Staffan Müller-Wille ET Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, From Generation to Heredity. Medieval Continuities and Modern Conjunctions

It is a well established fact that no general concept of heredity underlay the discourse of the life sciences (including medicine, anthropology and the moral sciences) in the Early Modern period and that such a con- cept only slowly emerged in the first half of the 19th century. This emer- gence of heredity, moreover, did not result from concerns with the con- stancy of species form, but from concerns with the patterns of variety that structure life at a sub-specific level. In this contribution, we want to provide an overview of this long-term development that can accommo- date, and account for, earlier occurrences of the discourse of heredity. In short, we will argue that the emergence of heredity was not due to a massive paradigm shift. Rather, it was associated with a ‘mobilization’ of Early Modern life within various, highly specific, and largely independent cultural domains – breeding, natural history, medicine, and racial anthropol- ogy – and their subsequent conjunction. This explanation does not pre- clude pre-modern occurrences of certain elements of the discourse of heredity, but it relates them to specific, identifiable historical conditions which prevailed at given times and which were the result of historical contingency.