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Clerical Naturalists in the Age of Enlightenment

Although grounded in the work of the ancients, the science of natural history entered a new phase in the seventeenth-century 'Age of Enlightenment' with an new emphasis on desciption and taxonomy.

Perhaps surprisingly, in Great Britain and elsewhere an enormous amount of research into the natural world, as well as into agriculture and horticulture, was carried out by clergymen and their families; a phenomenon that continued even into the late nineteenth century and the adoption of Darwinian evolution, and which laid the groundwork for the conservation movement of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

These pages showcase my research into (mostly) British clerical naturalists in the period 1660-1860, from the creation of the Royal Society to the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species - events which profoundly changed scientific and cultural understandings of the natural world. Over the coming years, I will be exploring the records and writings of these clerical naturalists, from many denominations, and visiting their parishes across the British Isles and further afield.

As well as these webpages, I will write an academic study of this diverse group in addition to an accessible - and affordable - book aimed at a general readership. I will be giving talks on this topic at many venues too, including universities, churches, conservation organisations, libraries, and local history groups. Please do get in touch if you would like to me to visit your organisation to give a talk.

This research, under the title The Parish Revolution: Parochial Origins of Global Conservationism, has been generously funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the British Academy through a Wolfson Research Professorship.

At the centre of this research is a database that currently contains information on more than 700 clerical naturalists dating from the middle ages to the late twentieth century. As this develops, I will progressively increase the amount of information available on this website. For now, I have made available their names and dates of birth and death, available to browse by name or birthdate. To illustrate the data that will be available from the database when the project is more advanced, I have created sample pages for William Derham, William Turner, and Gilbert White.

This research is ongoing and these pages will regularly develop and change over the coming months and years. Please come back soon!

Project Resources

Project description

Browse clerical naturalists by name

Browse clerical naturalists by chronological order

Submit information about a clerical naturalist (coming soon)


Further Reading (coming soon)

Go to Brycchan Carey's homepage



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