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Reforming Human Heredity in the 1930s

Reforming Human Heredity in the 1930s

Chapter:
(p.42) Two Reforming Human Heredity in the 1930s
Source:
Blood Relations
Author(s):
Jenny Bangham
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226740171.003.0003

In the 1930s, a community of influential British biologists seized on blood groups in their attempts to reform the study of human heredity. This community included R. A. Fisher, Lancelot Hogben, J. B. S. Haldane, Lionel Penrose, and Julia Bell, all of whom were recruited by the Medical Research Council to a new “Human Genetics Committee,” which would direct and support MRC-funded research on human inheritance. This was a period of heated disciplinary dispute and intense interest in eugenics and race; the committee believed that blood groups could help turn the study of human heredity into a modern, mathematically rigorous science. Blood groups, they believed, would provide a crucial reference point for pinning down the genetics of more complex traits, such as “mental defect” and “intelligence,” and might even lead to the first maps of human chromosomes. They believed blood groups also had the potential to reform race science. Soon, Fisher was awarded funding by the Rockefeller Foundation for a new lab devoted to blood group genetics: the Galton Serological Laboratory, based at University College, London. This chapter outlines how and why these scientists singled out blood groups in talking of modernity, race, and reform.

Keywords:   Human Genetics Committee, human heredity, genetics, R. A. Fisher, Medical Research Council, University College London, eugenics, race, Galton Serological Laboratory, Rockefeller Foundation

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