Date of Award

6-8-2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

David Downing, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Michael T. Williamson, Ph. D.

Third Advisor

Cheryl Wilson, Ph.D.

Abstract

This dissertation examines multiple forms of natural history writing from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in England. Natural history writing is a foundational element in the formation of contemporary science, culture, and education. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the natural sciences experienced an epistemological shift from a more localized, myth-based field to a more universal, classificatory based area of study focused on dispelling myths. At the same time, the popularity of the natural sciences was increasing on all levels of society from royalty to the lower classes, from schools and universities to the formation of local clubs and animal rights groups. While natural history was growing in popularity throughout England, the amount of literature that related to natural history increased exponentially as well. Many writers incorporated distinctive forms of natural history into their poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Promoting and incorporating natural history writing in their work both reflected and possibly influenced the shifts in natural science that led to the modern understanding of nature. Essays, prose, and poetry all paralleled and contributed in heightening the awareness in the general public of natural history, and ultimately, in enabling it to become a foundational element of the western educational system. The authors focused on in this study include: John Clare, Gilbert White, John Leonard Knapp, William Wordsworth, James Thomson, Charlotte Smith, Erasmus Darwin, and multiple others as well. Through examining the natural history literature of the time, we can better understand the origins of contemporary biological science and our contemporary environmental thought. This study seeks to untangle many of the various threads of the history of natural science in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries through examination and analysis of the literature that paralleled and possibly influenced the pivotal shift in scientific thought.

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