Science in Context

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Beyond Species: Il’ya Ivanov and His Experiments on Cross-Breeding Humans with Anthropoid Apes


Kirill Rossiianov a1
a1 Institute for the History of Science and Technology of the Academy of Sciences, Moscow

Abstract

Argument

I believe that some pollutions are used as analogies for expressing a general view of the social order.

Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (Douglas 1966, 14)

The possibility of crossing humans with other anthropoid species has been discussed in fiction as well as in scientific literature during the twentieth century. Professor Il’ya Ivanov’s attempt to achieve this was crucial for the beginning of organized primate research in the Soviet Union, and remains one of the most interesting and controversial experiments that was ever done on non-human primates. The possibility of removing the boundary that separates humans from other animal species, apes in particular, is loaded with important political meaning and violates cultural and ethical taboos. The history of Ivanov’s scientific experiment thus helps to reveal some of the twentieth-century’s important cultural conventions and hidden assumptions about human nature, species, and social hierarchy.