skip to content

Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Emma Spary

This list includes works useful in general for researching the eighteenth century. I have tried, for ease of use, to focus on works easily available in the Whipple and UL.

For new secondary sources published throughout Europe on the eighteenth century, the journal Dix-Huitième Siècle (in UL, North Wing Ground) is invaluable, covering a wide spectrum of works including history of science, social history, publications of primary material such as correspondence, etc. Slightly biased towards France (not surprisingly), and the reviews are almost always in French.

For extracts of primary materials on collecting, an excellent source is Susan Pearce, et al., eds. The collector's voice: critical readings in the practice of collecting. 4 vols. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000–2002. Vols 2 and 3 cover the early modern and modern period. (Currently only available in the University Library.)


  • Andrée Corvol, Isabelle Richefort eds. Nature, environnement et paysage. L'Héritage du XVIIIe siècle. Guide de recherche archivistique et bibliographique. Paris: Editions L'Harmattan, 1995.
    Valuable archival guide to research on various topics in French 'environmental history'.
  • Oxford Bibliography on Natural History, an online resource.
  • Catalogue of the Books, Manuscripts, Maps and Drawings in the British Museum (Natural History). 8 vols., London, 1903 (Whipple, reference shelves, and UL Reading Room, R382.5).
    This is a really essential resource for the more obscure eighteenth century publications in natural history.
  • Agassiz, Louis. Bibliographia zoologiae et geologiae. A General Catalogue of all Books, Tracts and Memoirs on Zoology and Geology. 4 vols., London 1848. (Whipple, reference shelves, and UL Reading Room).
  • Henrey, Blanche. British Botanical and Horticultural Literature Before 1800. 3 vols, London, 1975. UL:B150.370.4–.
  • Richard Broke Freeman, British Natural History Books, 1495–1900: A Handlist. Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1980. Whipple: reference shelves.
  • Sally Haines Hocker, Herbals and Closely Related Medico-Botanical Works, 1472–1753. Lawrence: University of Kansas Library, 1985.
  • David L. Cowen, Pharmacopoeias and Related Literature in Britain and America, 1618–1847. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001.
  • Sarjeant, William A. S. Geologists and the History of Geology. An International Bibliography From the Origins to 1978. 7 vols. London / Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1980. Whipple: reference shelves, and UL Reading Room.
  • Gartrell, Ellen G. Electricity, Magnetism and Animal Magnetism. A Checklist of Printed Sources 1600–1850. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, 1975. Whipple: reference shelves.
    Useful for esoteric aspects of natural history.
  • Guerrini, Anita. Natural History and the New World, 1524–1770: An Annotated Bibliography of Printed Materials in the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1986.
  • Peter J. Bowler, The Norton History of the Environmental Sciences. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.
  • Douglas Hurt and Mary Ellen Hurt, The History of Agricultural Science and Technology: An International Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1993.
  • Frans A. Stafleu and Richard S. Cowan, Taxonomic literature: a selective guide to botanical publications and collections with dates, commentaries and types. 2nd ed. Utrecht : Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema, 1976–.
    On open access in the University Library Reading Room; very complete.
  • Botanicus: an online bibliography of botanical work.

Specialist catalogues of other libraries are often useful in drawing one's attention to works whose existence might otherwise remain hidden for many years, even if you need to look them up again in other catalogues.

  • Bridson, Gavin D.R.; Phillips, Valerie C.; Harvey, Anthony P. Natural History Manuscript Resources in the British Isles, Mansell / London: R.R. Barker, 1980. Whipple: reference shelves.
  • Blake, John B. A Short Title Catalogue of Eighteenth-Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine. Bethesda, Maryland: National Library of Medicine, 1979.
    Contains many, often obscure, natural history texts.
  • Nellie B. Eales, The Cole Library of Early Medicine and Zoology. Catalogue of Books and Pamphlets. Part I. 1472 to 1800. Oxford: The Alden Press, 1969.
  • Peter Krivatsy comp. A Catalogue of Seventeenth-Century Printed Books in the National Library of Medicine. Bethesda, Md.: Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Natl. Inst. of Health, National Lib. of Medicine, 1989.

The Wellcome Library in London has good resources for research: see

  • Morat, S.A.J. Catalogue of Western Manuscripts on Medicine and Science in the Wellcome Historical Medical Library, vols. 2–3.
  • Catalogue of the Printed Books and Pamphlets in the Library of the Linnean Society of London. London, 1925. UL: Reading Room, R370.17.

Certain very prolific naturalists have been the subject of digitisation projects, and since their vast output can be searched efficiently, the sites act as valuable research tools. The complete works of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach are available online (his collected specimens are in the process of being added); the entirety of the collaborative Histoire naturelle générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roi, whose principal author was Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, is also online. Editions of correspondence of physicians and naturalists, as these become digitised, are also increasingly useful as research resources.


  • Ray, Desmond. Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists, Including Plant Collectors and Botanical Artists. London: Taylor and Francis, 1977. Whipple: reference section.
  • David Abbott, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Scientists, Biologists. New York: Harper & Row for Peter Bedrick, 1984.

Many, if not most, eighteenth century naturalists were also medical men. In general, therefore, biographical works for medicine are helpful. I recommend (from personal experience):

  • Wallis, P.J.; Wallis, R.V.; Whittet, T.D.; Burnby, J.G.L. Eighteenth Century Medics (Subscriptions, Licenses, Apprenticeships). Newcastle: Project for Historical Bibliography, 1988.
  • Allen, David. The Naturalist in Britain: A Social History. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1978.

These have much information on British naturalists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

For France, the same functions are served by:

  • Duris, Pascal. Linné et la France, 1780–1850. Geneva: Droz, 1993.
  • Outram, Dorinda. Georges Cuvier. Science, Vocation and Authority in Post-Revolutionary France. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984 (for the nineteenth century).

An excellent biographical source for French eighteenth-century naturalists is the Biographie Universelle, published from the 1830s onwards (thus by near contemporaries). A facsimile edition is on open access in the University Library Reading Room.

I have also found the following helpful for obscure eighteenth-century naturalists of all nationalities. Be warned that it is printed in Gothic type.

  • Allgemeine deutsche Biographie. 56 vols. Leipzig: Duncker and Humblot, 1875–1912. On open access in the University Library Reading Room.

Also éloges, separately published e.g. Cuvier's in Whipple.

Websites on collecting

A number of websites now offer invaluable resources for the history of eighteenth-century natural history.

  • Curiositas
    This site is developing a list of all the extant cabinets of curiosity in Europe, and contains information about location along with basic outlines of the contents. It also flags news about events in the history of collecting, such as conferences.
  • JSTOR Global Plants
    Site with digitised images of plant specimens and information about the location of particular specimens in herbaria worldwide. Aimed at scientists, but useful for historians.

Several sites specialise in particular collections, for example the anatomy and natural history collection of the Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch, and the Senckenberg natural history museum in Dresden, which has a searchable database of specimens.

Iconographic resources

  • Pinault, Madeleine. The Painter as Naturalist from Dürer to Redouté. Whipple, outsize books.
  • Dance, S. Peter. Birds. London: Collins and Brown, 1990. Whipple, outsize books.
  • Fish. London: Collins and Brown, 1990. Whipple, outsize books.
  • The Art of Natural History: Animal Illustrators and Their Work. London: Country Life Books, 1978. UL: S405:8.a.9.28
  • Burgess, Renate. Portraits of Doctors and Scientists in the Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine. London, 1973. Whipple: reference shelves.
  • The Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Linda Hall Library and the Wellcome Library (see above) all contain many hundreds of digitised works on natural history, as well as images.
  • Gavin D. R. Bridson and James J. White, comp. Plant, Animal, and Anatomical Illustration in Art and Science: A Bibliographical Guide from the 16th Century to the Present Day. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990.
  • Michael T. Stieber, et al., comp. Catalogue of Portraits of Naturalists, Mostly Botanists, in the Collections of the Hunt Institute, the Linnean Society of London, and the Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de Genhve. Part 1: Group Portraits. Pittsburgh: Hunt Inst. for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon U., 1987. Part 2: Portraits of Individuals, A–D. Pittsburgh: Hunt Inst. for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon U., 1988.


Many eighteenth century medical and natural historical works are written in Latin. For specific botanical terms:

  • Stearn, William T. Botanical Latin. History, Grammar, Syntax, Terminology and Vocabulary, 3rd ed., Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1983 exists.