University of Oxford

The Midland Naturalist (1878-1893)

Published on by Sally Shuttleworth

The Midland Naturalist: The Journal of the Associated Natural History, Philosophical and Archaeology Societies and Field Clubs of the Midland Counties (1878-1893)

The Science Gossip project was led by Dr Geoffrey Belknap, and the articles on the periodicals were written by Dr Matthew Wale.

In 1876, natural history societies and 'field clubs' from across the  British Midlands (and parts of Wales) formed into a network named the  Midland Union of Literary and Scientific Societies. Gatherings of  dedicated naturalists became increasingly common during the second half  of the nineteenth century, with almost every city and large town  possessing its own band of enthusiasts. The Midland Union included  larger organisations such as the Birmingham Natural History and  Microscopical Society and the Leicester Literary and Philosophical  Society, but also smaller groups such as the Evesham Field Naturalists'  Club and the Tamworth Natural History, Geological, and Antiquarian  Society. As their names suggest, the interests of these societies were  wide-ranging, but all shared an interest in meeting on a regular basis  to present their work, discuss the latest findings, and simply enjoy the  conversation of like-minded individuals. During the summer months,  excursions were made into the local area to explore its flora, fauna,  and sites of geological or antiquarian interest. 

The Midland Naturalist was, in many ways, a natural extension  of the activities undertaken by the Midland Union's consistent groups.  Its stated aims were to provide 'opportunities for personal intercourse  among the members', to 'record the more important work done by them;  announce their forthcoming meetings; and assist in the interchange of  notes and specimens'. Through this combined effort, the natural history  of the Midland counties would be efficiently and exhaustively surveyed,  advancing scientific knowledge at both a local and national level.

The Midland Naturalist is notable for its striking and detailed  title page, by the illustrator and mycologist Worthington George Smith  (1835-1917). The image combines animals, plants, and instruments that  symbolise each branch of science pursued by the Union. The mammoth and red deer at the top represent the study of animals, respectively those  recently extinct and still living, while the skeleton of the ichthyosaur  at the bottom stands for paleontology. Microscopes and telescopes  suggest a focus on the near and far, while other pieces of equipment  depicted are a geological hammer, a barometer, and a vasculum (a container for plant specimens).

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