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Whipple Library

Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Front cover of blue cloth-bound edition of 'half hours with a naturalist'

The Whipple Library has an important collection of nineteenth-century material, a total of over 2000 volumes, which has been acquired since the original bequest by Robert Whipple. This includes books donated by George Parker Bidder on biological sciences and the Sleeman and Steward collections on chemistry and physics. Other strengths include books on natural history, medicine, scientific instruments and popular science. Many items also have an interesting provenance. For example, part of the collection previously belonged to James Clerk Maxwell.


The History of Science and Technology, 1801–1914: a collaborative retrospective conversion and conservation programme (HOST)

HOST was a collaborative project funded by the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP). It involved nine partner institutions: King's College London (lead), the University of Birmingham, the Whipple Library, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, the University of Manchester, the University of Newcastle, the University of St Andrews, and University College London. The aim of the project was to increase significantly access by researchers to printed and archival material relating to the history of the non-medical sciences from 1801 to 1914. Between them, the partner institutions hold a wealth of major research resources across the field and they selected key holdings for retrospective conversion and conservation treatment.

At the Whipple Library, the HOST programme consisted of the retrospective cataloguing of all nineteenth-century items and conservation of 165 items. The project was successfully completed in September 2002.

Reverend John George Wood (1827–1889)

During the process of retrospective cataloguing, it was discovered that the Whipple Library holds many of the works of the Reverend John George Wood, a popular and prolific writer of the nineteenth century. The inclusion of material such as this in the collections indicates the strength and breadth of the Library's holdings. Not only those works of pure academic value are retained, but also those representative of the publishing of more popular scientific material of the time.

Reverend John George Wood, the eldest son of John Freeman Wood and Juliana Lisetta, was born in London on 21 July 1827. Being a weakly child he was educated at home and led an outdoor life, which gave scope for the development of his innate love of all natural history pursuits. being a description of every living creature mentioned in the scriptures from the ape to the coral / by J.G. Wood (London, Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1869) STORE 179:28

After matriculating from Merton College, Oxford in 1844, Wood graduated BA in 1848, proceeding MA in 1851. For a time he worked under Henry Acland in the anatomical museum. In 1851 his first book, 'The illustrated natural history' was published. In 1852 he became curate of the parish of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford; in 1854 he was ordained priest. In 1878 Wood settled in Upper Norwood. There he continued the production of his numerous works, until he died whilst on a lecturing tour on 3 March 1889 in Coventry, where he is buried.

Routledge's popular natural history / by J.G. Wood (London, Routledge and Sons, 1867) STORE 176:14



From as early as 1856 Wood delivered occasional lectures on natural history subjects, but in 1879, having given a series of lectures in Brixton he resolved to take up lecturing as a second profession. During 1879–88 these lectures took him to all parts of the country and to America, where in 1883–34 he delivered the Lowell lectures in Boston. The conspicuous feature of these 'sketch lectures' were the illustrations, drawn on blackboards in coloured pastilles, or on large sheets of white paper with coloured crayons, the outcome of very careful study and practice. Natural history / by J.G. Wood (London, George Routledge and Sons, 1854) STORE 176:17

Wood's writings were in no sense scientific, and do not comply with the standards of modern scientific research. Conscious of his shortcomings, he did not make any attempt at fine writing, and was least successful in those books in which a systematic treatment of the subject was imperative. Wood's single objective was to popularise the study of natural history by rendering it interesting and intelligible to non-scientific minds. Timely as his books were, he was thoroughly successful at this, turning public attention to the subject of natural history. Indeed, not a few naturalists of today owe their first inspiration to his writings.  including hints for an aquarium / by J.G. Wood (London, G. Routledge & Co., 1857) STORE 176:16



Such popular enthusiasm for natural history that Wood created was quite unprecedented. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the subject had not only been neglected but positively despised. Suddenly however the undistinguished natural history book 'Common objects of the country' by the Rev J. G. Wood sold 100,000 copies in a week. Subsequent natural history bestsellers of the 1860s were also written by Wood, who was then at peak of his always prolific output.

This new generation of writers, led by Wood, merely passed over subjects such as Darwinism and natural theology in silence and concentrated on assuring their readers that natural history 'is far better than a play, and one gets fresh air besides'.

As well as being editor of 'The Boy's Own Magazine', Wood's numerous publications include 'Bees', 'The boy's own book of natural history', 'Animal traits and characteristics', 'The natural history of man', 'Half hours with a naturalist', 'Common British beetles', 'Illustrated natural history for young people', 'Natural history', his most important work. He was most renowned for the series of books which began with 'Common Objects of the Seashore', many of which are held in the Whipple Library.Common objects of the microscope / by J.G. Wood (London, George Routledge and Sons, 1890) STORE 47:206

Common British beetles / by J.G. Wood (London, Routledge & Sons, 1875) STORE 176:15



More images of Wood's natural history books                          

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