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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Professor of History of Science and Medicine

On research leave till September 2024. Still supervising PhD students.

A historian of biological and medical sciences, I am interested generally in visual communication and specifically in reproduction, embryology, anatomy and evolution. Having worked most on German-speaking Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, I increasingly study Britain and the United States and range from 1750 to the present.

I am finishing The Embryo Series: Imaging Human Development Before Birth, the subject of my Innes Lecture. As holder of a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship in 2021–4, I am researching and writing The Many Births of the Test-Tube Baby: Proof and Publicity in Claims to a Breakthrough. My last book, Haeckel's Embryos: Images, Evolution and Fraud, tells the extraordinary story of an alleged forgery that became a textbook classic. Spanning from the 19th to the 21st century, and from the German lands to the United States, it explores how scientific images succeed and fail, become taken for granted and cause trouble. My first book, Embryos in Wax: Models from the Ziegler Studio, is available from the Whipple Museum.

I am a deputy chair of Cambridge Reproduction. From 2004 to 2018 I was principal holder of Wellcome enhancement and strategic awards on the theme 'Generation to Reproduction'. These led, among many other things, to Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day, a large, accessible, illustrated book, and to the continuing Generation to Reproduction Seminar.

I came to history of science and medicine after postdoctoral work in developmental biology. Having lectured in Cambridge HPS and at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, I became a teaching officer here in 1998 and won a Pilkington teaching prize in 2006. I co-direct the Ischia Summer School on the History of the Life Sciences and am an associate editor of the Journal of the History of Biology. I sit on the advisory board of the Haeckel letters edition and the council of the Cambridge Philosophical Society.

I supervise a wide range of topics. Former PhD students have written histories of anatomy, scientific societies, heart transplants in the media, flu as a viral disease, teratology and antenatal care, blood donation, blood group genetics, pregnancy testing, transgenic mice, and the midlife crisis. Current students are historicizing public-health images, primate ethology and commercial television, histories of contraception, new media and science writing, chromotherapy, and bioluminescence.


Selected publications

'Species Choice and Model Use: Reviving Research on Human Development', Journal of the History of Biology 57 (2024), in press

'Visual Strategies of Antiabortion Activism and Their Feminist Critique: The Public Fetus in the United States', in Rethinking the Public Fetus: Historical Perspectives on the Visual Culture of Pregnancy, edited by Elisabet Björklund and Solveig Jülich (Rochester, 2024): 193–224

'A Sexless Universe: How Microbial Genetics Shaped the First History of Reproduction, François Jacob’s The Logic of Life', HOPOS 13 (2023): 511–534

'"Not Birth, Marriage or Death, but Gastrulation": The Life of a Quotation in Biology', British Journal for the History of Science 55 (2022): 1–26. Blog

'Cycles and Circulation: A Theme in the History of Biology and Medicine', with Staffan Müller-Wille, Janet Browne, Christiane Groeben, Shigehisa Kuriyama, Maaike van der Lugt, Guido Giglioni, Lynn K. Nyhart, Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Ariane Dröscher, Warwick Anderson, Peder Anker, Mathias Grote, Lucy van de Wiel and the Fifteenth Ischia Summer School on the History of the Life Sciences, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43 (2021): article 89. News itemCAM feature

'Reconstructing Robert Edwards: Biography and the History of Reproduction', essay review of Let There Be Life by Roger Gosden, Reproductive BioMedicine Online 40 (2020): 605–612

'The Tragedy of the Emeritus and the Fates of Anatomical Collections: Alfred Benninghoff's Memoir of Ferdinand Count Spee', BJHS Themes 4 (2019): 169–194

'Inclusion and Exclusion in the History of Developmental Biology', Development 146 (2019): dev175448

Reproduction: Antiquity to the Present Day, edited with Rebecca Flemming and Lauren Kassell (Cambridge, 2018). xxxv + 730 pp. + 90 pp. colour plates; 44 chapters, 40 'exhibits'. Own chapters: 'Reproduction in History' and 'Concluding Reflections' (pp. 1–17 and 656–671, both with Flemming and Kassell), 'The Keywords "Generation" and "Reproduction"' (pp. 287–304), 'Artificial Fertilization' (pp. 581–596), 'Modern Law and Regulation' (pp. 597–611, with Martin H. Johnson) and 'Globalization' (pp. 641–655); part introductions: 'Inventing Reproduction', 'Modern Reproduction' and 'Reproduction Centre Stage' (pp. 280–285, 390–395 and 498–503); exhibits: 'Images of Human Embryos' and 'It's a Girl' (E23 and E38). 'Highly commended' at the 2019 BMA Medical Book Awards. Blog. Discussion. Feature. Interview. Research Horizons

  • Danish translation: 'Kunstig befrugtning', Slagmark: Tidsskrift for Idéhistorie 78 (2019): 109–126

Haeckel's Embryos: Images, Evolution and Fraud (Chicago, 2015). 8.5'' x 11'', viii + 388 pp., 202 colour plates. Winner of the History of Science Society's Suzanne J. Levinson Prize for best book in the history of the life sciences and natural history; 'highly commended' for the SHARP DeLong Book History Prize; shortlisted for the BSHS John Pickstone Prize. Feature. Talk (at 1:04:20). Interview. Q&A

Communicating Reproduction, special issue, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 89 (2015): 379–556, edited and introduced (on pp. 379–405) with Peter Murray Jones, Lauren Kassell and Jim Secord. Q&A. Exhibition

'The Cult of Amphioxus in German Darwinism; or, Our Gelatinous Ancestors in Naples' Blue and Balmy Bay', History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 36 (2015): 371–393

'A Marble Embryo: Meanings of a Portrait from 1900', History Workshop Journal 73 (Spring 2012): 5–36

'Approaches and Species in the History of Vertebrate Embryology', in Vertebrate Embryogenesis: Embryological, Cellular, and Genetic Methods (Methods in Molecular Biology 770), edited by Francisco J. Pelegri (Humana Press, 2011): 1–20 [PDF]

'Why the Medical Research Council Refused Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe Support for Research on Human Conception in 1971', with Martin H. Johnson, Sarah B. Franklin and Matthew Cottingham, Human Reproduction 25 (2010): 2157–2174

Seriality and Scientific Objects in the Nineteenth Century, special double issue, History of Science 48 (2010): 251–494, edited and introduced (on pp. 251–285) with Simon Schaffer and Jim Secord [PDF]

'Embryology', in The Cambridge History of Science, volume 6: The Modern Biological and Earth Sciences, edited by Peter J. Bowler and John V. Pickstone (Cambridge, 2009): 285–315

'Darwinism's Tragic Genius: Psychology and Reputation', essay review of The Tragic Sense of Life by Robert J. Richards, Isis 100 (2009): 863–867

Making Visible Embryos, with Tatjana Buklijas, online exhibition (2008–10)

'Artist Versus Anatomist, Models Against Dissection: Paul Zeiller of Munich and the Revolution of 1848', Medical History 51 (2007): 279–308 [PDF]

'Visual Standards and Disciplinary Change: Normal Plates, Tables and Stages in Embryology', History of Science 43 (2005): 239–303 [PDF]

Models: The Third Dimension of Science, edited and introduced (on pp. 1–15) with Soraya de Chadarevian; own chapter (pp. 170–206) on 'Plastic Publishing in Embryology' (Stanford, 2004). xvi + 464 pp.

Embryos in Wax: Models from the Ziegler Studio (Whipple Museum of the History of Science; Institute of the History of Medicine, University of Bern, 2002; reprinted 2013). xi + 206 pp., 32 colour plates, 100 halftones

'Embryonen "auf dem Altar der Wissenschaft zu opfern": Entwicklungsreihen im späten neunzehnten Jahrhundert', in Geschichte des Ungeborenen. Zur Erfahrungs- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Schwangerschaft, 17.–20. Jahrhundert, edited by Barbara Duden, Jürgen Schlumbohm and Patrice Veit (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002): 237–272

'Producing Development: The Anatomy of Human Embryos and the Norms of Wilhelm His', Bulletin of the History of Medicine 74 (2000): 29–79 [PDF]

'The Introduction of Xenopus laevis into Developmental Biology: Of Empire, Pregnancy Testing and Ribosomal Genes', with John B. Gurdon, International Journal of Developmental Biology 44 (2000): 43–50 [PDF]

'"Giving Body" to Embryos: Modeling, Mechanism, and the Microtome in Late Nineteenth-Century Anatomy', Isis 90 (1999): 462–496 [PDF]

'Biology between University and Proletariat: The Making of a Red Professor', History of Science 35 (1997): 367–424 [PDF]

'Producing a Socialist Popular Science in the Weimar Republic', History Workshop Journal 41 (Spring 1996): 117–153 [PDF]

'Genetics in the Mandarin Style', essay review of Styles of Scientific Thought by Jonathan Harwood, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 25 (1994): 237–250

Fourteen publications in developmental biology, 1989–94, including first-author papers in Nature, Cell, EMBO Journal and Development


Recent short book reviews

Review of Mareike Vennen, Das Aquarium. Praktiken, Techniken und Medien der Wissensproduktion (1840–1910) (2018), Isis 110 (2019): 837–838

Review of Ernst Haeckel, Ausgewählte Briefwechsel, vol. 1: Familienkorrespondenz Februar 1839 – April 1854, ed. Roman Göbel et al. (2017), Isis 109 (2018): 860–861

Review of Erik L. Peterson, The Life Organic: The Theoretical Biology Club and the Roots of Epigenetics (2016), American Historical Review 123 (2018): 641–642

Review of Klaus Taschwer, Der Fall Paul Kammerer. Das abenteuerliche Leben des umstrittensten Biologen seiner Zeit (2016), Isis 109 (2018): 210–211

Review of Jane Maienschein, Embryos under the Microscope: The Diverging Meanings of Life (2014), Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 71 (2016): 230–232

Review of Catelijne Coopmans et al. (eds), Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited (2014), Isis 106 (2015): 899–901

Review of Renato G. Mazzolini and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (eds), Differing Routes to Stem Cell Research: Germany and Italy (2012), Isis 105 (2014): 869–870

Review of Malcolm Nicolson and John E. E. Fleming, Imaging and Imagining the Fetus: The Development of Obstetric Ultrasound (2013), Medical History 58 (2014): 450–452


Recent public engagement online

'The Story and Science behind a Life-Changing Technology [IVF]', Tiny Matters, American Chemical Society, 3 April 2024. Podcast. Spotify

'History Is Always Happening Now' (with P. A. Bitez), Made the Same Way, Reform Radio and Human Developmental Biology Initiative, 17 February 2023. Podcast. Video trailer

Panellist, ‘100 Years of “Daedalus”: The Birth of Assisted Reproductive Technology’, Progress Educational Trust, 1 February 2023. Podcast. Video

'Human Embryo Research from Carnegie Department to HDBI', HDBI Ethics Seminar, 23 September 2022. Video

Panellist, ‘Fertility Futures: What Is a “Permitted” Embryo in Law?’ Progress Educational Trust, 25 May 2022. Video

Chair, ‘Cambridge at the Forefront of Human Embryo Research’, Cambridge Festival, 8 April 2022. Video

Contributor to '14 Tage Menschenleben: Neue Forschung am frühen Embryo', Wissenschaft im Brennpunkt, Deutschlandfunk, 13 June 2021. Podcast and text

‘Visible Embryos: A History of Human Development’, Innes Lecture, John Innes Centre, Norwich, 22 April 2021. Video

Panellist, ‘How Organoids Help Us Understand Ourselves and Treat Diseases’, Cambridge Festival, 29 March 2021. Video

Panellist, 'Visions of Reproduction', Being Human Festival and The Fertility Podcast, 12 November 2020. Podcast

Panellist, ‘When Was Reproduction Invented?’, Cambridge Festival of Ideas, 17 October 2019. Video

'Why Reproduction Matters’, ReproSoc 'Remaking Reproduction' Conference, 18 January 2019. Video

Contributor to 'Paul Ehrlich’s "Magic Bullet" and the Cure for Syphilis', Science Stories, BBC Radio 4, 1 June 2016. BBC Sounds

Introduction to Proteus (David Lebrun, 2004), Darwin and Human Nature film series, Darwin Correspondence Project, 29 October 2012. Podcast

Nick Hopwood
Takes PhD students