Research

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My current research examines the history of ideas about biological individuality, parts, and wholes in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. What counts as a whole individual in biology? What counts as a part? Anatomists, physiologists, zoologists, and botanists have all found this a compelling question at different moments in the history of biology, and one of those moments was the middle of the nineteenth century, when not only biological individuals, parts, and wholes were being defined but also modern nation-states and the roles of their citizenry. How did biological language spill over into political language, and vice-versa? What was the role of translation in circulating (and blocking) ideas about these topics through different language and cultural groups? These are two of the many questions I’m pursuing, together with my project collaborator Scott Lidgard (Field Museum). In 2012 we have co-organized two workshops to explore such issues in a larger interdisciplinary framework that brings together historians, philosophers, and biologists, with the aim of producing a synthetic volume on biological individuality.

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