Natural History Magazine's Picks From the Past

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

If you're looking for a good way to lose a day, I simply don't know any better resource than Natural History magazine's "Picks from the Past" page. The editors have assembled an inspiring selection of articles dating back to the magazine's early days at the turn of the last century. Here are a few of my picks from the picks:

Insects as Food: How they have augmented the food supply of mankind in early and recent times. By John S. Patton (1921)

Rains of Fishes: Do fishes fall in rain from the sky? By E. W. Gudger (1921)

Monkeys Trained as Harvesters: Instances of a Practice Extending from Remote Times to the Present. By E. W. Gudger (1923)

Floating Gold: The Romance of Ambergris By Robert Cushman Murphy (1933)

The Pearl of Allah: The giant clam yielded its treasure only after slaying a native diver trapped when its great jaws snapped shut. Worshipped as the gift of Allah, the 14-pound pearl was finally presented to the author by a Mohammedan chief whose son he saved from death. By Wilburn Dowell Cobb (1939)

Man and His Baggage: All along the rough road from savagery to civilization, man has found it an increasingly complex problem to carry the things needed for life. By Clark Wissler (1946)

The Crowninshield Elephant: The surprising story of Old Bet, the first elephant ever to be brought to America. By George G. Goodwin (1951)

One Man's Meat Is Another's Person: Humans may taste good, but most societies are a long way from cannibalism. By Raymond Sokolov (1974)


  1. On the one hand, I’m delighted to see more of the archives available for browsing on line. Natural History has been dumbed down a bit in the past decade, but it’s still one of my favorite real-science-for-the-public magazines.

    On the other hand, part of the reason this is happening is because the American Museum of Natural History, like everyone else and like other nonprofit organizations in particular, has been hit hard by the economy and seems to be in the process of shutting down hardcopy publication of the magazine.

    No more used copies to hand to elementary schools so their pictures can be used for collages (where they might tempt kids into actually reading the articles and getting hooked on science). No more used copies to leave in the office for general edification and to try to tempt others into supporting the museum. And frankly, I find the web a lot more useful as a reference medium than as something to read for recreation.

    Plus… well, NatHist has done a lot of anthropology coverage. That unavoidably includes the occasional naked-native photo, if you’re going to properly document what people actually do. I’m waiting to see if they get hit with a lawsuit because a kid happened to be running around bare-bottomed, or if they’re declared unsuitable for preteens the first time a breast is visible… or if they cave in and change their publication policies to avoid this.

    (I expect that between this sort of thing and the fact that they’re (obviously) believers in evolution, they’re going to wind up on a lot of religious-conservative content filters. Sigh.)

  2. Kids ought to still be able to use nat history pictures off the web to make collages in photoshop–perhaps photo shop ought to be taught in school. I don’t know if computer programs and languages are taught at an early age in public ed—-but they should be!

  3. Thanks for the pointer to the Nat. History best-of page. I really miss the Stephen Gould (on evolution) and Raymond Sokolov (on food) columns of NH’s better years, and this had some of my favorites.

  4. We at Natural History magazine appreciate your interest, and hope you enjoy some of our selected past articles. We just wanted to alert you that, by coincidence, the magazine is in the midst of launching a redesigned Web site, and the heading “Picks from the Past” has just been removed. If you navigate the site you will, however, find some of this early content under the heading “in print.”

  5. P.S. (more from the magazine’s editors): actually, navigating our site ( under “departments” does take you to “Picks from the Past,” but fewer stories are grouped there than before. In any case, unfortunately, the direct links posted by Dylan Thuras no longer work.

Comments are closed.