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Biology, Genetics and Blood Groups at the Royal Anthropological Institute 1930-1956.

Dr Jenny Bangham, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin

Wednesday 12 February at 5.30 pm

In 1951, Herbert Fleure—geographer, anthropologist and recent president of the Royal Anthropological Institute—chaired a meeting of “anthropologists, serologists and geneticists to survey the functions and need of blood-group studies in anthropology”. The following year, the Royal Anthropological Institute established the new ‘Nuffield Blood Group Centre’ on its premises, where it was devoted to correlating, tabulating and reporting on “all blood group research having a bearing on anthropology”. Housed in a little cottage at the back of the Institute at Bedford Square, the centre was overseen by haematologist and geneticist Arthur Mourant, the pre-eminent blood-group expert for the National Blood Transfusion Services and World Health Organization.

By focusing on the history of the Nuffield Blood Group Centre, my talk offers an account of how genetics became part of anthropology in Britain. It begins in the 1930s when geneticists began promoting blood-group genetics as a legitimate way of answering anthropological questions, and ends in the late 1950s, by which time “blood group anthropology” had become a major international research field. Among other issues my paper discusses how Fleure—staunch advocate of a holistic approach studying human history—became a supporter of blood group genetics, and how Mourant and his colleagues used UNESCO’s public ‘Statements on Race’ to promote their field. Along the way I reflect on Mourant’s broader project to ‘calibrate’ genetic data to make it yield knowledge that was demonstrably human.

This event is free, but tickets must be booked.  To book tickets please go to http://bangham.eventbrite.co.uk.