Blood and Promise
From 1920 to nearly 1960, transfusion services created the conditions for blood to flow and yield copious genetic data. Blood groups provided a model for what human genetics could be: they were abundant, they had clear-cut inheritance, and they permitted the mathematical analyses of human populations. They were useful politically: promising local disciplinary reform while projecting a science that appeared to be internationalist, redemptive, and value neutral, even as it was built on prejudicial notions of racial difference. Blood groups also promised much intellectually—for understanding evolution, for recovering deep history, and for pinning down the genetics of medically relevant traits. The book concludes with reflections on what has remained, and what has changed since the 1950s. It does this in part by exploring the afterlives of some of Mourant’s materials—specifically a collection of frozen blood and a paper archive, now in the custody of the University of Cambridge. These collections remain scientifically promising, but their possible uses are uncertain. Scientists worry about the safety and identity of the blood; ethics committees prepare to speak for donors and their kin; archivists hope to order and protect the archive; historians wait to use it and create new narratives about the past.
Keywords: human genetics, collections, archive, frozen blood, ethics committees, archivists, historians