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Agricultural science, plant breeding and the emergence of a Mendelian system in Britain, 1880-1930

Charnley, Berris (2011) Agricultural science, plant breeding and the emergence of a Mendelian system in Britain, 1880-1930. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

Following Thomas P. Hughes’s systems approach in the history of technology, and making use of previously unexamined sources, this dissertation seeks to show that the development of British Mendelism may be explained, and the success it enjoyed more accurately gauged, by analysing the emergence of a system whose elements justified the theory, protected it, made it useful, and slowly territorialized the world. Accordingly, the analysis will cover the principle elements of this system: the system builders, institutes, ideas and varieties that were, in one way or another, Mendelian. The first of the Mendelian system builders, William Bateson, is already well known for his introduction of Mendelism to Britain in the years after 1901 and his coinage of a new name for the discipline; Genetics. He was joined by two colleagues, Rowland Biffen and Thomas Wood, both of whom collaborated with Bateson in creating a string of institutes concerned with changing agriculture by using the new Mendelian theory. The proponents of the new theory often talked of their new found ability to transfer characters and build up new varieties of agricultural value. These claims were welcomed by politicians and the popular press and the idea that the new genetics would lead to a beneficial revolution in agriculture became a popular cause of the day. However, the release of the first of these new Mendelian varieties in 1910 in Britain is far less well known than the almost simultaneous development of the chromosome theory at Columbia University by Thomas Hunt Morgan. On one view of the history of genetics, the discipline, which had been born in Moravia, and popularised in Britain, was from 1910 most fruitfully developed in Morgan’s fly room. From this perspective it might be thought that the British School, under Bateson, became a disciplinary backwater, at least in part because Bateson refused to accept chromosome theory. This thesis argues that far from being in a genetic backwater, Bateson along with Mendelian allies Biffen and Wood were at the cutting edge of a wide ranging movement to improve agriculture through the introduction of new Mendelian varieties.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts (Leeds) > School of Humanities (Leeds) > School of Philosophy (Leeds)
Depositing User: Repository Administrator
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2012 16:03
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2014 11:24
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/2130

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