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Department of

History and Philosophy of Science   

Robert Olby

Research Professor. Formerly at the University of Leeds, UK, Robert Olby is known as a historian of nineteenth and twentieth century biology, his special fields being genetics and molecular biology. His best known works are The Origins of Mendelism (1966, 1985) and The Path to the Double Helix (1974, 1994), but he has published widely in historical journals, and more recently in Nature, Nature Reviews Genetics, and Endeavour . He has prepared a history of biology for the general reader, and is currently completing the official biography of the late Dr. Francis Crick with support from the National Science Foundation and the award of an Archives Fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge. With his colleagues in Leeds he edited The Companion to the History of Modern Science (1990).



Origins of Mendelism, 1 st . ed., Constable, London , and Shocken Books, New York, 1966, 2 nd . Ed. Chicago University Press, 1985.

The Path to the Double Helix , Macmillan, London, 1974, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1975.  Italian edition, Mondadori, Milan, 1978,  Japanese edition, Tokyo, 1980,  Spanish edition 1991. Reprint of English edition with a Postscript, Dover , New York , 1994.With Foreword by Francis Crick, xxv + 522pp.

The History of Biology  (Under negotiation with Chicago University Press).

In collaboration with John Christie, Geoffrey Cantor, and Jonathan Hodge (Eds.), Companion to the History of Modern Science, Routledge, London and New York, 1990, paperback edition 1996. 

Francis Crick, The Pied Piper of Molecular Biology. To be published by Joseph Henry. Projected publication date 2006.

Parts of Books
(since 1990)

‘Rôle de l'agriculture et de l'horticulture britannique dans le fondement de la génétique expérimentale', in:  J.-L. Fischer & W.H. Schneider (Eds), Histoire de la Génétique , Paris, 1990, pp. 65-81.

‘The Molecular Revolution in Biology', in:- Olby et al (eds), Companion to the History of Modern Science , 1990, pp.503-520.

‘The Emergence of Genetics', in Companion, 1990, pp. 521-536.

‘C.D. Darlington', in:  Dictionary of Scientific Biography, edited by F.L. Holmes,  Scribners, New York, 1990, vol. xvii, Supplement II, pp.203-209.

‘Mendelism and the Theory of Hereditary Diathesis', Proceedings of the Symposium on the History of Human Genetics, International Congress of Human Heredity, Washington D.C., 1991,  published in:  K.R. Dronamraju (Ed.), The History and Development of Human Genetics , World Scientific, Singapore, 1992, pp. 256-265.

‘Constitutional Diseases',  in: W.Bynum & R. Porter (Eds), Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine , Routledge, London, 1993, pp. 412-437.                                                                                     

‘Das Experiment nach Mendel',  in: Hans-Jörg Rheinberger und Michael Hagner (Eds), Experimentalisierung des Lebens , Akademie Verlag, 1993, pp. 135-149.

‘Sociology of Science, Sociology of Knowledge, and Scientific Consensus', in:  Kyung-Man Kim,  Explaining Scientific Consensus , Guilford Publications, New York, 1994,  pp.191-201.

‘Francis Galton', Encyclopedia of Genetics , Academic Press, 2001,pp.742-748.

‘Watson and Crick'  for Cambridge Minds (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002, pp.269-281

‘Julian Huxley', New DNB  (in press)  But see: ‘Huxley's Place in Twentieth Century Biology', in: Julian Huxley. Biologist and Statesman of Science. Proceedings of a Conference Held at Rice University September 1987,   edited by C.K. Waters and Albert Van Helden,  Rice University Press, Houston, 1987, pp, 53-75.

‘John Desmond Bernal', in the New Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, Oxford)  in press.

‘William Bateson”, New DNB  (in press)

‘Max Perutz', New DNB (in press)

(selected pre-1990)

‘Charles Darwin's Manuscript of pangenesis', British Journal of the History of Science , 1 (1963), 251-263

‘Cell Chemistry in Miescher's Day', Medical History, 13 (1969), 377-382.

 ‘Francis Crick, DNA, and the Central Dogma', Daedalus , 99 (1970), 938-987. Reprinted with revisions following comments from Dr. Crick and from his aunt, Mrs. Arnold Dickens, and a postscript  added to include further written comments from Dr. Crick.  In: The Twentieth Century Sciences , ed. Gerald Holton, New York, Norton, 1972, pp. 227-280

‘The Origins of Molecular Biology at Cambridge and Caltech', Proc. Conf. History of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Brookline , Mass., 1970, pp. 860-881.

‘DNA before Watson-Crick', Nature, 248 (1974), 93-100.

‘Mendel no Mendelian?' History of Science, 17 (1979), 99-103.

‘La théorie génétique de la sélection naturelle vue par un historian', Revue de Synthèse, 103-104 (1981), 251-289.

‘The “Mad Pursuit”,  X-ray crystallographers' Search for the Structure of Haemoglobin', HPLS , 7(1985), 171-193.

‘Mendel's Vorläufer:  Koelreuter, Wichura, und Gaertner',  Folia Mendeliana , 21 (1986), 49-67.

‘William Bateson's Introduction of Mendelism to England: A Reassessment', BJHS , 20 (1987), 399-420.

‘The Dimensions of Scientific Controversy: The Biometric-Mendelian Debate',  BJHS, 22 (1988), 299-320.

‘Scientists and Bureaucrats in the Establishment of the John Innes Horticultural Institute under William Bateson',  Annals of Science, 48 (1989), 497-510.

(from 1990)

‘Social Imperialism and State Support for Agricultural Research in Edwardian Britain', Annals of Science, 48 (1991), 509-526

‘Receptive Fields: A Key Concept in Neurobiology', Archs Sci. Genève, 48 (1995), 81-88.

‘Horticulture: the Font for the Baptism of Genetics', Nature Reviews: Genetics , 1 (2000), 65-70.

‘Mendelism: from hybrids and trade to a science', C.R.Acad. Sci., Paris , 323 (2000),1-9.

‘A Quiet Debut for the Double Helix ,  Nature Special Jubilee Supplement, 421(2003), 402-405.

‘Why Celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Double Helix?' Endeavour, 27 (2003), 80-84.

‘The Rockefeller University and the Molecular Revolution in Biology', in: Creating a Tradition of Biomedical Research. Contributions to the History of the Rockefeller University , edited by Darwin Stapleton (New York: Rockefeller University Press, 1994), pp.271-282

‘Genetics, history of,' entry to the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas, ( New York : Charles Scribner's) (in press)

‘Gregor Mendel', Encyclopedia Britannica (in press).

Book Reviews

‘The Convergence of Behaviorism and Logical Positivism' , review of: Behaviorism and Logical Positivism.  Theories of Mind and Behavior,  by Robert Richards, Ann. Sci., 48 (1991), 87-90

The Molecular Vision of Life', by Lily Kay, Science, June 18 (1993), 1825

Force of Nature.  The Life of Linus Pauling , by Thomas Hager, Isis, 88 (1997), 568-570

‘Picturing Biology', Review of The Electron Microscope and the Transformation of Biology in America (1940-1960), by Nicolas Rasmussen, Metascience, 8 (1999), 243-246

‘The Rehabilitation of Darwinism', Review of Darwinism's Struggle for Survival , by Jean Gayon,  Arch. int. d'hist. sci., 50 (2000), 243-246

‘Confirming a Bold Prediction', review of Meselson, Stahl and the Replication of DNA, by Frederick Holmes, Nature, 417 (2002), 121-122

The Monk in the Garden , by Robin Henig, Perspectives in Biol. Med., 45 (2002), No.4,  (in press)

The Concept of the Gene in Development and Evolution: Historical and Epistemological Perspectives, edited by Peter Beurton, Rachael Falk and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, J. Hist. Biol .  (in press ).

Nature's Robots.  A History of Proteins, by Charles Tanford and Jacqueline Reynolds, Ambix,  (in press).

Rosalind Franklin.  The Dark Lady of DNA, by Brenda Maddox, London Review of Books, 25:6  (2003), 15.

‘The Third Autobiography': The Third Man of the Double Helix : by Maurice Wilkins, Science, 302 (2003), 2071-2072

‘Too Young for Gardening': 25(2003), Inspiring Science. Jim Watson and the Age of DNA' , edited by John Inglis et al, Nature 426 (2003), 229-230

The Tangled Field; Barbara McClintock's Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control , by Nathaniel Comfort, Journal of the History of Biology , 36 (2003), 199-201

The Man who Invented the Chromosome: A Life of Cyril Darlington, by Oren Harman, American Scientist, 92 (2004),57-572

Douglas M. Surgenor, Edwin J. Cohn and the Development of Protein Chemistry. Journal of the History of Biology, (2004), (in press)

Lecture Engagements
(from 2002)

Pittsburgh   ‘,  Graduate School of Public Health:  Committee on Human Genetics.  'On Becoming a Molecular Biologist – Dr. Crick's Early Career',   6.xii.02

Berlin   Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte: Cultural History of Genetics II, ‘Constitution, Diathesis, and Genetic Susceptibility – An Aspect of the Cultural History of Medical Genetics'. 10-12.i.03

Ulm     ‘Genetic Susceptibility to  Disease: Wilhelm Weinberg's Study of Tuberculosis in   Stuttgart' 15.i.03  

Bilbao Seminar of the International Congress on the Information Society, ‘Why the Double Helix was not Enough', 6.ii.03

Corvallis : Valley Library, Special Collections, Oregon State University, ‘Why Celebrate the Double Helix? '  28.ii.03

London :  Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, ‘Hereditarians Confront Tuberculosis – Then and Now',  5.ii.03

Leeds :  Leeds Literary and Philosophical Society, ‘The Structure of DNA: A Journey that started in Leeds and ended in Cambridge Fifty Years Ago'. 23.iv.03

London :  Royal Institution. ‘Going Molecular in the Life Sciences:  Rhetoric or Reality?' 28-29.iv.03

Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo     ‘The Path to the Double Helix'  and ‘Why Celebrate the Double Helix?'  24.iii.03 – 16.iii.03 

Paris :   Institut Pasteur: British-French Colloquium,  , ‘On Becoming a Molecular Biologist:  The Early Career of Dr. Francis Crick',  18-19.ix.03

Brno : and Prague   ‘Dr. Francis Crick and the Molecular Revolution',   Forthcoming March 2004.

Prague : Charles University ‘Dr. Francis Crick and the Molecular Revolution', 23.ii.04 (Supported by the British Council)

Cambridge : Churchill College ‘The Early Career of Francis Crick', Post-prandial Talk, Senior Combination Room, 27.ii.04


‘Quirks and Quarks, Canadian Broadcasting Corporations's radio science Program, April 2003. Prague broadcast,

24 ii.04. Radio interviews in Sydney Australia, 2002, Prague , 2004, Canadian Broadcasting Co. on DNA, 2003, on the death of Dr. Crick, 2004.