What is Natural History

Annais-Rittenberg-keying-plants-in-the-Great-MeadowNatural history is the ever-evolving account of the living organisms and natural ecosystems of our planet through space and time. It is based on the systematic compilation of observations, classifications, and descriptions across all cultures in the quest to understand the biosphere more deeply. In our Western world, natural history forms part of the foundation of a diverse set of disciplines, including: biology, ecology, botany, nature education, and various artistic disciplines such as illustration, poetry, and photography.

Anyone who spends time outside observing the “more-than-human” world is a naturalist, or one who practices natural history. Certainly, many scientists engage in this practice, but so do teachers, artists, writers, musicians, and many others.

Professor Norris maintained that in order to study the natural world, one must slow down to nature’s pace and develop the discipline of observing, asking questions, and then observing again in an ever-repeating cycle.  Calling this process "spinning the wheel", Norris believed that coupling both observation and one's own curiosity was the best method to develop an intricate knowledge of and a deep emotional connection to the natural world.

 See here for a much more in depth description of natural history by UCSC student Camille Hartley.

Why is Natural History Important?

Meredith sitting on a ridge of wildflowers over looking the ocean while she sketches in her journalWhen encouraged to observe nature deeply, people often develop a lasting understanding and desire to protect the environment. Here at the Norris Center and at UCSC overall, we are expanding opportunities to cultivate natural history skills for students of all ages, and foster their passion for the natural world. In doing so, we've observed the following additional benefits of practicing natural history:

Natural history teaches people how to look and ask. Everyone benefits from learning how to look deeply for details and patterns and how to ask informed relevant questions. These skills are essential across varying disciplines including policy, economics, science, art, and business.

Natural history inspires creativity. Nature often supplies us with mysteries that encourage careful observation, interpretation, and reflection.  Puzzling about the "whys" and "hows" of a pattern observed in the natural world invites any naturalist to innovate in their attempt to discover answers.

Natural history directly informs scientific research. There is no substitute for direct observation of one's study species or landscape. The very raw material that compose most of the biological disciplines come from direct observations of the natural world.

Natural history can lead to deep emotional connection. Careful and direct experience with nature encourage participants to care more deeply for the planet.