On July 29, 2019, Project Gutenberg posted its 60,000th title, The Living Animals of the World (volume 1 of 2). Congratulations to Project Gutenberg and to all the Distributed Proofreaders volunteers who made this milestone possible!
Humankind has always been fascinated by Nature. At first, it was matter of mere adaptation for survival. Once humans learned to make themselves comfortable, philosophers in ancient times began to study the workings of the natural world. In medieval Europe, that study became a matter of theology.
A more scientific approach began to take hold during the Renaissance, and by the 19th Century there was an explosion of interest, both amateur and professional, in natural history. Empire-building by various European nations enabled naturalists to rove all over the globe, studying flora and fauna, taking careful notes, and amassing collections that began as private “cabinets of curiosities” and ended by forming the cores of the great natural history museums that were founded throughout Europe and America.
As general education in the Western world improved and books became more accessible, natural history became a subject of popular interest as well. Numerous books on plants and animals, often lavishly illustrated, were published for general audiences. A fine example of this is the two-volume set of The Living Animals of the World. First published in London in 1901, it bills itself as “A Popular Natural History.” The two volumes contain a total of over 1,100 black-and-white photographs and two dozen color plates.
Volume 1 deals with mammals, while Volume 2 (in progress at Distributed Proofreaders) concerns itself with birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, other sea creatures, and insects. The eminent British zoologist C.J. Cornish was the editor, heading a stellar team of contributors that included explorers F.C. Selous and Sir Harry Johnston, zoologist W.P. Pycraft, hunter and naturalist H.A. Bryden, marine biologist William Saville-Kent, and entomologist W.F. Kirby, among others.
The introduction to Volume 1 extols the popularity of natural history and notes the great boon of photography to aid in its study:
… the interest now taken in Natural History is of a kind and calibre never previously known, and any work which presents the wonders of the Animal World in a new or clearer form may make some claim to the approval of the public…. Every year not only adds to the stock of knowledge of the denizens of earth and ocean, but increases the facilities for presenting their forms and surroundings pictorially. Photography applied to the illustration of the life of beasts, birds, fishes, insects, corals, and plants is at once the most attractive and the most correct form of illustration. In the following pages it will be used on a scale never equalled in any previous publication.
The work of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers in creating the e-book version of The Living Animals of the World, complete with its hundreds of photographs, does ample justice to that boast. This handsome volume is a fitting way to celebrate Project Gutenberg’s 60,000th title.
This post was contributed by Linda Cantoni, a Distributed Proofreaders volunteer.