The Natural World

A hand colored copperplate print of Baccharis elegans.

The Rare Book Collection preserves the record of human attempts to understand, organize, and depict the order of the natural world, from Pliny the Elder to the present day.

This growing area of the collection begins with classical and early modern works which used animals, plants and birds in the natural world to organize earlier information from the fields of of literature, medicine, and science in one place.The collection holds significant early encyclopedic works such as Ulysse Aldrovandi’s thirteen-volume Natural History, alongside a rich collection of herbals, zoological and ornithological works from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, which highlight the development of book illustration in an attempt to realistically depict the specimens they describe.  

The collection is especially strong in foundational studies of the flora and fauna of the Americas, and particularly of Florida and the Caribbean basin. Along with key early editions, the Rare Book collection holds facsimiles of manuscripts and drawings by the early naturalists Mark Catesby (1683-1749) and William Bartram (1739-1823), which put the production of their studies in the larger intellectual and cultural climate of the early Atlantic world. Early European and American studies of the cultivation of plants and flowers from the H. Harold Hume Library can be found in the collections, along with works that trace the collection and cultivation of plants, trees and flowers down to the twentieth century.

The writings and travels of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), preserved in a wonderfully hand-colored set, mark a transition between writing about nature and thinking about humankind’s relationship and effects on the natural world. The nineteenth-century holdings trace the development of new classification systems and theories of human development from Charles Darwin to the present. At the same time, the literary holdings of the Rare Book Collection offer a good collection of early environmentalist and transcendentalist writings about the natural world, particularly among New England authors such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Together with the rest of the department, the Rare Book Collection holds small groupings of materials that document the emergence of environmental movements in Florida and around the nation, as well as the development of conservation movements worldwide.

Teach with Rare Books

Planning a Class?

Some ideas for designing activities can be found on our Research and Teaching pages.

Featured Collection Items