Gilbert White: The First English Ecologist

North east view of Selbourne, from The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White (Shelfmark: G.2432). © The British Library Board.

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Presented by nature writer Richard Mabey

This is an online event hosted on the British Library platform. Bookers are sent a link in advance giving access and can watch at any time for 48 hours after the start time.

Gilbert White was perhaps the first English naturalist, whose careful observations of his village laid the foundations of modern ecology, influencing Charles Darwin and generations of writers and artists. 

Celebrate the summer equinox with ‘Britain’s foremost nature writer’ Richard Mabey who will tell White’s story, drawing from his book which won the Whitbread Biography Prize in 1986.  

White’s The Natural History and Antiquities at Selbourne was published in 1789 and was an immediate success. The book has never been out of print and is considered one of the earliest contributions to natural science. White was visionary in his scrupulous attention to the interconnected lives of the plants and animals on his doorstep. The Natural History was also a literary innovation, adapting the fashionable epistolary mode into non-fiction and earning praise by Virginia Woolf among others.

Alexandra Ault, Lead Curator of Western Manuscripts 1601-1850, joins Richard to present a selection of items from the Library’s Gilbert White collection. Explore the letters between White and fellow naturalist Thomas Pennant, which contain early iterations of his Natural History, as well as the original manuscript of White’s Garden Kalendar and his edition of Homer’s Iliad, gifted to him by Alexander Pope in 1743. 

This event will be chaired by historian and writer Rebecca Rideal.

Part of our springtime season on the environment The Natural Word

This event is supported by Gilbert White's House and Gardens. 

Richard Mabey is a naturalist and award-winning author and journalist. He won wide acclaim on the publication of Food for Free in 1972. Among his many other acclaimed publications are Gilbert White (Whitbread Biography of the Year) and the ground-breaking bestseller Flora Britannica, which won the British Book Awards' Illustrated Book of the Year and the Botanical Society of the British Isles' President's Award. He collaborated with Mark Cocker on Birds Britannica, and his book Nature Cure was shortlisted for four prestigious prizes.

Rebecca Rideal is an historian of early modern England, and the director of the history festival, HistFest. She is the author of 1666: Plague, War and Hellfire and host of the history podcast Killing Time. As a former television researcher and producer, she developed the Emmy award-winning David Attenborough’s First Life and the BAFTA-winning Flying Monsters with David Attenborough. Rebecca has lectured and tutored at University College London, Bath Spa University and Oxford University.

Alexandra Ault received her BA and MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is currently completing her PhD at UCL. She has worked at the National Portrait Gallery as an assistant curator and as a specialist at two major auction houses. At the British Library she is Lead Curator of western manuscripts from 1601-1850 which includes important items from English literature and world history.


Image: North east view of Selbourne, from The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White (Shelfmark: G.2432). © The British Library Board.

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Name: Gilbert White: The First English Ecologist
Where: British Library St Pancras
When: -
Price: Full Price: £5.00
Member: £5.00
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546