Alex Aylward

Alex Aylward

Profile

I'm a PhD candidate in the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science, within the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science. I began my undergraduate career studying the life sciences, but soon migrated into History and Philosophy of Science. After completing my undergraduate and masters studies at the University of Cambridge, I joined the PhD program at the University of Leeds in 2016.

My dissertation is titled ‘Reading Evolution: Lives and Afterlives of R.A. Fisher’s The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection’. The thesis explores the writing, publication, reception, and reading(s) of R. A. Fisher’s celebrated book, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, which was first published in 1930. Today, The Genetical Theory is chiefly remembered as a founding text of the so-called ‘modern synthesis’ in mid-century evolutionary studies, which saw the new science of Mendelian genetics integrated with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Drawing on book reviews, journals, magazines, newspapers, letters exchanged between readers, bibliographies, and copies of The Genetical Theory bearing readers’ annotations and marginalia, I recover some of the many and varied ways in which this book has been read in the several decades since its initial publication. Its readership was far broader than the traditional internalist historiography would have us believe. The book was not only read by biological specialists, but also by clergymen, eugenists, essayists and politicians, and it was not only discussed in the specialist scientific literature, but also in newspapers, magazines, and eugenical campaign literature. By the time the second edition was published in 1958, the scientific and cultural landscape was much changed. Evolutionary biology had emerged as a professionalised scientific discipline, whilst the eugenics movement had been consigned (supposedly) to the dustbin of history. Following the book and its readers through the century, I show how readings of The Genetical Theory both shaped and were shaped by these profound transformations.

Research interests

I have broad interests and expertise in the history of science (especially the life sciences) from the nineteenth-century to the present. I am interested in histories and legacies of the eugenics movement, and in the relations between science, politics and culture, particularly as they manifest in practices of authorship and readership. I also work from time-to-time on explicitly historiographical and philosophical issues relating to the sciences – see my publications, below.

Qualifications

  • MPhil History and Philosophy of Science (Cambridge)
  • BA Natural Sciences (Cambridge)

Research groups and institutes

  • Centre for History and Philosophy of Science
  • History and Philosophy of Science