Society for the History of Natural History

The Society for the History of Natural History (SHNH) is an international society for everyone who is interested in natural history in the broadest sense. This includes botany, zoology and geology as well as natural history collections, exploration, art and bibliography. Everyone with an interest in these subjects – professional or amateur – is welcome to join. The Society's Patron is Sir David Attenborough OM CH FRS.

Originally named the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, SHNH was founded in 1936 by a small group of distinguished scientists, librarians and bibliographers whose appreciation and love of books inspired the formation of the Society in London. The Society's first President was Charles Davies Sherborn (1861–1942), who compiled the Index Animalium single-handedly over 43 years (1758–1850). This 11 volume, 9,000 page work became the basis for zoological nomenclature.

The Society's main publication is Archives of Natural History which is published for the Society by Edinburgh University Press. Archives of Natural History provides an avenue for the publication of papers on the history and bibliography of natural history in its broadest sense, and in all periods and all cultures. This includes botany, geology, palaeontology and zoology, the lives of naturalists, their publications, correspondence and collections, and the institutions and societies to which they belong. Bibliographical papers concerned with the study of rare books, manuscripts and illustrative material, and analytical and enumerative bibliographies are also published. From time to time, the Society also publishes other works of interest, the most recent being Darwin in the Archives. An informal Newsletter is also produced.

The Society holds a regular series of meetings on all aspects of the history of natural history. These range from short evening meetings to international conferences taking place over several days with associated visits. It holds an annual "Spring Meeting" incorporating the Annual General Meeting at which Officers of the Society are elected, accounts presented, and medals and awards are announced. Every alternate year this becomes an international conference usually in the form of a one- or two-day symposium on a selected theme. Its meetings are seen as an important contribution to forging links between all those working in the history of natural history, leading to lasting collaborations and friendships across national and international boundaries.

The Society is a registered charity under English law.[1]

Medals and prizes

The Society seeks to promote the objectives for which it was founded by making awards for excellence in areas of its fields of activity.

The following medals and prizes are awarded by the Society for the History of Natural History:

  • The Founders' Medal is awarded to persons who have made a substantial contribution to the study of the history or bibliography of natural history. More than one medal can be awarded in any given year.
  • The John Thackray Medal was instituted in 2000 to commemorate the life and work of John Thackray, Past President of the Society. This medal is awarded for a significant achievement in the preceding three years in the history of those areas of interest to the Society, that is the biological and earth sciences in the broadest sense. Recognition may be for a piece of work completed (e.g. the cataloguing of an archive collection), a publication (book or journal article), exhibition etc. Recipients may be individuals, teams or institutions.
  • The Patron's Prize was instituted in 2011, whereby an outstanding young scholar, nominated by Council, is invited by the Society’s Patron to write a review that advances the Society's objects, namely “the historical and bibliographical study of the growth of all branches of natural history in all periods and cultures”. The current patron of SHNH is Sir David Attenborough OM CH FRS.
  • The William T. Stearn Student Essay Prize was instituted in 2007 to commemorate the work of late William T. Stearn, a scholar whose work contributed much to the field of botany and to the Society. The prize is awarded to the best original, unpublished essay in the history of natural history. The competition is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students in full- or part-time education.




  • F. Hemming. The development of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History in the first six years of its existence. JSBNH 1: xi–xvi. [issued with Part 12, 1943].
  • Alwyne C. Wheeler. The Society for the Bibliography of Natural History. An Account of its Formation and Activities. Archives of Natural History 33:365–367, 2006. DOI 10.3366/anh.2006.33.2.365
  • Stearn, W. T. (October 2007) [1986]. "Society for the Bibliography of Natural History, later the Society for the History of Natural History, 1936–1985. A quinquagenary record". Archives of Natural History. 34 (2): 379–396 (sup. 1–15). doi:10.3366/anh.2007.34.2.379.
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