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Historiae Animalium

Born in Zurich, Switzerland, 1516, Conrad Gesner was not a son of a wealthy family. Gesner was, instead, raised by his great-uncle because of economic hardship of his own family, which, however, might have brought up his interest in natural study, as his great-uncle Frick was passionate about botany. Gesner was a special child, extremely gifted in learning classical languages. He attended a shool where classical languages were taught, and later on to a school of theological study, which have been a basis of his grand work Historiae Animalium.  His study of classical laugnage continued more than 10 years until he started studying medicine during his free time, day and night. Finally, Gesner attended university of Montpellier where he studied medicine, where he was able to graduate only a few months later. After his study of nature and medicine, and after collected books and botanical, zoological specimens, he studied and investigated nature and science. (note 1) With an accumulation of his vast knowledge of classical studies and medicine, Gener published the first volume on four-foted animals of an extensive collection Historiae Animalium in 1551. 

Historiae Animalium cover

Conrad Gesner, Historiae Animalium, 1551-1558

Historiae Animalium is considered the first book in its field of its time. The book has five volumes in total; the first voulme on four-footed beasts, the second volume on egg-laying quadrupeds, the third volume on birds, the fourth on aquatic animals, and the last volume that was published after Gesner death on serpents. The rest - the first volume to the fourth volume - were all published during Gesner's lifetime, between 1551 and 1558. Gesner's purpose was to present as much information and knowledge as possible in the book so that it could function as an encylopedia that people would look up to consult, instead of being something that would be read from the beginning to the end. (note 2)




note 1: Fore more detailed biography by each year, consult Conrad Gessner's "Historia Animalium" by Gmelig-Mijboer. It has pages of list of his life events including each year.  Gmelig-Nijboer, Caroline Aleid. Conrad Gessner's "Historia Animalium": An Inventory of Renaissance Zoology. Meppel: S.n., 1977. Print.

note 2: The purpose of the book is defined in several books and articles as an encyclopedia (as Gesner himself purports it), though the specific source of my knowledge of it came from Acheson's article. Acheson, Katherine. "Gesner, Topsell, and the Purposes of Pictures in Early Modern Natural Histories." Printed Images in Early Modern Britain: Essays in Interpretation ;. By Michael Hunter. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publ., 2010. 127-44. Print.