The British Journal for the History of Science

Research Article

Knowledge is power: Hugo de Vries on science, heredity and social progress

Bert Theunissena1

a1 Institute for the History of Science, Utrecht University, Nieuwegracht 187, 3512 LM Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Hugo de Vries (1848–1935) would without doubt turn in his grave if he could be told about the various perspectives from which historians have studied his ideas and works. His would not be an exceptional case, of course, for many before and after him have fallen victim to the irony of history. Still, I am inclined to grant de Vries that he would have some reason for his distress, for the irony has hit him particularly hard. In 1922, de Vries was invited to attend the Mendel centennial celebrations at Brünn (Brno). He declined the invitation, suspecting, among other things, that the tenor of the commemoration would be pro-Mendel and anti-Darwin, and he heartily refused to share in either sentiment. Now contrast this with de Vries' imputed role in the historiography of genetics and evolutionary theory as ‘rediscoverer’ of Mendelism and as co-executor of the ‘eclipse of Darwinism’, and the irony will be clear.