Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 213–258

Pragmatism, Patronage and Politics in English Biology: The Rise and Fall of Economic Biology 1904–1920

  • Alison Kraft

DOI: 10.1023/B:HIST.0000038268.39357.28

Cite this article as:
Kraft, A. Journal of the History of Biology (2004) 37: 213. doi:10.1023/B:HIST.0000038268.39357.28


The rise of applied biology was one of the most striking features of the biological sciences in the early 20th century. Strongly oriented toward agriculture, this was closely associated with the growth of a number of disciplines, notably, entomology and mycology. This period also saw a marked expansion of the English University system, and biology departments in the newly inaugurated civic universities took an early and leading role in the development of applied biology through their support of Economic Biology. This sought explicitly to promote the application of biological knowledge to economically important problems and especially to agriculture. The impact of Economic Biology was felt most strongly within Zoology, where it became synonymous with entomology. The transience of Economic Biology belies its significance, for example, in providing a means for the expansion of biology at the civic universities. More broadly, it opened up new research and employment opportunities within the life sciences. In late Edwardian Britain, newly available state funds for agriculturally relevant biological disciplines transformed the life sciences. This paper examines the impact of these funds – mobilized either under the 1909 Development Act, or under the auspices of colonial interests – on Economic Biology and the institutionalization of applied biology. The rise and fall of Economic Biology casts new light on the way in which institutional and political alignments profoundly shaped the development of British biology.

agricultureapplied biologyAssociation of Economic Biologistscivic universitiesDevelopment ActEconomic BiologyentomologyEmpire

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison Kraft
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for the Study of Genetics, Biorisks and Society (IGBiS), Law and Social Sciences BuildingThe University of NottinghamUK