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Title: An intellectual history of the inheritance of acquired characteristics before Darwin : readers and ideas
Author: Lidwell-Durnin, John
ISNI:       0000 0004 7234 2085
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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In the 19th century, debates over heredity were fuelled by anecdotal evidence and special, unusual cases. Farmers, animal and plant breeders, medical writers and natural historians all took part in wider efforts to compile and arrange this production of evidence in order to tell different stories about nature, and the laws of inheritance. While many historians have claimed that 'the inheritance of acquired characteristics', an important theory about the laws of inheritance, was a widespread belief during this period, the means by which this idea became widespread have been overlooked by other historians. Recently, Bernard Lightman and Sally Shuttleworth have both argued that early-19th century efforts to create community-led scientific periodicals and publications were more constitutive of scientific practice than earlier historians have considered, while Pietro Corsi has argued that the industry of 'contributors' to periodicals, encyclopaedias and dictionaries during this period provides a means by which we can better understand readership and reception of popular scientific ideas. In this thesis, I argue that the evidence produced by practitioners and amateurs in support of the inheritance of acquired characteristics is an important means by which we can come to understand how the idea became a widespread belief, and an important part of how many people understood the workings and laws of nature. This thesis draws on a range of practical agriculture and gardening magazines, popular encyclopaedias, as well as from phrenological journals and temperance writings, many of which have not previously been included in the history of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. One important aspect of this increasing popularity came via the fact that many of the proponents of the inheritance of acquired characteristics found the idea provided a means by which familiar, religious understandings of the family, sin, and reproduction, were preserved. In an era of scientific activity that Adrian Desmond has depicted as materialist and radical, the 1820s and 1830s saw medical and scientific writers from different religious backgrounds, discovering immediate and significant biblical value in the idea that sinful habits and virtues acquired in life are transmitted to offspring.
Supervisor: Corsi, Pietro ; Mahone, Sloan Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available