Erick Peirson Developing Computational Humanities

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Hatching the EGG: the first meeting of the Ecological Genetics Group
By Erick Peirson
May 1, 2015

The following account of the formation of the Ecological Genetics Group is taken from chapter 4 of my dissertation. It has been slightly tweaked for the web, and there may be some artifacts and typos from the conversion process. Over the next few weeks I’ll revise this post with additional annotations, links, and other elaborations.

4.2 Conception

The 1956 meeting of the Fellows of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) was to be held in July, 1956. E. T. Jones was to receive the NIAB Cereal Award for his “Powys” variety of winter oats, and to confer with NIAB leadership about the ongoing transfer of grass and clover seed stocks from the WPBS to NIAB. For members of the SPBS, the annual NIAB meeting was seen as an obligation. “All the plant breeding stations had to get together each year,” one of the Genecology Section staff, David Harberd, recalled, “and you didn’t have any choice in the matter: you went. The bosses in London just decided where you were meeting and you went” (Harberd pers. comm.).

As the NIAB meeting approached, however, circumstances were extraordinarily complicated for Harberd. Harberd’s wife, Muriel, had dropped six stone (over 80 pounds) due to complications with her pregnancy, and was still recovering as the NIAB meeting approached. So several days before the trip to Cambridge, Harberd approached Gregor and asked to be excused from the meeting. “I cannot leave Muriel just now,” Harberd explained, “She’s gone through such a hell of a time, and I must be here for her.” Gregor assured Harberd that he would sort things out so that he could be excused.

Suspecting that there was more to the story, however, he probed Harberd further. “I don’t think you want to go, do you?” Gregor asked. “Of course I want to go,” Harberd replied, “It’s jolly good, but I just don’t want to be away from home.” After all, he had lived in Cambridge for several years prior to moving to Edinburgh, and many of his friends remained in the area. Gregor pushed further: “Well now, what benefits do you think you get from these [meetings]?”

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