Theodore Varno

Ph.D. Candidate
Department of History
University of California, Berkeley

2008 to 2009
Dissertation Fellow

The Nature of Tomorrow: Inbreeding in Practice and Theory in the Anglo-American Context, 1860-1950

My project traces the development of knowledge about inbreeding in Britain and the United States from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, focusing in detail on the parallel ways in which inbreeding manifested itself in biology (particularly in genetics and evolutionary theory) and in scientific agriculture (where intensive inbreeding became a powerful tool for bio-engineering crops and livestock). After surveying developments across many disciplines and practices, my dissertation weaves a single narrative of the history of selectionist thought in which understandings of artificial selection and theories of natural selection develop in tandem, each reinforcing the other, from Darwin through the Modern Synthesis. While I’m in Philadelphia, I’ll be working out of the extensive holdings on the history of genetics in the American Philosophical Society, especially the collected papers of Sewall Wright, L.C. Dunn, William Castle, Raymond Pearl, G.H. Shull, H.D. Goodale, and Charles B. Davenport.