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Egenis · People

Dr. Staffan Mueller-Wille

Senior Fellow


01392 725134


01392 263 305






Amory Building, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter


Staffan completed an MSc in geology and paleontology at the Free University Berlin in 1992. After short term projects in molecular biology (Université Paris XII) and marine geology (North-Atlantic Expedition 21 of FS Meteor), a PhD studentship at the Institute for Science and Technology Studies of the University of Bielefeld allowed him to move into history and philosophy of science. He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Bielefeld in 1997 with a dissertation on Linnaeus and the Natural System, which was published as a book in 1999. Staffan left academia for a while in 1998 to work as a scientific curator at the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden. Staffan was part of a team responsible for setting up a new permanent exhibition on “Der Mensch (The Human Being).”In December 2000, Staffan was appointed resident research scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. In close collaboration with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, he developed a long term research project on the cultural history of heredity. A series of international workshops was organized that covered the topic from the early 16th to the late 19th century. In addition, Staffan taught at the Technical University of Berlin and held short term lectureships at the universities of Mexico City and Tel Aviv (Silverman Lectureship.In October 2004, Staffan was appointed AHRC research fellow in philosophy of biology at the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society (Egenis) of the University of Exeter. He continued his research on heredity, pursuing the history of the concept into the 20th century. In 2007, he co-edited an essay collection with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger covering the history of heredity up to 1870. A book summarizing the results from the project for a broad audience was published in German in 2009.With the end of his research project, Staffan took up a joint position as lecturer in the Department of History and the Department of Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Exeter. He remains associated with Egenis, and has also established a close connection with the Centre for Medical History. From October 2008 to January 2009, Staffan was a guest scholar in Lorraine Daston's department at the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science (Dept. Datson). He held short term research fellowships at the Maison de l'Homme, Paris, in 2005 and the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, Minneapolis, in 2007.Staffan served as programme officer in 2005-2007 for the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, and is currently Council Member of the British Society for the History of Science. He is Associate Editor of Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, as well as Editorial Board Member of Endeavour, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, and NTM-Journal for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.


Online (peer-reviewed)

Müller-Wille, S. and Scharf, S., 'Indexing Nature: Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) and his Fact-Gathering Strategies', Working Papers on The Nature of Evidence: How Well Do ‘Facts’ Travel? No. 36/08, London School of Economics, Jan 2009. How well do 'facts' travel?

Müller-Wille, S. and Rheinberger, H-J., ’Gene’, in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Winter 2004 Edition, (Substantially revised in Spring 2009 edition).


Müller-Wille, S. with Rheinberger, H-J., Das Gen im Zeitalter der Postgenomik: Eine wissenschafthistorische Bestandsaufnahme, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag (in press).

Müller-Wille, S. with Rheinberger, H-J., Vererbung. Geschichte und Kultur eines biologischen Konzepts, Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2009.

Müller-Wille, S., Carl Linnaeus. Musa Cliffortiana: Clifford's Banana Plant. With an introduction by S. Müller-Wille. Translated by S. Freer, Vienna: International Association for Plant Taxonomy, 2007.

Müller-Wille, S. with Rheinberger, H-J., editors of, Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture, 1500-1870, Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press, 2007.

Chapters in Books

Müller-Wille, S., with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, “Technische Reproduzierbarkeit organischer Natur – aus der Perspektive einer Geschichte der Molekularbiologie,” in Bios und Zoë. Die menschliche Natur im Zeitalter ihrer technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, edited by M. G. Weiß, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2009, pp.11-33.Müller-Wille, S., with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, “Zur Genesis der Vererbung als biologisches Konzept, 1700-1900”, in Vita aesthetica. Szenarien ästhetischer Lebendigkeit, edited by A. Avanessian, W. Menninghaus, J. Völker, Berlin: Diaphanes, 2009, pp. 215–225.

Müller-Wille, S., with Rheinberger, H-J., 'De la génération à l’hérédité: continuities médiévales et conjunctures historiques modernes' in L’hérédité à la fin du Moyen Age, van der Lugt, M. and de Miramon, C. (eds), Florence: SISMEL - Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2009, pp. 355-388.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Botanischer Tausch und Ökonomie der Natur,' in Wissen im Netz – Botanik und Pflanzentransfer in europäischen Korrespondenznetzen des 18. Jahrhunderts, R. Dauser et al. (eds) Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 2009, pp. 79-89.Rheinberger, H-J. and Müller-Wille, S., “Gene Concepts,” in A Companion to the Philosophy of Biology, Plutynsky, A. & Sarkar, S (ed), Oxford: Blackwell (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy), 2008, pp. 3-21.

Müller-Wille, S., 'History redoubled: The synthesis of facts in Linnaean natural history', in Zittel, C. et al. (ed), Philosophies of Technology: Francis Bacon and His Contemporaries, Leiden: Brill, 2008, pp. 516-538.

Müller-Wille, S. , 'Naturgeschichte', in Friedrich Jaeger (ed), Enzyklopädie der Neuzeit, Bd. 8, Stuttgart: Metzler, 2008, pp.1175-1196

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Heredity: The formation of an epistemic space', in Staffan Mueller-Wille and Hans-Joerg Rheinberger (eds), Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture, 1500-1870, Cambridge/Mass.: MIT Press, 2007, pp.3-34.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Figures of inheritance, 1650-1850', in Staffan Mueller-Wille and Hans-Joerg Rheinberger (eds), Heredity Produced: At the Crossroads of Biology, Politics, and Culture, 1500-1870, Cambridge/Mass.: MIT Press, 2007, pp. 177-204.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Race et appartenance ethnique: la diversité humaine et l’UNESCO Déclarations sur la race (1950 et 1951)', in (ed), 60 ans d’histoire de l’UNESCO. Actes du colloque international, Paris, 16–18 novembre 2005, Paris: UNESCO, 2007, pp. 211-220.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Dissolution and coordination. Some general remarks on the history and epistemology of molecular biology', in (ed), Workshop: History and Epistemology of Molecular Biology and Beyond: Problems and Perspectives, Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Preprint 310, 2006, pp. 255-257.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Walnut-trees at Hudson Bay, coral reefs in Gotland: Linnaean botany and its relation to colonialism', in Londa Schiebinger, Claudia Swan (ed), Colonial botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World, Philadelphia, PA.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005, pp.34-48.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Paradies, Akademie, Ökonomie. Zur Transformation botanischer Gärten im 18. Jahrhundert', in N. N. Hoefer and A. Ananieva (eds), Der andere Garten. Erinnern und erfinden in Gärten von Institutionen, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005, pp. 235-249.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Konstellation, Serie, Formation. Genealogische Denkfiguren bei Harvey, Linnaeus und Darwin', in Sigrid Weigel et al. (ed), Generation. Zur Genealogie des Konzepts - Konzepte von Genealogie, München: Wilhelm Fink, 2005, pp. 215-233.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Schwarz, Weiß, Gelb, Rot. Zur Darstellung menschlicher Vielfalt', in Anke te Heesen, Petra Lutz (ed), Dingwelten. Das Museum als Erkenntnisort, Köln: Böhlau, 2005, pp. 161-170.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'La science baconienne en action: la place de Linné dans l'histoire de la taxinomie', in Hoquet, Thierry (ed), les fondements de la botanique. Linné et la classification des plantes, Paris: Vuibert, 2005, pp. 57-102.

Mueller-Wille, S., 'Ein Anfang ohne Ende. Das Archiv der Naturgeschichte und die Geburt der Biologie (A beginning without an end. The archives of natural history and the birth of biology)', in Richard van Dülmen, Sina Rauschenbach (ed), Macht des Wissens. Die Entstehung der modernen Wissengesellschaft, Köln: Böhlau, 2004, pp. 587-605.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Eruditio historica, critica, antiqua. Quellen der Naturgeschichte (Eruditio historica, critica, antiqua: The sources of natural history)', in Rathmann, T. and Wegmann, N., (eds), ‘Quelle’. Zwischen Ursprung und Konstrukt. Ein Leitbegriff in der Diskussion, Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 2004, pp. 89-101.


Müller-Wille, S. with Rheineberger, H.-J., 'Race and genomics. Old Wine in New Bottles? Documents from an Interdisciplinary Discussion', NTM - Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, N. S. 16(3): 363-386, 2008.

Powell, A., O'Malley, M.A., Müller-Wille, S., Calvert, J., and Dupré, J., 'Disciplinary baptisms: A comparison of the naming stories of genetics, molecular biology, genomics and systems biology'. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 29 (1), (2007), 5-32. Disciplinary baptisms preprint

Müller-Wille, S. and Reeds, K., 'A Translation of Carl Linnaeus's Introduction to the Genera Plantarum', Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 38, 3, 2007, pp. 563-572.

Müller-Wille, S. and Orel V., 'From Linnaean Species to Mendelian Factors: Elements of Hybridism, 1751-1870', Annals of Science, 64, 2, 2007, pp. 171-215.

Müller-Wille, S., 'The love of plants', Nature, 446, 7133 (15 March 2007), 2007, pp. 268.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Collection and Collation: theory and practice of Linnaean botany', Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 38, 3, 2007, pp. 541-562.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Hybrids, pure cultures, and pure lines: From nineteenth-century biology to twentieth century genetics', Studies in History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 38, 4, 2007, pp. 796-806.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Korrespondenz, Tausch und Klassifikation in der neuzeitlichen Naturgeschichte', Verhandlungen zur Geschichte und Theorie der Biologie, 12, 2006, pp. 117-122.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Linnaeus’ herbarium cabinet: a piece of furniture and its function', Endeavour, 30, 2, 2006, pp. 60-64.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Early Mendelism and the subversion of taxonomy: Epistemological obstacles as institutions', Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 36, 3, 2005, pp. 465-487.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Zum Verhätniss von Taxonomie und Genetik um 1900. Die Zuchtstation des Schwedischen Saatzuchtvereins Svalöf', Verhandlungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Geschichte und Theorie der Biologie, 11, 2005, pp. 203-216.Reviews

Müller-Wille, S., Naturgeschichte und wissenschaftliche Revolution [Essay Review of Antonio Barrera-Osorio, Experiencing Nature, Austin 2006, Harold J. Cook, Matters of Exchange, New Haven 2007, Alix Cooper, Inventing the Indigenous, Cambridge 2007, Brian Ogilvie, The Science of Describing, Chicago 2006],” NTM – Journal of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine 17(3), pp. 329-338.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of James Schwartz, In Pursuit of the Gene: From Darwin to DNA, Cambridge, MA, 2008,” Isis 100(2), pp. 386-387

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Angela N. H. Creager, Elizabeth Lunbeck, M. Norton Wise (eds.), Science Without Laws: Model Systems, Cases, Exemplary Narratives, Duke University Press, in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 30 (2), 2008, pp. 277-279.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Petra Feuerstein-Herz, Die große Kette der Wesen. Ordnungen in der Naturgeschichte der Frühen Neuzeit, Harrassowitz, in Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, 31 (3), 2008, pp.285-286.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Zeugung, Entwicklung, Evolution. Neue Perspektiven in der Geschichte der Lebenswissenschaften ', review of Justin E. H. Smith (ed.), The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy, Cambridge 2006, and Manfred Laubichler & Jane Maienschein (eds.), From Embryology to Evo-Devo, Ca, in NTM – Journal of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, N. S., 16, (3) 2008: pp.399-404.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Christine Hanke, Zwischen Auflösung und Fixierung: Zur Konstitution von‚ Rasse und Geschlecht in der Physischen Anthropologie um 1900, Bielefeld 2006, NTM – Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Wissenschaften, Technik und Medizin, N. S. 16 (1), 2008, pp.149-151.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Thomas Wieland, ‘Wir beherrschen den pflanzlichen Organismus besser, ...’: Wissenschaftliche Pflanzenzüchtung in Deutschland, 1889–1945, Deutsches Museum, in Technology and Culture, 48, 2007: pp. 188-189.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Philosophy of Biology Beyond Evolution', review of Ulrich Krohs and Georg Toepfer, Philosophie der Biologie. Eine Einführung, Suhrkamp, in Biological Theory, 2, (1) 2007: 111-112.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Frederic Lawrence Holmes, Reconceiving the Gene: Seymour Benzer's Adventures in Phage Genetics, Yale University Press, in Journal of the History of Biology, 40, 2007: pp.376-379.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Hoßfeld, Uwe, Geschichte der biologischen Anthropologie in Deutschland: Von den Anfängen bis in die Nachkriegszeit, Franz Steiner, in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 28, (3) 2007: pp.455-456.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Smith, Justin E. H., The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, in British Journal for the History of Science, 40, (4) 2007: pp.605-606.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Cohen, I. Bernhard, The Triumph of Numbers, W. W. Norton, in Newsletter of the British Society for the History of Science, 84, 2007: pp. 12.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Claudio Pogliano, L’ossessione della razza. Antorpologia e genetica nel XX secolo, Edizione della Normale, in Nuncius, 21, 2006: pp. 194-195.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Raphaël Lagier, Les races humaines selon Kant, Presses universitaires de France, in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 28, (2) 2006: pp.264-265.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Junker, Thomas, Die zweite Darwinsche Revolution. Geschichte des Synthetischen darwinismus in Deutschland 1924 bis 1950, Basiliskenpresse, in Gesnerus, 62, 2005: pp. 311-312.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Desmond King-Hele (ed.), Charles Darwin’s The Life of Erasmus Darwin, Cambridge University Press, in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 26, (3/4) 2004: pp. 419–420.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Stephen Freer, “Linnaeus’ Philosophia Botanica, in Journal of the History of Biology, 37, 2003: pp.414-416.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Robert E. Kohler, Landscapes and Labscapes: Exploring the Lab-Field Border in Biology, University of Chicago Press, in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 26, (3/4) : pp. 445–446.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Predictive Genetics and Ethnology', review of Monica Konrad, Narrating the New Predictive Genetics: Ethics, Ethnography and Science, Cambridge University Press, in New Formations, 60, : pp.154-157.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Diversity and Adversity', review of Jenny Reardon, Race to the Finish: Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics, Princeton University Press, in New Formations, 60, : pp.158-161.Conference Papers

Heredity, race and disease: Late medieval and early modern connections, European School for Molecular Medicine, Milan, 28 Sept 2009

Mendel and Darwin on heredity, International Conference : Charles Darwin and Modern Biology, St Petersburg, 21-23rd Sept 2009

The dark side of Darwinism: Caprice, deceit, degeneration, International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, Brisbane, Australia, 12th -16th July 2009.

Linnaeus and the balance of nature, Teleology in the Ancient World: The Dispensation of Nature, University of Exeter, 8th-11th July 2009

Exemplars, Records, Tools: Organisms in Botanical Research, c. 1750-1850 Paper proposed for Session "The Epistemic Roles of Organisms in Biological Practice", Meeting of the Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice, Minneapolis, June 18-21, 2009

'Race and Ethnicity: Human Diversity and the UNESCO Statement on Race (1950-51)', Colloquium Series of the Center for Society and Genetics, University of California Los Angeles, Oct 4, 2007.

'Linnaeus and Global Trade', Conference "Linnaeus 300 -- the future of his science", Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Weetenschappen, Amsterdam, Oct 1, 2007.

'Fleck and Kuhn on Scientific Change', Colloquium of the Minnesota Centre for Philosophy of Science, University of Minnesota, Sep 21, 2007.

'Sub-specific variation in the nineteenth century', Biannual meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, Exeter, July 25-29, 2007.

'Hermann Lundborg and Gunnar Dahlberg on eugenics and medical genetics --- A comparison', International workshop "Establishing Medical genetics: Programs, Practices, Political Contexts, ca. 1910–1960", University of Giessen, June 28–30, 2007.

'Leaving inheritance behind: Wilhelm Johannsen on Genetics and Eugenics', Seminar series “The Nature of Evidence: How Well Do Facts Travel”, London School of Economics, Apr 25, 2007.

'How the Great Chain of Being Broke Apart', International workshop ‘Temporalizing the Great Chain of Being. A Re-Appraisal After 70 Years, University of Cambridge, Jan 7, 2007.

'Plant breeding, microbiology, and biochemistry at the Carlsberg Laboratory (Copenhagen): Wilhelm Johannsen’s formative years 1881-1892', History of Science Society, Nov 2-5, 2006, Vancouver, Nov 2-5, 2006.

'Black, White, Yellow, Red: Representing Human Diversity', EASST 2006 CONFERENCE, Lausanne, Aug 23-26, 2006.

'A Cultural History of Heredity, Early Sixteenth to Mid Nineteenth Centuries', Seminar Series, International Centre for History of Science, University of Bologna, June 7 2006.

'Between Genetics and Biometry: Franz Boas' Concept of a Family Line, 1890-1912', International Workshop Inclusion and Exclusion in the 'Long Nineteenth Century', Department for Economics and Politics, University of Hamburg, 5-7 May 2006.

'The economy of nature from Linnaeus to Darwin', Between Economics and Biology. Organisms and Metabolism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany, December 16-17 2005.

'Inscription Technologies in Early Mendelism', CHSTM seminar series, University of Manchester, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, October 25 2005.

'Race and Progress: Anthropology and the UNESCO Statement on Race (1950-1951)', Genetics and Politics, University of Oslo, 15 September 2005.

'Between Genetics and Biometry: Franz Boas' Concept of a Family Line, 1890-1912', Biannual Meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, University of Guelphe, 17 July 2005.

'Evidence in Historical Perspective', Evidence Seminar Series, Centre for Philosophy of natural and Social Science, London School of Economics, London, 2 February 2005.

'Race and Kinship in Anthropology: Morgan and Boas', A Cultural History of Heredity III: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, 13-16 January 2005.

'The UNESCO Statement on Race 1950-51: Science as a Motor of Politics', IHR Seminar on Knowledge and Society, Institute for Historical Research, London, 30 November 2004.

'Das UNESCO Statement on Race (1950-51). Bedingungen, Ablauf, und Konsequenzen einer wissenschaftspolitischen Intervention', Kolloquium des Instituts für Wissenschafts und Technikforschung, University of Bielefeld (Germany), 8 November 2004.

Publications prior to October 2004


Botanik und weltweiter Handel. Zur Begründung eines Natürlichen Systems der Pflanzen durch Carl von Linné (1707-1778). (Studien zur Theorie der Biologie. Ed. by O. Breidbach & M. Weingarten; Vol. 3). Berlin: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung, 1999.Edited Books

S. Müller-Wille, D. Hoffmann & H. Laitko: Lexikon der bedeutenden Naturwissenschaftler. 3 Vols. Heidelberg: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag 2003-2004.Peer-reviewed articles

Müller-Wille, S., “Nature as a marketplace: The political economy of Linnaean botany”, In Oeconomies in the Age of Newton,. Ed. by N. De Marchi & M. Schabas. (History of Political Economy, Supplement; Vol. 35). Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press, 2003: 154-172.

Müller-Wille, S.,“Joining Lapland and the Topinambes in flourishing Holland: Center and periphery in Linnaean botany”, Science in Context 16/4 (2003), 461-488.

Müller-Wille, S., “Carl von Linnés Herbarschrank. Zur epistemischen Funktion eines Sammlungsmöbels.” In Sammeln als Wissen. Das Sammeln und seine wissenschaftsgeschichtliche Bedeutung. Ed. by A. te Heesen & E. Spary. (Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Ed. M. Hagner & H.-J. Rheinberger.) Göttingen, Wallstein, 2001: 22-38.

Müller-Wille, S.,“La storia raddoppiata. La sintesi dei fatti nella storia naturale di Linneo” Quaderni storici 108/3 (2001): 823-842 (English version in Daston et al. 2001: A History of Facts, Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science preprint no. 174).Other articles

Müller-Wille, S.,'Was ist Rasse? Die UNESCO-Erklärungen von 1950 und 1951' In Der (im-)perfekte Mensch. Metamorphosen von Normalität und Abweichung. Ed. by P. Lutz et al. Köln: Böhlau, 2003: 57-71.

Müller-Wille, S.,“Gardens of Paradise.” Endeavour 25/2 (2001), 49-54.

Müller-Wille, S.,' Genealogie, Naturgeschichte und Naturgesetz bei Linné und Buffon' In: (eds): Genealogie als Denkform in Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit. Ed. by K. Heck & B. Jahn. (Studien und Texte zur Sozialgeschichte der Literatur. Ed. by W. Frühwald et al.; Vol. 80.) Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 2000: 109-119.

Müller-Wille, S.,‘Reducing varieties to their Species: The Linnaean Research Program and Its Significance for Modern Biology,' In Carl Linnaeus and Enlightened Science in Spain. (Spain and Sweden: Encounters throughout History). Ed. E. Martínez Ruiz & M. de Pazzis Pi Corrales.) Madrid: Fundacion Bernd Wistedt, 1998: 113-126.

Müller-Wille, S.,‘Varietüten auf ihre Arten zurückführen.’ Zu Carl von Linnés Stellung in der Vorgeschichte der Genetik”, Theory in Bioscience, 117 (1998): 346-376.

Müller-Wille, S.,'Linnaeus Concept of a ‘Symmetry of All Parts’, Jahrbuch für Geschichte und Theorie der Biologie 2 (1995): 41-47.Dictionary entries

Müller-Wille, S., “Linnaeus, Carl” in Noretta Koertge (ed.): New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 4, 314-318, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2008.

Müller-Wille, S. and Orel, V., “Mendel, Gregor” in Noretta Koertge (ed.): New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Vol. 5, 97-101, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale 2008.

Müller-Wille, S., “Linnaeus, Carl.” In Europe 1450–1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. New York. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003.

Müller-Wille, S., “Adanson, Adrian, Ampferer, Augustinus, Bateson, Beadle, Beneden, Bloch, Boethius, Bütschli, Caesalpino, Camerarius, Chargaff, Columbus, Cook, Dolomieu, Dreses.” In Lexikon der bedeutenden Naturwissenschaftler in drei Bände, ed. by D. Hoffmann, H. Laitko, S. Müller-Wille. Heidelberg [u.a.]: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, 2003Reviews

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Lisbet Koerner, Linnaeus: nature and nation, Cambridge, Mass. 1999.” Isis 94/2 (2003): 382-383.

Müller-Wille, S., 'What’s in the book of life?', review of Lenny Moss, What genes can’t do, Nature biotechnology 21/1 (2003): 19.

Müller-Wille, S., 'Die Autorität des Erbguts', review of Lily E. Kay, Das Buch des Lebens, Wer schrieb den genetischen Code?, transl. by G. Rossler, München 2002].” Die Zeit. Sonderbeilage ZeitLiteratur, 12.12.2002, 55-56.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Gerlinde Hövel, ‘Qualitates vegetabilium, vires medicamentorum, und ‘oeconomicus usus’ bei Carl von Linné (1707-1778), Stuttgart 1999.” Bulletin of the history of medicine 76/1 (2002): 138-139.

Müller-Wille, S., Review of Anagnostou, Sabine: Jesuiten in Spanisch-Amerika als Übermittler von heilkundigem Wissen, Stuttgart 2000." Early science and medicine 6 (3 2001): 251-253.

Research Interests

My research combines questions of epistemology – questions concerning how knowledge is attained and how it changes over time – with careful historical case studies. My focus is on the history of the life sciences since the early modern period. Currently, I am working on three research projects, which all, in one way or other, turn around the role of classification in the life sciences.1. History of HeredityThis is a long-term research project, that I have been pursuing since 2001 with Hans-Jörg Rheinberger from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. The project has focussed on the scientific, technological, and cultural practices in which knowledge of "heredity" was produced and in which it unfolded its effects over the past four centuries.The project is collaborative and interdisciplinary, aiming to draw together expertise from the history of science, medicine, law, economics, and art as well as political history and anthropology. Its main results so far may be summarized as follows:

  • Heredity is a biological concept that dates back to the early nineteenth century. Before, organic reproduction was conceptualized as an individual act of creation rather than a process of transmission.
  • Heredity was a concept directed at explaining hereditary variation, rather than stability as such.
  • With genetics and molecular biology in the twentieth century, molecular development rather than transmission became the reigning background for heredity theory.

The backbone of the research concept consists in an on-going series of international workshops. An essay collection on the history of heredity from the early 16th to the mid 19th century was published with MIT Press in 2007, and we are currently working on a follow-up volume covering the period 1850-1930. I have also co-authored a book in German with Rheinberger, which presents the results of the overall project to a broadly defined, non-specialist audience. We are working on an English translation, which is currently under review at University of Chicago Press.Another outcome from this collaboration is an article for the Stanford Encyclopedia for Philosophy on the concept of the gene, which I again co-authored with Rheinberger. The article argues, that the gene was never a tightly defined notion, and that its undoubtable success depended on its being a "concept in flux". A print version of this article was taken up in the Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Biology, and we are currently working on a book-length version to be published in German.For more details, see project website. The project is funded by the Karl Schaedler Foundation (Liechtenstein), and supported by both the Max Planck Institute for History of Science and the ESRC Research Centre for Genomics in Society.2. History of Natural HistoryIn my dissertation project, I focused on the work of Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the founder of modern biological taxonomy. Linnaeus was the first to use the term "natural system", and in my dissertation I argued that it was grounded in practices of collecting, exchanging, and describing specimens. The results of the dissertation have been published in a book and a series of articles, most recently in Studies in History and Philosophy of the Biological and Biomedical Sciences.In recent years, I became increasingly interested in the technologies of the ways in which the naturalist Carl Linnaeus assembled, filed, and cross-referenced information about plants and their medicinal virtues. Linnaeus has been described as a “pioneer in information retrieval” and provides an early example of "data-driven research", which is also characteristic of contemporary genomics.Results from a first survey of Linnaeus's manuscripts, held at the Linnean Society of London, have been published on-line. I have successfully applied for a research grant from the Wellcome Trust, which will enable me to pursue this project in much more detail, and in close collaboration with a research assistant.For more details, see project website. The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust and supported by the Centre for Medical History.3. History of Racial AnthropologyOne of my long term interests has been in the history of racial anthropology. It has recently been argued, that thinking in terms of race did not simply give way to a purely genetic understanding of human diversity in the twentieth century. Nor were earlier concepts of race in the eighteenth and twentieth century static and typological. The following questions guide my research in this project:

  • What constituted the descriptive and explanatory power of the race concept prior to genetics?
  • What were the conceptual and experimental strategies by which genetics subverted the race concept?
  • What were the epistemic values (e.g. universality, analyticity) invoked to justify these subversive strategies?
  • What political implications did these values possess?