Scientists and the origins of the nature-study movement in the 1890s

Sally G Kohlstedt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Scientists played a key role in the first systematic introduction of nature study into North American public schools in the late nineteenth century. The initiatives of Wilbur Jackman and John Merle Coulter, affiliated with the young University of Chicago, and Liberty Hyde Bailey and Anna Botsford Comstock, at Cornell University, coincided with the "new education" reform movement that found object lessons and experience-based education superior to textbook teaching. Educational psychologists and philosophers of the 1890s, including G. Stanley Hall, related curriculum methods to perceived developmental stages in children, with a focus on immediate experience. Putting these pedagogical ideas - gained in summer institutes, normal schools, and programs at Chicago and Cornell - into practice were administrators and classroom teachers in both urban and rural classrooms. By 1900, a consensus about the value of nature study among scientists, community leaders, and teachers established it as the recognized general method of studying the natural world in public schools across much of the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)324-352
Number of pages29
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2005


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