Ulisse Aldrovandi, 1522-1605
Ulisse Aldrovandi was one of the first people to teach the study of natural history at the university level. Born into a noble family in Bologna, Aldrovandi received an extensive education including law, Latin, mathematics and philosophy at the University of Bologna, and later medicine at the University of Padua. While studying medicine, Aldrovandi developed an interest in the classification and understanding of the natural world. In 1561, he became the first professor of natural history at the University of Bologna.
Beyond his role as a lecturer on the subject of natural history, Aldrovandi was a great collector of specimens and oddities from around the world. It was under his guidance that the University of Bologna created their first botanical garden. Aldrovandi’s personal museum contained close to eleven thousand specimens gathered by himself and his students. He had intended to publish a great multi-volume encyclopedia, the Historia Animalium, based on the collected specimens and observations he had made over his lifetime. The entries on each specimen would be more than just a description as Aldrocandi attempted to create a record that situated an animal or plant in a broader social context. He noted details such as classical or biblical references to a specimen, what iconographic meaning the specimen may have, and what medicinal uses could be derived from it. Sadly, he did not live to see his dream completed, seeing only four volumes printed of a planned eleven. Aldrovandi willed his collection to the city of Bologna, who appointed Aldrovandi’s former students to finish the late professor’s great work from the piles of manuscript notes he had left. After completing the Historia, Aladrovandi's students compiled their former mentor's notes and created a number of other published works attributed to Aldrovandi, such as his History of Monsters.
De animalibus insectis libri septem (History of Insects)
In this 1638 edition of Aldrovandi’s History of Insects, a branching table has been included to help in the classification of insects. Starting from a base definition that insects are small animals composed of sections, they are then divided into categories based on habitat and physical characteristics.
Vlyssis Aldrouandi patricij Bononiensis Monstrorum historia: cum paralipomenis historiae omnium animalium (History of Monsters)
While there are some fantastical creatures included in this book, the History of Monsters is mostly concerned with actual deformities to humans, animals and plants. Some chapter topics include deformities of the head, deformities of the arms and hands, deformities of the torso and gentiles, and deformities of the legs and feet.
Vlyssis Aldrouandi patricij Bononiensis Serpentum et draconu[m] historiae libri duo (History of Snakes and Dragons)
Aldrovandi, as did many natural historians, relied on the accounts of others when describing specimens not native to his area. In the case of the dragons covered in this book, Aldrovandi vouches for the trustworthiness of these accounts, but leaves it up to the reader to make up their own mind. He evens shows how to debunk so-called ‘dragons’ created out of preserved sting rays.