Project (2004-2005)

Gardening, Fancying, and Heredity

This project investigated the relationship between geneticists in early twentieth-century Europe, animal fanciers (who bred animals to prescribed standards for exhibition purposes), and gardeners.

The relationship between geneticists and fanciers has been little studied. What work has been done suggests that geneticists obtained animals for their research and information about their husbandry from animal fanciers. This project began by investigating the significance of this. What information was embedded in the animals that passed between these two groups of people? Initial findings suggest that the knowledge related to issues of purity and was not always accurate. In investigating this, the project quickly broadened to look at the extent to which geneticists and fanciers shared a common culture, and how this affected the work of the geneticists. Initial findings suggested that the worlds of genetics, fancying, and agriculture shared common societies, conferences, journals, people, and ideas.

The relationship between geneticists and gardeners has been equally little studied. Yet, horticulture formed a very important context for genetics since William Bateson directed the John Innes Horticultural Institution between 1910 and 1926. Botanical gardens across Europe connected gardening to botany and placed genetics in this context. Fruit growers connected gardening to agriculture. This suggests that plant genetics also existed in the shared context of science, agriculture, and leisure. The question of what knowledge gardeners embedded in the plants they grew for geneticists remains to be investigated.