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History of Biology Seminars

2011 Seminar: History of Cell Biology

Fri, May 13, 2011 - Thu, May 19, 2011
Woods Hole, MA


The MBL-ASU History of Biology Seminar is an intensive week with annually varying topics designed for a group of no more than 25 advanced graduate students, postdoctoral associates, younger scholars, and established researchers in the life sciences, history, philosophy, and the social sciences.

This year’s seminar will explore the history of cell biology from the late 19th to early 21st centuries. Because of the central role of MBL researchers, we will begin with a close look at Edmund Beecher Wilson’s classic work on The Cell and also at the cell lineage work that characterized early research at the MBL. Then Theodor Boveri’s studies of chromosomes and cell segments raised questions about how cells divide and differentiate, and the relative importance of nucleus and cytoplasm. Current MBL Director Gary Borisy’s work on the mitotic apparatus of cell division provides a look at one of the core driving problems for biological research for over a century. And we will look at the contributions of retired MBL scientist Shinya Inoue, who is widely regarded as the most creative light microscopist ever. All will be part of the seminar content.

MBL t-shirt

Throughout the week, we will explore questions about the cell as the fundamental structural unit of organized living systems, as a differentiated functional unit, as a unit of evolution, of heredity, and of development. Cell cycles, cell-cell interactions, cell culture, cellular aging: all are part of the story of cell biology. In addition, we will look at visualizing cells, representing cells, and synthesizing cells.

The seminar will look at classic historical publications, historical materials, and the people involved in research. Research practices are also important, and we will hear from leading researchers and historians about the microscopic innovations that have made discovery possible. Publications, people, and practices lay out the primary ideas and work done. We will also explore different historical, philosophical, and social interpretations of the research, including a look at issues of visualization and representation.

The seminar is an excellent opportunity for graduate students interested in any aspects of cell biology and its history, philosophy and social developments. It is also an excellent opportunity for biologists to become involved with history, and historians/ philosophers/ social scientists to become involved with central issues in the development of biology. The seminar is intended for all scholars with an interest in these questions and their relations to other sciences and society.

John Beatty, University of British Columbia (
James Collins, Arizona State University (
Jane Maienschein, Arizona State University (

Jane Maienschein (
Manfred Laubichler (