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History of Biology: Early Investigations

Information and resources available at the Linda Hall Library about the history of biology.


The term "biology" as used at present is of relatively recent coinage (circa 1800) and spans a wide range of sub-disciplines. In its current usage it covers the study of all living organisms and their complex associations and interactions. From antiquity to the sixteenth century the study of living beings was often referred to as Natural History. This field was mostly concerned with the observation and description of individual plants and animals, supplemented by speculative enquiries about their functioning and origins, and by schemes for their allocation into classes. Research in this field was conceptually and methodologically entangled with popular lore, medicinal practice, and botanical and pharmacological knowledge.

Among the great practitioners in this tradition we should include Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC), Galen (130-200), Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and William Harvey (1578-1657).

by Eliseo Fernandez