Dr Berris Charnley

  • History of genetics, plant breeding and agriculture
  • History and theory of intellectual property
  • History of amateur and professional science, expertise and entrepreneurialism.

I am a historian of science, interested in seeds, genes, farms and food. How are these resources studied, measured, weighed, owned or shared? And what can the history of human relations with such resources tell us about their management in the future? I defended my thesis, "Agricultural Science, Plant Breeding and the Emergence of a Mendelian System in Britain, 1880-1930", in 2012, graduating as a Doctor of Philosophy from University of Leeds. While completing my thesis I was a research fellow at University of Exeter’s Egenis Centre working on societal issues stemming from developments in genomic science. In 2012 I moved to Australia, to work with the Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture (ACIPA).  Working with Daniel Kevles, Jean-Paul Gaudillière and Mario Biagioli, I  established the IPBio Network in 2008 to act as a forum for shared research interests in intellectual property and the biosciences. Video and audio recordings, as well as pre-prints of the network’s research are hosted at ipbio.org.

In October 2014, I joined the AHRC funded project ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’, headed by Professor Sally Shuttleworth. I will be working with the Royal Society and Natural History Museum looking at the co-construction of amateur and professional roles in the early plant sciences and plant breeding in the nineteenth century. This process has many dimensions including; the importance of publication in the shifting fortunes of each group; the creation of expertise and entrepreneurialism in each of these communities and, more broadly, notions of wilderness, development, empire and civilisation which plant breeders and plant scientists alike applied with broad strokes, fat over lean, to their stabilising identities. Over the next three years, I will also be looking at the relevance of these historical processes to contemporary issues of publishing and professional demarcation in science as well as working on the project’s outreach and impact activities.

My publications and a full CV are available on my homepage berrischarnley.com



  • Geneticists on the Farm: agriculture, genetics and the all-English loaf, 1900-1930

  • Cui bono? Gauging the successes of publicly-funded plant breeding in retrospect

  • Intellectual property and genetically modified organisms

  • Intellectual property and genetically modified organisms: A convergence in laws

  • Experiments in empire-building: Mendelian genetics as a national, imperial, and global agricultural enterprise

  • More
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