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Natural History and Local History in Late Victorian and Edwardian England: The Contribution of the Victoria County History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2011

School of History, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD,
School of Geography, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD,


In 1899 the Victoria County History (VCH) was established as a ‘National Survey’ of England which was intended to show the present day condition of the country and trace the ‘domestic history’ of all English counties to the ‘earliest times’. Natural history was seen as a key component to be included in the first volume for every county. In this paper we examine the reasons for the prominence given to natural history and demonstrate how the expert knowledge of natural historians was marshalled and edited. We use the contrasting counties of Herefordshire and Nottinghamshire to examine key intellectual debates about the role of the amateur and the expert and concern about nomenclature, classification and the state of knowledge about different groups of species. We emphasize the importance of the geography of the natural history and the way in which the VCH charted concerns about species loss and extinction. We examine the reasons why the VCH later abandoned natural history and finally we assess the value of its published output for modern historical geographers, historical ecologists and environmental historians.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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81. VCH Herefordshire, Volume 1, p. 42.

82. This insect was exhibited at the Entomological Society of London, 6th December 1905; “Mr. E. K. Bankes showed . . . a specimen of Cerostoma asperella, L., discovered by Mrs. Hutchinson near Leominster, on September 21st, 1881, and only taken, as regards Britain, in Dorset (formerly), and Herefordshire very rarely” The Entomologist, XIX. (January 1906) 512, p. 48.

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84. VCH Herefordshire, Volume 1, p. 42.

85. VCH Nottinghamshire, Volume 1, p. 45.

86. VCH Nottinghamshire, Volume 1, p. 93.

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98. VCH Herefordshire, Volume 1, p. 153.

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