Paper $37.50 ISBN: 9780226685113 Published July 2020
Cloth $112.50 ISBN: 9780226685083 Will Publish August 2020
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Heredity under the Microscope

Chromosomes and the Study of the Human Genome

Soraya de Chadarevian

Heredity under the Microscope

Soraya de Chadarevian

272 pages | 36 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020
Paper $37.50 ISBN: 9780226685113 Published July 2020
Cloth $112.50 ISBN: 9780226685083 Will Publish August 2020
E-book $10.00 to $37.50 About E-books ISBN: 9780226685250 Published July 2020

By focusing on chromosomes, Heredity under the Microscope offers a new history of postwar human genetics. Today chromosomes are understood as macromolecular assemblies and are analyzed with a variety of molecular techniques. Yet for much of the twentieth century, researchers studied chromosomes by looking through a microscope. Unlike any other technique, chromosome analysis offered a direct glimpse of the complete human genome, opening up seemingly endless possibilities for observation and intervention. Critics, however, countered that visual evidence was not enough and pointed to the need to understand the molecular mechanisms.
Telling this history in full for the first time, Soraya de Chadarevian argues that the often bewildering variety of observations made under the microscope were central to the study of human genetics. Making space for microscope-based practices alongside molecular approaches, de Chadarevian analyzes the close connections between genetics and an array of scientific, medical, ethical, legal, and policy concerns in the atomic age. By exploring the visual evidence provided by chromosome research in the context of postwar biology and medicine, Heredity under the Microscope sheds new light on the cultural history of the human genome.


1. Radiation and Mutation
2. Chromosomes and the Clinic
3. X and Y
4. Scaling Up
5. Of Chromosomes and DNA


Note on Sources
Review Quotes
British Society for the History of Science
"The chromosome is at least as powerful an icon of heredity as DNA but so far has not held a central place in the historiography of twentieth-century life sciences. Soraya de Chadarevian’s new book Heredity under the Microscope: Chromosomes and the Study of the Human Genome (University of Chicago Press, June 2020) sets this record straight by directing its lense on the cytogenetic study of human chromosomes and the many contexts in which chromosome images came to matter. It opens fascinating new perspectives on the 'century of the gene' that go far beyond the earlier focus on the history of classical and molecular genetics."
M. Susan Lindee, University of Pennsylvania
"Images of the human chromosomes have enchanted scientists, inspired artists, and become symbols of human difference and pathology. In her engaging account, Soraya de Chadarevian deftly explores the visualization of these cellular 'colored bodies' and demonstrates their critical role in modern biology. The 'molecular revolution,' she suggests, was also a chromosomal revolution."
Staffan Müller-Wille, coauthor of The Gene: From Genetics to Postgenomics
"De Chadarevian shows how much we have missed by looking at the history of biology since World War II as largely a history of how molecular geneticists cracked the genetic code. By focusing the lens on chromosomes, and their uses inside and outside the laboratory, her thorough yet elegant account exposes unexpected continuities, both with the eugenic past of heredity research and its genomic present."
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