Environment, Climate, and Heredity: the integration of environmental humanities with the history of heredity


Luke Howard, The climate of London. Wellcome Collection

Speakers include: John Waller (MSU), Angelique Richardson (Exeter) Samuel Randalls (UCL), Marianne Sommer (Lucerne), Staffan Müller-Wille (Exeter), Karen Sayer (Leeds Trinity), Matthew Holmes (Cambridge).

Workshop convened by John Lidwell-Durnin

The relative stability of agriculture and production of food enjoyed in the last century is entangled with the history of heredity. Experimentation in plant breeding produced both the crops that we rely upon and our knowledge of the laws of heredity and inheritance, while debates over human reproduction and population levels have always been entangled with anxieties over our agricultural production. What makes the history of heredity particularly important within the history of science is the large role played by the public: farmers, gardeners, and plant breeders have been the principal actors in advancing cultures of experimentation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, while physicians, educators and social reform workers have all contributed to public and wider understandings of human heredity, and the inheritance of traits and characteristics.

Environmental history and the environmental humanities have flourished in the last decade, producing new perspectives on these themes. As the environmental sciences and the conservation movement find themselves facing perennial public scepticism and challenge, there is a real opportunity for historians of heredity and researchers working within the environmental humanities to produce research that helps us to understand the longer history of the role played by the public not only in debating and contesting scientific authority on the environment, climate, and the use of natural resources, but also the special role long held by the public in contributing to scientific understanding of reproduction and adaptation.

This event is free. If you would like to attend please email john.lidwell-durnin@history.ox.ac.uk to reserve a place.

In addition, as part of our networking, this event is organised in collaboration with 'Narrative Science in Techno-Environments: Integrating History of Science with Environmental History and Humanities', being held 18-19 July in London, organised by Dr Dominic Berry (LSE). Further details: https://www.narrative-science.org/events-narrative-science-project-workshops-environment.html





Registration / Tea and Coffee


Session 1 Chair: John Lidwell-Durnin (Oxford)

Karen Sayer (Leeds Trinity)
‘Sheep in the UK: landscapes of production and “heritage”’

Matthew  Holmes (Cambridge)

‘Subversive grafting: keeping the environment at bay in twentieth-century genetics’

Tom Quick (Manchester)

'Once bitten: mental hospitals, mosquito breeding, and the emergence of ecological malariology'




Session 2 Chair: Rebecca Earle (Warwick)

Angelique Richardson (Exeter)

‘Nation, biology, and the right’

Sam Randalls (UCL)

'Unhealthy environments: making climate risks in Anglophone life assurance, c.1840-1920'

John Lidwell-Durnin (Oxford)

'Cultures of improvement: potatoes, environment, and the spectre of disaster, 1800-1847'


Tea and Coffee


Session 3 Chair: Dominic Berry (LSE)

Staffan Muller-Wille (Exeter)

'Environmental history and the history of heredity – an odd couple'

Marianne Sommer (Lucerne)

‘Historicizing the Anthropocene: heredity, environment, and politics in ecological humanism’

John Waller (MSU)

‘Continuity and change in the history of hereditarian thought’


Closing remarks



Image: Luke Howard, The climate of London. Wellcome Collection