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Transfusion and Race in Interwar Europe

Transfusion and Race in Interwar Europe

Chapter:
(p.26) One Transfusion and Race in Interwar Europe
Source:
Blood Relations
Author(s):
Jenny Bangham
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226740171.003.0002

Blood groups were first discovered in 1900; over the next four decades, their meanings and uses were defined by the pressures of war, nationalism, eugenics, and by changing technologies for handling blood. Blood groups were first defined by researchers working in the field of serology, who understood them as immunological and biochemical curiosities. But on the battlefields of the First World War they soon became crucial to transfusion. In the 1920s, transfusion services in several countries expanded, and records of donors and their blood groups began accumulating in large numbers. This new kind of data was turned into fascinating genetic material—blood groups had clear-cut inheritance, which suggested that they might provide a route to mapping human chromosomes. They also looked like promising markers of racial difference: amid hotly contested debates about what defined a nation, blood groups were swept up in currents of interest in identity, nationalism, and race. This chapter outlines the contexts in which blood groups were considered, the technologies through which they circulated, and the political uses to which they were put.

Keywords:   blood groups, First World War, nationalism, eugenics, race, serology, genetics, transfusion, nation, identity

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