Hello! Here’s a short thing I wrote for the JIC internal newsletter ‘Nexus’. It was fun to write with a captive and largely scientific audience in mind. I’m putting it here mostly for my own records, but the ending might also give some of you a titter. Maybe.
The John Innes archives hold some exceptionally rare and valuable collections, these glass teaching slides being a prime example. They are so valuable, because they allow us to investigate how Darlington taught students and the public about genetics. Some very recent historical work (Google J.M. Skopek if you’re interested) has shown how important the actual teaching of genetics was for shaping the discipline, not only in the minds of those who had to figure out a way to teach this stuff, but also for the students that they encountered.
Genetics pedagogy changed a lot during the twentieth century, and reflects how the discipline shifted and reformulated itself, with repercussions for the kind of research that was done.
Darlington’s slides, many of which are also very attractive (as you can see here) can give us a different angle on this same problem, one not dependent on textbooks. If you’ve ever sat in a lecture and thought “I could teach this better” then you’re already interested in these kinds of problems. The next step is to ask “I wonder if the way I teach things has something to do with my background? I wonder if the way I teach things, though better in lots of ways, is worse in others?”
These are the questions that historians of science try to answer, but with dead people. Spooky to think that some of you might be next on the dissection table!