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August 30, 2013

Teaching of Natural History at Western Reserve College

For much of the 19th century, most of the teaching of Natural History occurred in medical schools. Colleges like Western Reserve College (WRC) generally concentrated on the classics, moral philosophy, and history. Indeed, when WRC was founded, its primary purpose was “to train young men for the ministry.” The WRC Medical Department included Natural History in its curriculum and had eminent naturalists on its faculty.

At WRC a professorship of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy appeared in 1829. The first documented biological course at WRC, anatomy and physiology, was taught by Jarvis Gregg in the 1835-1836 academic year. Other classes before 1888 included Botany, Mineralogy, Conchology, Evolution, Zoology as well as others.

Biological instruction was by lectures, recitations, field work, museum study, and informal laboratory work. Professor Edward Morley gave practical instruction in the use of a microscope. A museum of natural history occupied the entire third floor of the Athenaeum recitation building (on the original campus in Hudson).

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First General Biology class, 1888

In 1888 the Department of Biology was established with the hiring of Francis Hobart Herrick. He taught his first class, General Biology, to 3 women and 1 man. Laboratory teaching began December 1, 1888. Originally the department was housed in the Ford House but by December it had occupied 2 rooms in Adelbert Main.

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Private laboratory and preparation room in Adelbert Main, 1889

Within 10 years enrollment had soared and the Biology Department had sorely outgrown its space and planning for a new building began. The new Biological Laboratory (now known as DeGrace Hall) was dedicated June 13, 1899.

Sources: Frederick C. Waite, "Natural History and Biology in the Undergraduate Colleges of Western Reserve University," Western Reserve Univeristy Bulletin, New Series, Vol. XXXII, No. 13, July 1, 1929, pp. 21-48 and Western Reserve University Catalogs.

The teaching of Natural History at WRC is part of an exhibit, Observing the Natural World: The Art and Science of Natural History. The exhibit of rare books, artwork, manuscripts, and archives illustrates developments in the field of natural history from the 16th through the 19th centuries. The exhibit explores both local initiatives and broader developments including: increasing specialization and professionalization; innovations in recording field observations; changing patterns of scholarly communication. The exhibit, in Kelvin Smith Library’s Special Collections Hatch Reading Room, is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. through September 27, 2013.

Posted by hxy2 at August 30, 2013 08:01 PM

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