History of Reproduction Biology

Reproduction in Biology. Configurations between Science and Culture, 1900–2000

Christina Brandt

Cooperation Partners: 

ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society, University of Exeter, Center for Biology and Society, Arizona State University

This project dealt with research on “reproduction” in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century life sciences. “Reproduction” has a variety of meanings: it relates to different ways of propagation and multiplication and it also refers to ways of making things similar or identical. In the latter sense “reproduction” means “replication” and it has a bearing on molecular copying and cloning techniques. Today, biomedical research on reproduction and related areas like stem cell research are rapidly developing fields with controversial impacts on society and culture. In this project, Christina Brandt wished to broaden the perspective of the history of reproduction in biology by taking into account more than a specific disciplinary research field like reproductive medicine or reproduction biology. Rather, the study addresses the emergence and changing techniques of reproduction and their uses in different fields of the life sciences throughout the twentieth century.

The fundamental role that reproduction played, both as a subject under study as well as an experimental technique, in twentieth-century life sciences was explored through a number of case studies, dealing with reproduction research on the level of molecules, cells, and organisms. The focus was on the history of cell biology (the emergence and reproduction of cell lines); molecular biology and genetic engineering (the notion of replication and molecular copying techniques); and developmental biology and embryo research. A particular line of research concentrated on the history of cloning and its cultural dimensions throughout the twentieth century. These studies represented an extension of the earlier research on the history of cloning, which had a special focus on developments in biomedical research in Germany since 1950.

Funding Institutions

Max Planck Society (Programme for Outstanding Women Scholars)