"Noah's Ark for Future Generations" or Genetic Imperialism?: The Dilemma of the Seed Bank in Postwar German History

Feb 22, 2023  | 5:00 - 6:30pm (PT)

Lecture (Hybrid: 201 Moses Hall & Zoom) | Speaker: Jennifer Allen (Yale University); Moderator: Philipp Lenhard (UC Berkeley)

Sponsors: Institute of European Studies, Center for German and European Studies, German Historical Institute Washington | Pacific Office Berkeley, Department of History, Department of German

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This talk takes up the challenge of analyzing German experimentations with genetics in the wake of Nazism. After the Second World War, Mendel's peas once again became the order of the day, as researchers in both East and West Germany increasingly regarded the genetic management and manipulation of crop plants as a key solution to planetary woes, from food insecurity to war. Their work was prolific and successful. They created an extensive repository of genetic material representative of crop varieties of the middle latitudes, a seed bank that would become the largest of its type in Europe and one of the largest in the world. This remarkable safeguard against agricultural catastrophe operated with obvious national benefits. But the reach of these efforts also extended globally, with German-led gene banking initiatives in sites as diverse as Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and the Arctic Circle. This talk will weigh the conflicting drivers behind these efforts, which included the deep influences of the aesthetics of Holocaust suffering and the the kinds of imperatives that shaped the environmental movements of the late twentieth century but also complicated ambitions for high performance and efficiency, legal questions over the rights to genetic material, and the pursuit of global power in a post-fascist world.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we strongly recommend everyone in attendance to wear a mask at all times. Please arrive on-time to ensure you will have a seat. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

If you require an accommodation for effective communication (ASL interpreting/CART captioning, alternative media formats, etc.) or information about campus mobility access features in order to fully participate in this event, please contact Ray Savord at rsavord@berkeley.edu or (510) 642-4555 with as much advance notice as possible and at least 7-10 days in advance of the event.