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The backbone of the project “A Cultural History of Heredity” is constituted by a series of international workshops. The following workshops have either taken place or are planned to take place within the next year.

History of Plant-Breeding since 1880

organized by Jonathan Harwood and Staffan Müller-Wille

Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany


Despite its high political profile and its obvious significance for understanding processes of modernization and development, the history of agricultural sciences in general – and plant-breeding in particular – remain under-researched. There are few scholars working at all on this subject, and they are scattered over a wide array of institutions and disciplines. The purpose of this workshop was to bring together historians of plant-breeding in order to identify common interests and facilitate co-operation. We therefore asked participants to present their on-going research projects rather than results from previous research. Systematic outcomes were therefore hardly to be expected. The workshop brought into focus, however, three complexes on which the interest of participants converged. •    The relationship between genetics and breeding, experts and users, experiment and agricultural production Crop plants are moving from agriculture to academia and back again, constituting "boundary objects" between production, applied, and basic research and inhabiting distinct environments or "labscapes" (Saraiva) in the course of their transplantations: the wild, agricultural and horticultural fields, experimental fields, green-houses, laboratories. Of great interest in this respect are the many "hybrid" institutions and organizations that began to channel these movements from the late nineteenth century onwards: modernizing farms and estates (Wieland), seed companies, plantations (Maat), associations and cooperatives (Wieland, Moser), agricultural stations (Kimmelmann, Müller-Wille, Roll-Hansen, Turner, Saraiva, Wieland), seed control institutions, international organisations (Maat), agricultural colleges and universities (Harwood). Appropriations occurred in both directions: scientists defined new disciplinary specialties by establishing crop plants as "epistemic objects" (Bonneuil, Wieland), whereas more practically oriented work was upgraded in social status through the application of theoretical frameworks like Mendelism (Kimmelmann). A clearly underresearched area in this respect is the post-1960s spread of molecular, "biotechnological" tools (Wieland). •    The contrast between agricultural transformations in Europe and North-America and the Colonial and Postcolonial World Why was there a green revolution in Western Europe, and for that matter, in post 1950s China, while it failed in most postcolonial contexts? This remains one of the biggest riddles in the history of twentieth century history of agriculture and agricultural sciences. In both contexts the aim was to increase the productivity of cereals cultivation – in Europe in order to reduce production-costs, in the Third World in order to reduce dependence upon grain imports – and the key technologies were the same: mass selection, individual selection, and hybridisation (Roll-Hansen). A key difference, however, was the "negotiated" character (Maat) of the European development, i.e. the fact that it relied, trusted in, and to a large degree depended on the self-organization of the peasantry rather than just upon large commercial farms (Moser, Harwood). International organisations (Maat), to some degree local, technocratic elites (Matchett), and the orientation of "green" technologies towards regionally and globally marketable rather than local solutions (Saraiva, Bonneuil) resulted in difficulties of establishing an analogous feed-back loop in post-colonial contexts. •    The relationship of nature and nurture, seeds and production systems Clearly, in agriculture as elsewhere, the quality of products depends as much on the system of production as it does on the inherent qualities of raw materials. The emphasis on "purity" in breeding is clearly market related. Variety and "purity" of products can as much be guaranteed through strict production regimes (Hahn), as it can through contracting farmers to use only one genetic variant (Turner). Moreover, especially with respect to disease resistance, genetic variety may be of advantage. For a full picture of the history of plant breeding, the complex relationship of nature and nurture needs to be kept in mind.

Two web-resources were presented during the meeting: (Moser): sources on c. 110 institutions and 2700 persons in Swiss agriculture (Müller-Wille): an analysis of P. Hillmann, Die deutsche landwirtschaftliche Pflanzenzucht, 1910, including an interactive map showing plant breeding institutions in the German Reich, c. 1800-1910. Research foci emerging from the WorkshopGenetics and plant-breeding practice: NRH, TS, KM, BK, JH. Relations between public- and private-sector breeders: HM, KM, RST, PM, BH, JH. Relations between Experts and Farmers (or other users: processors, distributors, etc): HM, KM,  BH, TS, PM, JH. Agricultural transformation in Europe/NA vs. colonial/post-colon. worlds: JH, HM, CB. Can history of plant-breeding inform development policy?: RST, TW, HM, BH, JH. Experimental spaces and plant-breeding: TS, BH, TW, HM. The ‘Genomics Gaze’ (ie, effect of biotech upon breeding  practices): HM, RST, JH. Nature and Nurture/ Seeds and production  systems: KM, SMW. The preoccupation with purity within genetics and plant-breeding: CB, JH, KM. List of Participants Christophe Bonneuil (Centre Koyré, Paris) Barbara Hahn (University of North Carolina) Jonathan Harwood (University of Manchester) Barbara Kimmelmann (Philadelphia University) Harro Maat (University of Wageningen) Karin Matchett (University of Minnesota) Peter Moser (Archives for Rural History, Zollikofen) Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter) Paul Peterson (Clemson University) Nils Roll-Hansen (University of Oslo) Tiago Saraiva (University of California, Los Angeles) R. Steven Turner (University of New Brunswick) Thomas Wieland (Technical University, Munich)

Bibliography of Participants

Christophe Bonneuil

  1. Bonneuil C., 1999. 'Penetrating the Natives': Peanut breeding, Peasants and the Colonial State in Senegal (1900-1950). Science, Technology and Society. A journal devoted to the developping world, 4:2 (1999), 273-302.
  2. Bonneuil C., 2002. The Manufacture of Species: Kew Gardens, the Empire and the Standardisation of Taxonomic Practices in late 19th century Botany, in M.-N. Bourguet, C. Licoppe et O. Sibum, dir., Instruments, Travel and Science. Itineraries of precision from the 17th to the 20th century, Routledge, 2002, 189-215.
  3. Kass L. & Bonneuil C., 2004. Mapping and seeing: Barbara McClintock and the articulation of genetics and cytology in maize genetics, 1928-1935, in The Mapping Cultures of 20th Century Genetics: From the Fly Group to the Human Genome Project, H.-J. Rheinberger et J.-P. Gaudillière, dir., NY, Routledge Press, 2004, 91-117. (see also on this topic: Kass L., Bonneuil C. & Coe E, “Cornfests, Cornfabs and Cooperation: The Origins and Beginnings of the Maize Genetics Newsletter”, Genetics, 169 (4), 1787-1797).
  4. Marris C., Ronda S., Joly P.-B. & Bonneuil C., 2005. How the French GM controversy led to the reciprocal emancipation of scientific expertise and policy making, Science & Public Policy, vol. 32, n°4, 301–308
  5. Bonneuil C., 2006. Mendelism, plant breeding and experimental cultures: Agriculture and the development of genetics in France, Journal of the History of Biology, vol. 39, no. 2 (juill. 2006), 281-308.
  6. Bonneuil C., 2006. Cultures épistémiques et engagement des chercheurs dans la controverse OGM, Natures Sciences Société, vol. 14, n° 3, 257-268
  7. Bonneuil C., E. Demeulenaere, F. Thomas, P.-B. Joly, G. Allaire & I. Goldringer, 2006. Innover autrement ? La recherche face à l’avènement d’un nouveau régime de production et de régulation des savoirs en génétique végétale », in Gasselin P. et Clément O. (coord.). Quelles variétés et semences pour des agricultures paysannes durables ? Dossiers de l'environnement de l'INRA n° 30, Paris, 29-51.
  8. Bonneuil C. & Joly P.-B., 2007. « Plantes transgéniques, expertise et action publique : évolution de la place et du rôle de la Commission du Génie Biomoléculaire de 1986 à 2006 », in CGB, Commission du Génie Biomoléculaire, 1986-2006. 20 années d’expertise. Paris, MAP-MEDD, 20-29.
  9. Bonneuil C., 2007. Producing identity, industrializing purity. Elements for a cultural history of genetics”, in S. Müller-Wille & H.-J. Rheinberger (eds), Cultural History of Heredity, vol 4. Berlin, MPIWG Preprint, Berlin.
  10. Bonneuil C. & Demeulenaere E., 2007. Une génétique de pair à pair ? L’émergence de la sélection participative », dans F. Charvolin, A. Micoud et L. K. Nyhart (eds.) Les sciences citoyennes. Vigilance collective et rapport entre profane et scientifique dans les sciences naturalistes. Ed. de l’Aube, 122-147.
  11. Bonneuil C., Joly P.-B. et Marris C., 2008. Disentrenching experiment ? The construction of GM-crop field trials as a social problem in France, Science, Technology and Human Values, vol. 33, forthcoming
  12. Müller-Wille S. & Bonneuil C., 2008. Trials and Registers: The archives of the Svaloef Weibull and Vilmorin Companies”, Mendel Newsletter, forthcoming.
  13. Bonneuil C. et Thomas F. 2008. Du maïs hybride aux OGM. La recherche publique dans les transformations des régimes de production des savoirs en génétique végétale. Paris : Quae, forthcoming.
  14. Bonneuil C. & Thomas F. 2009?. INRA, plants and genes. Public research in the transformations of knowledge-production regimes in plant genetics, from Mendel to GMOs. being submitted to Minerva
  15. Bonneuil C. & Gaudillière JP. Post-fordist DNA. From gene action discourse to network metaphors in the new biology. Communications at ISHPSSB and 4S meetings, 2007. Work in progress.
  16. Bonneuil C. 2007. Une histoire comparée de la construction des savoirs sur les risques des plantes transgéniques (USA-Union européenne, Allemagne-France ; 1983-2003). Forthcoming short project report in the Proceeding of the Histoire des Savoirs program, K. Chemla (ed.)
Jonathan Harwood
  1. 'The reception of genetic theory among academic plant-breeders in Germany, 1900-1930', Journal of the Swedish Seed Association vol 107 (1997), 187-195.
  2. 'The rediscovery of Mendelism in agricultural context: Erich von Tschermak as plant-breeder', Comptes rendus de l'Academie des sciences, serie III/ Sciences de la vie no. 323 (December 2000, Mendel Centennial issue), 1061-1067.
  3. 'Politische-Okonomie der Pflanzenzucht in Deutschland, ca. 1870-1933' [Political economy of plant-breeding in Germany, ca 1870-1933], in Susanne Heim (ed), Autarkie und Ostexpansion: Pflanzenzucht und Agrarforschung im Nationalsozialismus  (Gottingen: Wallstein, 2002), 14-33.
  4. 'Linkage before Mendelism?  Plant-Breeding Research in Central Europe, c. 1880-1910',  in Hans-Joerg Rheinberger and Jean-Paul Gaudilliere (eds), Classical Genetic Research and Its Legacy: The Mapping Cultures of Twentieth Century Genetics (London: Routledge,  2004), 9-20.
  5. Technology’s Dilemma: Agricultural Colleges between Science and Practice in Germany, 1860-1934 (Bern/Frankfurt/New York: Peter Lang,  2005); one section of chp 4 discusses pb.
  6. ‘The Rockefeller Foundation and ‘peasant-friendly’ plant-breeding during the 1940s’, paper presented at annual meeting of SHOT, Washington, DC, October 2007.
  7. in preparation: Europe’s Green Revolution: the Rise and Fall of Peasant-Friendly Plant-Breeding in Central Europe, 1890-1945.
Barbara Hahn
  1. Hahn, Barbara. "Into the Belly of the Beast: The 2002 North Carolina Flue-Cured Tobacco Tour." *Southern Cultures* 9 (Fall 2003): 25-50.
  2. *Hahn, Barbara. "Making Tobacco Bright: Institutions, Information, and Industrialization in the Creation of an Agricultural Commodity, 1617-1937." Enterprise and Society **8, no. 4 (Dec. 2007): 790-798.*
  3. Hahn, Barbara. "Paradox of Precision: Bright Tobacco as Technology Transfer, 1880-1937." *Agricultural History *(In Press; Spring 2008).
Harro Maat
  1. (2001). Science Cultivating Practice; A history of agricultural science in the Netherlands and its colonies, 1863-1986. Dordrecht, Boston, London, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  2. (1998), 'De veredeling van tarwe in Nederland. (The improvement of wheat in the Netherlands) NEHA-jaarboek voor economische, bedrijfs- en techniekgeschiedenis (Netherlands Economic Historical Archives annual for economic and business history and the history of technologogy), nr.61: 86-120.
  3. (2003), ‘Techniek en het koloniale verleden (Technology and the colonial past)’, Techniek in Nederland in de twintigste eeuw, deel VII, techniek en modernisering; balans van de twintigste eeuw (Technology in the Netherlands during the twentieth century. Vol. VII. Technology and modernization, taking stock of the twentieth century), J.W. Schot, H.W. Lintsen et al (red.), Zutphen, Walburg Pers: 174-195.
  4. (2007) ‘The Economy of Rice: Some effects of technology on the  economies of rice in the past and in the future. A view on plant improvement’ I Congreso Mundial del Arroz, 25 y 26 Abril 2007, Cullera (Spain).
  5. (2005) ‘The Discovery of the Indonesian Rice Farmer’. Paper presented at The 2005 meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, Guelph, Canada, July 13-17.
  6. (2003) ‘Sugar and Rice: Institutional Differences between Public and Private Sector Technology Development in Colonial Indonesia.’  Paper presented at the SHOT Conference, Atlanta, October 2003
  7. with P. Richards (2002), 'Accountability To The Poor In Biotechnology: The Case Of The Rice Genome.' Paper presented at the EASST Conference, York, 31st July – 4th August 2002.
  8. with P. Richards (2000), 'Colonial (& post-colonial) plant scientists as knowledge brokers: from Mendel to bio-informatics.' Paper presented at the Workshop on Brokers of Knowledge and Capital, Amsterdam, May 2000.
Staffan Müller-Wille
  1. Carl Linnaeus. Musa Cliffortiana. Clifford’s Banana Plant. With an introduction by Staffan Müller-Wille. Translated into English by Stephen Freer (Regnum Vegetabile, Vol. 148). Vienna: International Association for Plant Taxonomy 2007.
  2. Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture 1500-1870. Edited by Staffan Müller-Wille and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Transformations: Studies in the History of Science and Technology, edited by J. Z. Buchwald). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press 2007.
  3. Staffan Müller-Wille. “Hybrids, pure cultures, and pure lines: From nineteenth-century biology to twentieth-century genetics,” Studies in History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences 38/4 (2007), 796-806.
  4. Staffan Müller-Wille and Vitezslav Orel: “From Linnaean Species to Mendelian Factors: Elements of Hybridism, 1751-1870,” Annals of Science 64/2 (2007), 171–215.
  5. Staffan Müller-Wille. “Early Mendelism and the subversion of taxonomy: Epistemological obstacles as institutions.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36/3 (2005), 465–487.
Nils Roll-Hansen
  1. "The Genotype Theory of Wilhelm Johannsen and its Relation to Plant Breeding and the Study of Evolution", Centaurus, 22 (1978), 201-235.
  2. "Svalöf and the origins of classical genetics", in Gösta Olsson (ed.) Svalöf 1886-1986 (Stockholm; LTs förlag, 1986), 35-43.
  3. "Croisement de lignées pures: de Johannsen á Nilsson-Ehle", In J.-L. Fischer and W. H. Schneider (eds.), Historie de la génetique. Practiques, Techniques et Theories. (Paris: A.R.P.E.M, 1990), 99-125. (The paper is also available in English version from author.)
  4. "The role of genetic theory in the success of the Svalöf plant breeding program",  Sveriges Utsädesförenings Tidskrift (Journal of the Swedish Seed Association), 107 (1997), 196-207. (Special issue on the role of Scandinavia in the early development of plant breeding, edited by N. Roll-Hansen.)
  5. “Theory and practice: the impact of mendelism on agriculture”, Comptes Rendues a l’Academie des Sciences Paris, Life Sciences, 323 (2000), 1107-1116.
R. Steven Turner
  1. R. Steven Turner and Heather Molyneaux. 2004. Agricultural Science, Potato Breeding and the Fredericton Experimental Station, 1912-66, Acadiensis 33.2:  44-67.
  2. R. Steven Turner. 2005. After the Famine: Plant Pathology, Phytophthora infestans and the Late Blight of Potatoes, 1845-1960, Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 34.2: 341-370.
  3. R. Steven Turner (forthcoming).  œPotato Agriculture, Late Blight Science, and the Molecularization of Plant Pathology, accepted for publication in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (to appear in 2008).

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