This webinar forms part of the Royal Society history of science seminar series.
Dr Brooks will discuss his recent article, ‘Mendel’s Closet: Genetics, Eugenics, and the Exceptions of Sex in Edwardian Britain,’ published in Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science.
The article situates formative Mendelian and chromosomal precepts and rhetoric as an integral part of ‘reproductive’ physiology and the broader sexological terrain in Edwardian Britain. Alongside the discovery of ‘internal secretions’ (hormones), the discovery of the sex chromosomes, made around the same time as the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws of heredity at the turn of the twentieth century, transformed the ways in which questions about sex determination and sex development were considered. Approaches were diverse as leading biologists including William Bateson, Leonard Doncaster, Reginald Crundall Punnett, Geoffrey Watkins Smith and their interlocutors negotiated the multiple, often conflicting, sociopolitical interpretations, uses and abuses that Mendelian approaches to sex were amenable to.
Most contentiously, it was recognized that any credible model of sex biology had to account for all manner of sex phenomena, including parthenogenesis, intersexualities and transformations of sex, and that it was the variations of sex that best provided insights into the otherwise hidden mechanisms that shaped sex characteristics. Such a move, however, embroiled the new sexological genetics and the developing discipline of ‘reproductive’ physiology with vexed debates about feminism, homosexuality and eugenics.
The article charts how the ensuing tensions played out across scholarly and popular platforms, including Britain’s newspapers. A recording of the webinar will be hosted on the Cassyni website for those who wish to watch later (https://cassyni.com/s/history-of-science).
There will also be a text-based Q&A, open for two days after the webinar.