Article ID: CBB796702758

Medical Bacteriology and Medical Genetics, 1880–1940: A Call for Synthesis (2020)


Between 1880 and 1920 the medical quest to unearth the causes of disease saw two pathbreaking discoveries. One was the bacteriological revolution – the identification of specific germs as causal agents of specific diseases (anthrax, tuberculosis, diphtheria, cholera and so on), and the simultaneous effort to develop disinfection techniques and immunisation measures to combat these diseases. The other was the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws of heredity and the resulting emergence of medical genetics, where an entire set of medical maladies (deafness, blindness, bodily deformities, haemophilia, Huntington’s chorea, feeble-mindedness and many mental diseases) were identified – rightly or wrongly – as genetically determined. The ‘germ theory of disease’ and the ‘gene theory of disease’ shared striking, all-too-often overlooked similarities. Both theories built on shared epistemological assumptions that influenced their explanatory mechanisms and their overall conceptual frameworks; both mobilised similar visual and linguistic vocabulary; both appropriated – and enforced – prevailing cultural and gender norms; and both enshrined broadly parallel hygienic practices. Reflecting similar social concerns, medical bacteriology and medical genetics acquired kindred scientific and societal configurations, which this paper highlights and scrutinises.

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Authors & Contributors
Velmet, Aro
Barbara Barksdale Clowse
Neumeyer, Sybille
Dwyer, Michael
Fursa, Elena
D'Abramo, Flavio
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Bulletin of the History of Medicine
Public Understanding of Science
Medicina nei Secoli - Arte e Scienza
Medical History
Korean Journal of Medical History
University of Rochester Press
The University Press of Kentucky
University of Chicago Press
University of Alabama Press
Oxford University Press
Liverpool University Press
Disease and diseases
Public health
Medicine and society
Germ theory of disease
Lister, Joseph, Baron
Pasteur, Louis
Noeggerath, Emil
Margulis, Lynn
Haffkine, Waldemar Mordecai
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
Meiji period (Japan, 1868-1910)
20th century
Great Britain
Hong Kong
Milan (Italy)
American Cancer Society

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