Macquarie University
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The nature study idea: educational reform and environmental concern in New South Wales, 1900-1920

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posted on 2022-03-28, 18:58 authored by Dorothy Kass
Nature study was a new subject introduced to school curricula throughout the English speaking world in the 1890s and 1900s. As part of "New Education", the subject was supported by theoretical and practical literature which informed "the nature study idea". Nature study introduced plant, animal, and geological studies to children, with observation, active learning, questioning and reasoning replacing older methods. This thesis analyses the nature study idea: its distinctive definition, the contexts of its formulation, its ambitious aims, its inclusion in curricula and its practice in the classroom. I argue that nature study was a significant component of educational reform in New South Wales. Research additionally addressed the extent to which the nature study idea represented, responded to and influenced concern about the environment. I argue that nature study supported multiple outcomes and that one of these was a conservation ethic. Advocates in New South Wales welcomed the subject as education for conservation and preservation. Despite its prominence within educational reform, nature study has received little attention from educational historians. Similarly, despite its concern with the natural world, the human relationship with nature, and the way in which nature was presented to children, the subject has received little attention from environmental historians. Recently historians have addressed this gap for the United States, their work indicating the need for studies in other countries. As a history of nature study in New South Wales, the thesis is a contribution to both educational and environmental history. Essentially this is the history of an idea and as such insights and methodologies of intellectual history proved valuable in researching texts and contexts of nature study. The nature study idea was an idea in transit, extending geographically, modified by exchange, interacting with other ideas about nature, adapting in practice, and changing over time. A variety of primary source material, much of which has been rarely consulted, informed this history of the nature study idea in New South Wales.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter 1. The nature study idea : history, texts and contexts -- Chapter 2. The Australian context : nature study becomes "an essential subject in a twentieth-century school course" -- Chapter 3. Nature study and educational reform in New South Wales -- Chapter 4. Defining and supporting nature study in New South Wales -- Chapter 5. Nature study in practice in New South Wales -- Chapter 6. Conservation, preservation and nature study -- Chapter 7. Charles Tucker Musson (1856-1928) and his role in the nature study movement in New South Wales -- Chapter 8. Nature study in New South Wales schools after 1920 -- Conclusion.


Bibliography: pages 295-323 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Mark Hearn

Additional Supervisor 1

Alison Holland


Copyright Dorothy Kass 2014. Copyright disclaimer:




New South Wales


1 online resource (xii, 323 pages) colour illustrations

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