I am a historian of science, specialising in the history of heredity, evolution, and racial science. My doctorate explored popular understandings of heredity in the 18th and 19th centuries, with a focus on the influence held by deepset social attitudes towards family, population, race, and food security. I am particularly interested in the production of evidence and the involvement of the wider public in debates over the mechanics and laws of heredity.
At Oxford, I teach the history of eugenics and racial science, the history of mental illness, and also seminars on Darwin, Malthus, and the science of society. I am the convenor for the FS Authority of Nature, and I lecture on the History of Science. I hold a DPhil in the History of Science and a BPhil in Philosophy (University College, Oxford). I am also an Honorary Research Associate at UCL, where I am working in liaison with UCL Collections to develop new online curriculum for students incorporating museum collections in the history of science.
History of science (particularly the history of evolution and heredity)
Science and religion
History of racial science and eugenics
My research examines how scientific authorities and institutions employed the public as a source of evidence, particularly in support of theories on the laws of heredity. During the 19th century, arriving at an understanding of the laws of hereditary transmission was one of the most pressing goals of scientific enquiry, with applications and consequences in agriculture, medicine, and the family. Farms, plant nurseries, and even lunatic asylums were all viewed as crucial sites for the production of data and (in some cases) the conducting of experimentation.
In my most recent article, I look at how cultivation practices shared by nurserymen and plant breeders informed Darwin's theory of pangenesis and debates over the extent to which humans could take the reigns of nature and control hereditary transmission for their benefit.
More broadly, I am interested in environmental approaches to the history of science, particularly as to how changes in climate have shaped and informed ideas about the heritability of traits and characteristics. I have a forthcoming article on fears and anxieties over food security and plant breeding in the late 18th century, and am currently working on the interplay between climate and degeneration.
Inevitable Decay: Debates over Climate, Food Security, and Plant Heredity in Nineteenth-Century Britain
Journal of the History of Biology
The production of a physiological puzzle: how Cytisus adami confused and inspired a century’s botanists, gardeners, and evolutionists