Domestication Practices Across History

In this reading group we will investigate the deep history and global spread of what might be termed 'domestication practices': the creation or breeding of new varieties of plants and animals. The goal of this group is to consider how different domestication practices have come about and spread – or failed to spread – across the globe. We will begin with the domestication of crop plants in the Neolithic, before moving chronologically all the way to twentieth-century histories of genetic modification. Throughout our long journey through history we will explore several different bio-techniques or technologies, from acclimatisation to hybridisation, Mendelian theory to mutation breeding.

What role have theories of heredity played in the development and uptake of these practices? How did advocates of these practices succeed or fail in convincing others to adopt them? By considering these and other questions, we shall engage with the use of domestication practices as objects of historical study, including their promise and limitations. Readings will consist of book chapters and articles on the history of plant and animal domestication, breeding, agriculture and biotechnology.

This reading group is convened by Matt Holmes. If you have any queries about the events or reading, please don't hesitate to email.

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Image: Indian agriculture and crops. Gouache drawing. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY