Cambridge historians of medicine and biology are using a Wellcome strategic award to take a concerted approach to the history of reproduction. The cross-disciplinary group of researchers will offer fresh perspectives on issues ranging from ancient fertility rites to IVF. Building on a lively field of historical investigation, this will provide a fresh basis for policy and public debate.

Nick Hopwood, Principal Investigator, introduces the grant

‘Generation’ and ‘reproduction’ are at the heart of ‘life-cycle’ medicine. They involve

  • theories of sex and gender;
  • entities such as seeds, germs, embryos, monsters and clones;
  • concerns about creation, evolution, degeneration and regeneration;
  • investments in maternity, paternity and heredity;
  • practices of fertility control, potency and childbirth; and
  • health relations between citizen and state, individual and population.

‘Generation to reproduction’ thematizes gradual, long-term shifts and modern transformations. Within an all-encompassing process of ‘generation’, the human acquisition of a rational soul was the crucial event. In the era of revolutions around 1800 this gave way to the more narrowly framed ‘reproduction’. Reproduction became an object of scientific knowledge, a target of medical and agricultural intervention, and a project for pressure-groups and states seeking to improve the quantity and quality of populations. Since World War II, scientific, social and ethical innovation has been particularly dramatic. But the term ‘generation’ has not disappeared; it has rather acquired new meanings, from ‘F1′ to ‘generation X’.
Supported by the Wellcome Trust