This thesis investigates how during the interwar years, Dutch eugenicists, anti-alcohol reformers and sanitary reformers employed the concept of heredity to define degeneration, alcoholism, and tuberculosis as social diseases in need of a collective response. Inspired by Reinhart Koselleck's conceptual history program, I examine how the explicit attempts to explain heredity in relation to these social problems interact with the Dutch interwar political culture. By means of a detailed analysis of textbooks and periodicals, as well as inaugural lectures, propaganda material, and specific dissertations, I identify four general trends in Dutch public health discourse centred around social diseases. (i) Throughout the interwar period, public health reformers came to agree that acquired characteristics were not inheritable and that environmental influences acting on the developing body could not alter the genetic blueprint. (ii) Dutch public health reformers increasingly employed heredity to discuss social diseases in relation to development instead of reproductive transmission. (iii) The strongly biologised Dutch interwar public health discourse went along with a big emphasis on environmental-and hence malleable-influences in the constitution of social diseases. (iv) Dutch public health reformers conceptualised the collective as a series of equal individuals. Revealing a focus on individual developmental health and a practical orientation towards improving the environment, I claim that this individualised public health discourse reflected and contributed to the Dutch egalitarian political culture during the interwar years, in which health was regarded as a private matter and collective solutions to social diseases were decentralised and organised bottom-up rather than top-down.
According to many, the genetic technology used in cancer is a promising test case of twenty-first century ‘genomic medicine’. However, it is important to realize that accounting for the genetic or hereditary factors in cancer medicine is not new. Since at least the eighteenth century, medical doctors and patients have tried to establish links between heredity and cancer. Following the excitement over the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s theory of hereditary transmission (1900), there was renewed interest in the question of a linkage between heredity and cancer. Researchers began to pay attention to the statistical use of family studies as a means to calculate Mendelian ratios of disease inheritance. In 1913, the Michigan University pathologist Aldred Scott Warthin (1866–1931) published his first study of a pedigree with a so-called inherited susceptibility for cancer. Family G’s susceptibility was associated with the risk of creating an ‘inferior stock’. Given the number of studies on heredity and disease and the vogue for eugenics at the beginning of the twentieth century, one would have expected strong support for Warthin’s study. Family G (one of the longest systematically studied cancer genealogies in the world and currently associated with Lynch syndrome) might have been accepted (if not for purely scientific reasons) as part of the eugenics gospel as an exemplary case of a degenerative stock. After all, Warthin was a rising star within the American medical establishment and had become part of John Kellogg’s eugenic priesthood in Michigan. Ultimately, none of these likely scenarios materialized. I will show in this chapter how the cancer idiom of heredity that was associated with shame, fatalism and stigmatization came to be regarded as counterproductive in the fight against cancer and was suppressed at the time by the powerful American Society for the Control of Cancer.
Eugenics has never held broad appeal in the Netherlands and is taken up far more enthusiastically in the Dutch East Indies. This article aims to investigate the characteristics of the racial and ethnic groups that inhabited the Indonesian archipelago, acclimatization, the consequences of crossbreeding, and the effects of rapid modernization. It discusses percieved threats to the quality of the Dutch population. It concerns the participation of eugenicists in public health discussions that focuses on the quality of the future population of the Netherlands. Tensions between racial and ethnic groups provide the main context for a growing interest in eugenics in the Dutch East Indies. This article discusses the main reason for the lack of success of the rather moderate eugenics movement in the Netherlands as related to the pillarization of Dutch society.
This volume examines the ongoing, worldwide epidemiological transition in which acute infectious diseases are being superseded by chronic diseases as the predominant causes of morbidity and mortality; age at death shifts from childhood to older adult ages; and life expectancy, population, and the proportion of older adults increase. This transition constitutes a fundamental change in the human condition, and an understanding of the underlying historical process is thus of major importance.
This study is the first to document the transition in a particular country, drawing on records of cause-specific mortality since the eighteenth century in England, with comparative data from other Western countries. Alexander Mercer discusses possible causes of specific disease trends, reassessing the relative importance of “health interventions” and “standard of living” as determinants of increased life expectancy, and presents a new theory of how chronic diseases have developed in a changing infectious disease environment. As specific microorganisms have been established as causal agents in chronic diseases that account for a significant proportion of “premature” deaths, the study suggests that a new conceptualisation of the epidemiological transition is required, one that takes into account interrelationships between infectious diseases, between infections and chronic diseases, and between disorders underlying different chronic diseases.
In terms of political stability Dutch politics began the interwar period in rather favourable conditions. First, the Netherlands had been neutral during the First World War in which all its neighbours were involved on one side or the other. This isolation forced the central actors in Dutch politics to compromise after a period of intense political conflict in the second half of the nineteenth century.
This paper proposes a general scheme for the historical analysis of the concept of heredity covering the last one and a half centuries. During this period heredity became a major biological concept that was purposefully subjected to experimental and quantitative methods of investigation. The conclusions drawn here are twofold. First, there were basically two alternative quantitative approaches to heredity: Either treat heredity in terms of a magnitude similar to the concepts of the physical sciences, or treat it as a material structure. After some initial pending and leaning toward the first alternative, biologists became increasingly committed to the second alternative. Second, I show that the three major phases in the history of the science of heredity (biometry, Mendelian genetics, and molecular genetics) corresponded to three quasi-explicit conceptions of the cognitive status of scientific theories, namely: phenomenalism, instrumentalism and realism. This periodization does not pretend to account for the entire complexity of the history of biological conceptions of heredity. These should be taken, rather, as ideal types that shed some light on important philosophical aspects of the broad history of the science of heredity.