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Week 14: DNA and the secret of life, 1850-1950. Laboratories.

Lecture slides and handout

Modern biology is done in the laboratory. How did this come to be? This lecture explores the surprising story of how life moved from the field to the laboratory, and how this transformed the way people understood themselves. We also examine the ways in which new understandings of life impacted upon notions of sex and gender far beyond the laboratory walls.

Seminar Questions

  • Why did biologists start working in laboratories?
  • What was the significance of the discovery of the structure of DNA?
  • How did genetic research transform understandings of sex and gender?
  • To what extent did laboratories rely on and reinforce colonialism?

Essential Readings

Chakrabarti, Pratik, ‘Beasts of Burden: Animals and Laboratory Research in Colonial India’, History of Science, 48 (2010)

Bowler, Peter and Iwan Morus, Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005), chapter 8 ‘Genetics’.

Additional Readings

Bangham, Jenny, ‘Writing, Printing, Speaking: Rhesus Blood-Group Genetics and Nomenclatures in the Mid-Twentieth Century’, The British Journal for the History of Science, 47 (2014)

Bashford, Alison, and Philippa Levine (eds), Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Burian, Richard and Doris Zallen, ‘Genes’, in Peter Bowler and John Pickstone (eds), The Cambridge History of Science: Modern Biological and Earth Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), vol. 6

Burton, Elise, ‘“Essential Collaborators”: Locating Middle Eastern Geneticists in the Global Scientific Infrastructure, 1950s–1970s’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 60 (2018)

Chadarevian, Soraya de, ‘Laboratory Science Versus Country-House Experiments: The Controversy Between Julius Sachs and Charles Darwin’, The British Journal for the History of Science, 29 (1996)

Chadarevian, Soraya de, Designs for Life: Molecular Biology after World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Cunningham, Andrew and Perry Williams (eds), The Laboratory Revolution in Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)

Heggie, Vanessa, ‘Testing Sex and Gender in Sports: Reinventing, Reimagining and Reconstructing Histories’, Endeavour, 34 (2010)

Latour, Bruno, The Pasteurization of France (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1993)

Pelis, Kim, ‘Prophet for Profit in French North Africa: Charles Nicolle and the Pasteur Institute of Tunis, 1903–1936’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 71 (1997)

Richmond, Marsha, ‘Women in the Early History of Genetics: William Bateson and the Newnham College Mendelians, 1900-1910’, Isis, 92 (2001)

Robert Kohler, ‘Drosophila: A Life in the Laboratory’, Journal of the History of Biology, 26 (1993)

Rooij, Arjan van, ‘Knowledge, Money and Data: An Integrated Account of the Evolution of Eight Types of Laboratory’, The British Journal for the History of Science, 44 (2011)