline leads to fewer people willing or able to teach it, which leads to further decline and fewer teachers and further decline … and so on.

To break this spiral, the goal of the journal was to provide a venue for natural history educators to share their experiences and approaches to introducing their students to ways of engaging with natural history in its deepest sense: “a practice of intentional, focused attentiveness and receptivity … guided by honesty and accuracy” (Fleischner 2001).  The mission of the journal says it all: “to foster a renaissance in natural history education and appreciation by providing a forum for disseminating information on views on the place of natural history in society and techniques, curricula, and pedagogy for natural history education at all levels: K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and general public.”

We write this essay from positions of direct engagement with the journal; one of us (SCT) has been its editor since its inception, and one of us (TLF) served as the founding president of the Network.  Our goal for the journal was for it to be available to all – both for reading and for contributing.  From its launch with Volume 1 in 2007, the journal has been Open Access to anyone with an internet connection (currently http://naturalhistoryinstitute.org/journal-of-natural-history-education-and-experience/), with no page charges to authors for publishing their work.  Yet the journal has also committed to the highest professional standards, with all submissions peer-reviewed to ensure that each article is well written, well argued, and of value to the community of natural history practitioners.

Since its launch, the journal has published articles that describe specific educational practices such as educational design principles (Kolan and Poleman 2009, Fleischner et al. 2013), use of field notebooks (Farnsworth et al. 2014), how to teach ornithology (Trombulak 2009), how to lead extended field expeditions (Farnsworth and Beatty 2012, Sancho and Bidwell 2014), and the use of field stations (Baldwin 2013).

It has also come to include essays on the history of natural history education (Sanders 2016), the value of on-line courses (Varty and Johnson-Fulton 2017) and museum collections (Haberman 2015), how to organize a regional natural history gathering (Clark and Gilligan 2013), and how storytelling links natural history with traditional ecological knowledge (Tallmadge 2011).

And much more.

The journal also publishes two special series.  One is “One Hundred and One Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die,” introducing (or re-introducing) readers to historically important texts that should not be lost from our awareness and libraries, such as Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle (Anderson 2011), Donald Culross Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns (Lloyd 2012), and John Madson’s Where the Sky Began (Cagle 2015).  The other special series is “Why Practice Natural History?,” brief essays from noted practitioners, including Peter Kahn and Patricia Hasbach (2011), Laura Sewall (2011), Clare Walker Leslie (2011), and Gordon Orians (2013), that argue for the importance of our practice.

The journal is proud of having been a venue that welcomes representation of all perspectives and experiences while privileging none.

Yet change comes to all things.  The close of 2017 brought with it the close of the Natural History Network.  The community of natural history practitioners owes the Network a great deal of thanks for its efforts to promote a resurgence in appreciation for the importance of natural history.

The importance of the journal, however, remains the same.  And we are happy to be able to announce that the Journal of Natural History Education and Experience has moved to be under the sponsorship of a new organization, the Natural History Institute, which shares a lineage with the Network.

The Natural History Institute (www.naturalhistoryinstitute.org) was initially founded in 2012 as a public program of Prescott College, which had been a fertile source of several of the Network’s board members. During five years at the college, the Institute developed a series of public lectures and programs, established an herbarium and other scientific collections, curated a natural history art collection, hosted a National Science Foundation-sponsored working group on the importance of field studies (Fleischner et al. 2017), and initiated a research effort to delineate the Mogollon Highlands Ecoregion.

This past summer, the Natural History Institute fledged and became an independent nonprofit, still based in the Mogollon Highlands.  Its mission: “The Natural History Institute provides leadership and resources for a revitalized practice of natural history that integrates art, science, and humanities to promote the health and well-being of humans and the rest of the natural world.”  In essence, the NHI attempts to model an integrative approach to natural history and to demonstrate that natural history is not “biology-lite,” but instead is something larger and more comprehensive than science alone.  NHI aspires to be a place where art, science, poetry, and philosophy seamlessly meld in a practice of open-minded and open-hearted attentiveness to the world we live in.  The Institute offers a template for a more holistic approach to learning, and a pathway toward a more hopeful tactic for addressing environmental and social challenges.

Institute programs, in addition to a robust series of public lectures, workshops, and naturalist training programs, will also include natural history exploration further afield, in such places as México and Ecuador, and Confluences – intentional gatherings of people focused on solving particular problems or achieving specific goals.  For example, NHI is currently engaged with multiple partners in developing a national meeting on the role of natural history practice (broadly defined) in human health and wellness.  And its place-based, and collections-facilitated, research on the Mogollon Highlands continues.  The Journal of Natural History Education and Experience will continue to provide an essential forum for exchange of ideas and techniques to foster the natural history renaissance described in its first article, eleven years ago.  

References

Anderson, J.G.T. 2011. A Hundred and One Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die: 3. Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 5: 16-18.

Baldwin, L. 2013. Field school. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 7: 16-21.

Cagle, N.L. 2015. A Hundred and One Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die: 10. John Madson’s Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 9: 13-14.

Clark, A.D., and D.S. Gilligan 2013. Organizing a natural history gathering: Inspiration from the Northeast Warblers and Wildflowers Weekend. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 7: 26-28.

Farnsworth, J.S., L. Baldwin, and M. Bezanson. 2014. An invitation for engagement: Assigning and assessing field notes to promote deeper levels of observation. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 8: 12-20.

Farnsworth, J.S., and C.D. Beatty. 2012. The journal’s the thing: Teaching natural history and nature writing in Baja California Sur. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 6: 16-24.

Fleischner, T.L. 2001. Natural history and the spiral of offering. Wild Earth (3/4) [Fall/Winter]: 10-13.

Fleischner, T.L., R.E. Espinoza, G.A. Gerrish, H.W. Greene, R.W. Kimmerer, E.A. Lacey, S. Pace, J.K. Parrish, H.M. Swain, S.C. Trombulak, S. Weisberg, D. W. Winkler, and L. Zander. 2017. Teaching biology in the field: Importance, challenges, and solutions. BioScience 67: 558-567.

Fleischner, T.L., T. Wessels, R.E. Grumbine, and S. Weisberg. 2013. Toward transformative natural history education: A few principles. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 7: 1-3.

Haberman, K.L. 2015. On the significance of small dead things. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 9: 8-12.

Kahn, Jr., P.H., and P.H. Hasbach. 2011. Rewilding natural history. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 5: 6-7.

Kolan, M., and W. Poleman. 2009.  Revitalizing natural history education by design. Journal of Natural History Education 3: 30-40.

Leslie, C.W. 2011. Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 5: 47-48.

Lloyd, J.D. 2012. A Hundred and One Natural History Books That You Should Read Before You Die: 8. Donald Culross Peattie’s An Almanac for Moderns. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 6: 6-9.

Louv, R. 2006. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, NC.

Meadows, D.H. 2008. Thinking in Systems: A primer. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT.

Orians, G.H. 2013. The aesthetic roots of natural history. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 7: 4-6.

Sancho, G., and D.A. Bidwell. 2014. Natural history of Spain: Teaching students about nature and culture in a foreign country. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 8: 1-8.

Sanders, D.L. 2016. Seeing things for themselves: Jacqueline Palmer, natural history educator 1948-1960. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 10: 1-5.

Sewall, L. 2011. Seeing the way of natural history. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 5: 44-46.

Tallmadge, J. 2011.  Linked through story: Natural science, nature writing, and traditional ecological knowledge. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 5: 49-57.

Tewksbury, J.J., J.G.T. Anderson, J.D. Bakker, T.J. Billo, P.W. Dunwiddie, M.J. Groom, S.E. Hampton, S.G. Herman, D.J. Levey, N.J. Machnicki, C. Martinez del Rio, M.E. Power, K. Rowell, A.K. Salomon, L. Stacey, S.C. Trombulak, and T.A. Wheeler. 2014.  Natural history’s place in science and society. BioScience 64 (4): 300-310.

Trombulak, S.C. 2009. A bird in the hand: A place-based, hands-on curriculum in ornithology. Journal of Natural History Education 3: 9-23.

Trombulak, S.C., and T.L. Fleischner. 2007. Natural history renaissance. Journal of Natural History Education 1: 1-4.

Varty, A.K., and S.B. Johnson-Fulton. 2017. Why teach natural history through hybrid and online courses? Journal of Natural History Education and Experience 11: 5-15.
 

Stephen C. Trombulak (trombulak@middlebury.edu) is the Anderson Professor of Environmental and Biosphere Studies at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont 05753 U.S.A. Thomas L. Fleischner (tom@naturalhistoryinstitute.org) is Executive Director of the Natural History Institute, 126 N. Marina St., Prescott, Arizona 86301 U.S.A., and Faculty Emeritus at Prescott College.

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