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"Noah's Ark for Future Generations" or Genetic Imperialism?: The Dilemma of the Seed Bank in Postwar German History
Speaker: Jennifer Allen, Yale University

This talk takes up the challenge of analyzing German experimentations with genetics in the wake of Nazism. After the Second World War, Mendel's peas once again became the order of the day, as researchers in both East and West Germany increasingly regarded the genetic management and manipulation of crop plants as a key solution to planetary woes, from food insecurity to war. Their work was prolific and successful. They created an extensive repository of genetic material representative of crop varieties of the middle latitudes, a seed bank that would become the largest of its type in Europe and one of the largest in the world. This remarkable safeguard against agricultural catastrophe operated with obvious national benefits. But the reach of these efforts also extended globally, with German-led gene banking initiatives in sites as diverse as Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and the Arctic Circle. This talk will weigh the conflicting drivers behind these efforts, which included the deep influences of the aesthetics of Holocaust suffering and the the kinds of imperatives that shaped the environmental movements of the late twentieth century but also complicated ambitions for high performance and efficiency, legal questions over the rights to genetic material, and the pursuit of global power in a post-fascist world.

Feb 22, 2023 05:00 PM in Pacific Time (US and Canada)

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