School of Continuing and Professional Studies Faculty Publications


Cultivating Genetics in the Country: Whittingehame Lodge, Cambridge

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This chapter considers a case in the early history of genetics, that of the foundation of the research station, Whittingehame Lodge, at the University of Cambridge. Unlike other departments’ biological research laboratories, which were centrally clustered in the New Museums Site near the town center, the land allotted to genetics was located in fields outside of town, next to the University Farms and Observatory. The space for experiments was a two-acre plot consisting of gardens, greenhouses, and a laboratory in the professor’s “lodge”—a marrying of field and laboratory that situated genetics in close alignment with the new School of Agriculture as opposed to the other biological departments. This chapter explains how genetics came to be cultivated in this distinctive spatial arrangement, which co-opted both field and laboratory within a purposefully built research site. Despite the Cambridge geneticists’ departure from evolutionary morphology in favor of Mendelian studies, their development of a research program, led by William Bateson, claimed a continuity with gentlemanly natural history of the type practiced by Britain’s champions of evolution and morphology—respectively, Charles Darwin and Francis Balfour. This claim bolstered the authority of the Mendelian approach in a socioeconomic milieu shaped by a widespread concern over the British agricultural depression and a perceived imperative to improve agricultural stocks by applying scientific knowledge.6 Shepherded by a collaboration of Cambridge’s aristocratic machine with private industry, the realization of Bateson’s model and its promise to yield useful knowledge blurred the field/lab distinction sharpened by advocates of a laboratory approach. The case of Whittingehame Lodge thus presents us with another early twentieth-century research site “standing between the standardized space of the lab and the messiness of the field.”