Observational Practices in Natural History: Conducts and Technical Registers (1700–1798)

  • Aaron James Henry


This chapter theorizes the formation of observation within natural history during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The chapter explores how the practice of observation emerged from physico-theology, which connected the attentiveness to detail and collection of information as a practice that linked the observer closer to God. I argue that the conduct of observation created historical limitations on the representation of human life throughout the eighteenth century, which foreclosed on the emergence of population in colonial registers. I illustrate this point through an analysis of Thomas Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population. At the same time, I argue that the attentiveness to detail, the duty to record information, that was instilled through the conduct of observation would later inform the conditions of possibility for the HBC district.


Physico-theology Natural history Observation Malthus Biopolitics 

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© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aaron James Henry
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Political EconomyCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

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