In 1915 only 56 years had passed since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Then, as now, the ramifications of evolution were still being discovered and understood. The study of natural history continued to evolve as a collection of several related sciences, but was generally understood to mean the study of plants and animals and their natural settings. The subset of natural history that studied living human beings had come to be called anthropology.
Then, as now, the same blurred lines existed between rigorous scientific discipline, education and entertainment. And a survey of natural history a century ago is not just a look at the science, it is also a journey into the mindset of the dominant cultural beliefs of the time.
For a longer exploration through 170 years of the culture of science, take an armchair cruise into the savage, untamed wilds of the deepest, darkest Archives of Scientific American at www.scientificamerican.com/magazine/sa