In 1919 the Animal Breeding Research Department was established in Edinburgh. This Department, later renamed the Institute of Animal Genetics, forged an international reputation, eventually becoming the centrepiece of a cluster of new genetics research units and institutions in Edinburgh after the Second World War. Yet despite its significance for institutionalising animal genetics research in the UK, the origins and development of the Department have not received as much scholarly attention as its importance warrants. This paper sheds new light on Edinburgh’s place in early British genetics by drawing upon recently catalogued archival sources including the papers of James Cossar Ewart, Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh between 1882 and 1927. Although presently a marginal figure in genetics historiography, Ewart established two sites for experimental animal breeding work between 1895 and 1911 and played a central role in the founding of Britain’s first genetics lectureship, also in 1911. These early efforts helped to secure government funding in 1913. However, a combination of the First World War, bureaucratic problems and Ewart’s personal ambitions delayed the creation of the Department and the appointment of its director by another six years. This paper charts the institutionalisation of animal breeding and genetics research in Edinburgh within the wider contexts of British genetics and agriculture in the early twentieth century.
Anon. 1915. Edinburgh University Calendar, 1914–1915. Edinburgh: James Thin.
Ankeny, Rachel. 2000. “Marvelling at the Marvel: The Supposed Conversion of A.D. Darbishire to Mendelism.” Journal of the History of Biology 33: 315–347.
Berry, Dominic. 2014a. Genetics, Statistics, and Regulation at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, 1919–1969. PhD Dissertation. University of Leeds.
Berry, Dominic. 2014b. “Bruno to Brünn; or the Pasteurization of Mendelian Genetics.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 48(B): 280–286.
Berry, Dominic. 2015. “Agricultural Modernity as a Product of the Great War: The Founding of the Official Seed Testing Station for England and Wales, 1917–1921.” War & Society 34: 121–139.
Birse, Ronald M. 1994. Science at the University of Edinburgh, 1583–1993: An Illustrated History to Mark the Centenary of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, 1893–1993. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, Faculty of Science and Engineering.
Burkhardt, Richard. 1979. “Closing the Door on Lord Morton’s Mare: The Rise and Fall of Telegony.” Studies in the History of Biology 3: 1–21.
Bulfield, Grahame. 2000. “Eighty Years Ago…” Roslin Institute Annual Report 1998–1999, pp. 24–25.
Brassley, Paul. 1995. “Agricultural Research in Britain 1850–1914: Failure, Success and Development.” Annals of Science 52: 465–480.
Charnley, Berris. 2011. Agricultural Science, Plant Breeding and the Emergence of a Mendelian System in Britain, 1880–1930. PhD Dissertation, University of Leeds.
Clarke, Adele. 2007. “Reflections on the Reproductive Sciences in Agriculture in the UK and US ca. 1900–2000+.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 38(3): 316–339.
Cock, Alan G. and Forsdyke, Donald R. 2008. Treasure Your Exceptions: the Science and Life of William Bateson. New York: Springer.
Crew, F. A. E. 1971. “The Genealogy of the Poultry Research Centre, Edinburgh.” British Poultry Science 12: 289–295.
Darbishire, A. D. D. 1917. An Introduction to a Biology and Other Papers. London: Cassell and Company Ltd.
DeJager, Timothy. 1993. “Pure Science and Practical Interests: The Origins of the Agricultural Research Council, 1930–1937.” Minerva 31(2): 129–150.
Ewart, James Cossar. 1899. The Penycuik Experiments. London: Adam and Charles Black.
García-Sancho, Miguel. 2015. “Animal Breeding in the Age of Biotechnology: The Investigative Pathway Behind the Cloning of Dolly the Sheep.” History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 37(3): 282–304.
Harwood, Jonathan. 1993. Styles of Scientific Thought: The German Genetics Community, 1900–1933. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hogben, Lancelot. 1974. “Francis Albert Eley Crew. 1886–1973.” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 20: 135–153.
Kevles, Daniel. 1980. “Genetics in the United States and Great Britain, 1890–1930: A Review with Speculations.” Isis: A Journal of the History of Science 71: 441–455.
Kimmelman, Barbara. 2006. “Mr. Blakeslee Builds His Dream House: Agricultural Institutions, Genetics, and Careers 1900–1915.” Journal of the History of Biology 39(2): 241–280.
Kraft, Alison. 2004. “Pragmatism, Patronage and Politics in English Biology: The Rise and Fall of Economic Biology 1904–1920.” Journal of the History of Biology 37(2): 213–258.
Marie, Jennifer. 2004. The Importance of Place: a History of Genetics in 1930s Britain. PhD Dissertation, University College London.
Marie, Jennifer. 2008. “For Science, Love and Money: The Social Worlds of Poultry and Rabbit Breeding in Britain, 1900–1940.” Social Studies of Science 38(6): 919–936.
Marshall, F. H. A. 1934. “James Cossar Ewart. 1851–1933.” Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 1(3): 189–195.
Müller-Wille, Staffan and Brandt, Christina. 2016. “From Heredity to Genetics: Political, Medical, and Agro-Industrial Contexts.” Staffan Müller-Wille and Christina Brandt (eds.), Heredity Explored: Between Public Domain and Experimental Science, 1850–1930. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 3–25.
Myelnikov, Dmitriy. Accepted. “Cuts and the Cutting Edge: British Science Funding and the Making of Animal Biotechnology in 1980s Edinburgh.” British Journal for the History of Science.
Olby, Robert. 1989. “Scientists and Bureaucrats in the Establishment of the John Innes Horticultural Institutions under William Bateson.” Annals of Science 49: 497–510.
Olby, Robert. 1991. “Social Imperialism and State Support for Agricultural Research in Edwardian Britain.” Annals of Science 48: 509–526.
Olby, Robert. 2000. “Horticulture: The Font for the Baptism of Genetics.” Nature Reviews Genetics 1(1): 65–70.
Olszynko-Gryn, Jesse. 2014. “The Demand for Pregnancy Testing: The Aschheim–Zondek Reaction, Diagnostic Versatility, and Laboratory Services in 1930s Britain.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: 47(B): 233–247.
Opitz, Donald L. 2004. ““Behind Folding Shutters in Whittingehame House”: Alice Blanche Balfour (1850–1936) and Amateur Natural History.” Archives of Natural History 31(2): 330–348.
Opitz, Donald L. 2011. “Cultivating Genetics in the Country: Whittingehame Lodge, Cambridge.” David N. Livingstone and Charles W. J. Withers (eds.), Geographies of Nineteenth Century Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 73–98.
Palladino, Paolo. 1993. “Between Craft and Science: Plant Breeding, Mendelian Genetics, and British Universities, 1900–1920.” Technology and Culture 34(2): 300–323.
Palladino, Paolo. 2002. Plants, Patients and the Historian: (Re)membering in the Age of Genetic Engineering. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Richmond, Marsha. 2006. “The “Domestication” of Heredity: The Familial Organisation of Geneticists at Cambridge University, 1895–1910.” Journal of the History of Biology 39(3): 565–605.
Ritvo, Harriet. 2004. “Understanding Audiences and Misunderstanding Audiences: Some Publics for Science.” Geoffrey Cantor and Sally Shuttleworth (eds.), Science Serialized: Representation of the Sciences of the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 331–349.
Robertson, Forbes W. 1983. “Genetics.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 84B: 211–229.
Rosenberg, Charles. 1976. No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought. Baltimore and London:The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Schaffer, Simon. 1998. “Physics Laboratories and the Victorian Country House.” Crosbie Smith and Jon Agar (eds.), Making Space for Science: Territorial Themes in the Shaping of knowledge. Hampshire and London: Macmillian Press Ltd., pp. 149–180.
Smith, David. 1998. “The Agricultural Research Association, the Development Fund, and the Origins of the Rowett Research Institute.” Agricultural History Review 46(1): 47–63.
Vernon, Keith. 1997. “Science for the Farmer? Agricultural Research in England 1909–36.” Twentieth Century British History 8(3): 310–333.
Whitman, Charles Otis. 1902. “A Biological Farm. For the Experimental Investigation of Heredity, Variation and Evolution and for the Study of Life-Histories, Habits, Instincts and Intelligence.” Biological Bulletin 3(5): 214–224.
Wood, Roger J. 2015. “Darbishire Expands His Vision of Heredity from Mendelian Genetics to Inherited Memory.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 53: 16–39.
The author would like to thank the staff of Cambridge University Library Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh, John Innes Historical Collections, National Records of Scotland, Scotland’s Regional College Library and the Wellcome Collection, all of whom kindly facilitated access to their archives. I am indebted to those who generously gave their time to reading and discussing this paper with me: Dominic Berry, Grahame Bulfield, Jacqueline Cahif, Bill Jenkins, Dmitriy Myelnikov, Miguel Garcìa-Sancho Sanchez and Steve Sturdy. Their support and expertise have helped to strengthen this paper considerably, as did the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers. This work was supported by a Research Bursary from the Wellcome Trust [200428/Z/15/Z], to whom thanks are also due.
About this article
Cite this article
Button, C. James Cossar Ewart and the Origins of the Animal Breeding Research Department in Edinburgh, 1895–1920. J Hist Biol 51, 445–477 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-017-9500-0
- History of genetics
- James Cossar Ewart
- Animal breeding
- Animal genetics