Further to our recent discussion of the decline of natural history relative to ecology (starts here), frequent commenter Joachim notes that, according to Google Ngrams, natural history’s heyday was in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It started declining well before ecology took off, and actually has been more or less stable since the rise of ecology. This suggests that “natural history” declined because science started becoming increasingly professionalized and lab-based during the 19th century. So if the decline in prestige of natural history bothers you, you should probably be less upset with ecologists than with Herschel and Whewell. Botany peaked at around the same time as natural history. But zoology’s peak seems to have been rather later, perhaps in the early 20th century, although zoology’s popularity apparently has changed relatively little over time.
Don’t take this too seriously. All the usual caveats about (over)interpreting Ngrams apply. But I thought it was intriguing enough to be worth posting on.