In the past century, what most people think of as natural history—museums, expeditions, taxonomy—has experienced a steep decline in research and education support. This decline runs parallel to a decline in the direct experience of nature. While both are signals with troubling implications for society and science, new technologies provide novel insights into organisms and ecosystems that were not previously available—and also create new opportunities for public involvement in natural history.
In 2014, Stephanie E. Hampton, professor of environmental sciences, coauthored a paper in BioScience that defined natural history as “the observation and description of the natural world, with the study of organisms and their linkages to the environment being central.” While this definition is unlikely to satisfy everyone, what it does do is put an emphasis on natural history being multidisciplinary. It also emphasizes the idea that natural history is multiscaled, from the micro to the macro, from microscopic algae to entire forest ecosystems.