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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Reproduction – making new organisms – is constantly in the news. The field has wide scope, from 'designer babies' to the environmental impacts of population growth, from intimate experiences to planetary policy, and is changing prominently and controversially. Commentators often invoke history, but historical research on reproduction has become so vast and diverse that it is hard to see, let alone improve, the big pictures. To reassess the subject over the long term, the Generation to Reproduction project pools the expertise of specialists in historical periods from antiquity to the present and combines histories of science, technology and medicine with social, cultural and demographic histories.

We can look back like a biologist or demographer and see reproduction in every century, but for historians 'reproduction' also means a set of ideas and practices that are specifically modern. Before the eighteenth, even the nineteenth century, learned people wrote not of 'reproduction', but of 'generation', a larger, looser framework for discussing procreation and descent. Our research explores topics in the history of generation, from ancient fertility rites to early modern medical encounters, and investigates how the modern world of reproduction was made. Specific projects have tackled, for example, the framing of antenatal care, the role of sexually transmitted infections in the fertility decline, the history of pregnancy testing and the making of human embryology and in vitro fertilization.

This large HPS-based research programme brings together historians from across the University, including the Faculties of Classics and History, the Departments of Geography and of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, and King's College. Among many other activities, we hold regular seminars within the Tuesday afternoon history of medicine series. The research has been supported by the Wellcome Trust through enhancement (2004–10) and strategic (2010–18) awards, as well as by several other grants.