Gregor Mendel and the History of Heredity

  • Staffan Müller-WilleEmail author
Living reference work entry
Part of the Historiography of Science book series (HISTSC, volume 1)


Gregor Mendel’s paper “Experiments on Plant Hybrids” (1866) has become a paradigmatic case in the historiography of the life sciences because production and reception of a “discovery” sharply fell apart, thus raising fundamental questions about the relationship between scientific achievement and “its” time. In this chapter, I am providing an overview of answers that have been given to these questions by various historians. In a first section, I cover commentators who have claimed that Mendel was “ahead” of his time, and that contemporaries failed to recognize his achievement. I then move on to scholars and scientists who argued against this position, claiming that Mendel was not anticipating twentieth-century genetics, but was in fact representative of an older research tradition. In a last step, I turn to the more recent cultural history of heredity according to which Mendel was embedded in a local culture that combined a variety of advanced and traditional strands of nineteenth-century life-sciences. Overall, I am arguing that one should not overestimate the coherence and dominance of presumed “paradigms”, “epistemes” or “styles” in biology.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ExeterExeterUK

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