Michael Günzburger, Baum. 2007. Graphit auf Papier, 57 x 77 cm

SNF Sinergia Project with four research groups: Profs. Marianne Sommer (University of Lucerne), Simon Teuscher (University of Zurich), Staffan Müller-Wille (University of Exeter and Lübeck), Caroline Arni (University of Basel).

Financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation from February, 2019, to January, 2023.

‘In the Shadow of the Tree: The Diagrammatics of Relatedness as Scientific, Scholarly, and Popular Practice’ is an interdisciplinary collaboration of four research groups investigating the bewildering variety of diagrams that have been used to conceptualize, determine, and produce relatedness in Western Europe and in spaces of European expansion since the Late Medieval Period. Work on the ‘tree of life’ has brought to light unexpected evolutionary affinities, and the possibility to study the genetic make-up of human populations as well as to identify the place of individual human DNA within ‘the human family tree’ has impacted our understandings of relatedness. In parallel, new digital methods to visualize such relations have proliferated. Drawing on a long cultural and scientific history, such visualizations tend to take the form of a tree, reflecting the assumption that evolution and descent follow a bifurcating pattern. ‘Tree thinking’ has therefore been identified as a dominant mode of thought and the tree as a canonical icon in modern biology. Indeed, tree thinking has been made out as a general modern Western rationale that reduces relatedness to descent. Rather than tracing the history of a particular idea or icon, however, we offer a comparative analysis of diagrams of relatedness as epistemic, cultural, and political practices. The project introduces a new interdisciplinary approach to diagrammatics that analyzes diagrams as techniques that transcend such binaries as ‘thought and action’ and ‘image and text’ and includes the reconstruction of the practices of collection, observation, experimentation, modelling, drafting, commenting, explaining etc. that inform diagrams of relatedness, as well as the politics of their production and use.

Prof. Dr. Marianne Sommer
Project Leader
T +41 41 229 56 15

Dr. Eric Hounshell, PhD
Project Coordinator/Postdoc

Main Project Research Group Simon Teuscher: Diagrams and Law in the Service of Social Purity, Middle Ages to Enlightenment

Arbre de famille de Maximilian I, Austria, ca. 1490. Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, in Klapisch-Zuber, L’arbre de famille (2004), p. 78.

Prof. Dr. Simon Teuscher, University of Zurich
Project Leader
Tel: +41 (0) 44 634 38 55

This project investigates conceptualizations of kinship in legal and administrative culture from the Late Middle Ages through the Early Modern period. Project leader Simon Teuscher's current book project examines a number of treatises on kinship by Catholic theologians and lawyers between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries, including those belonging to the genre of explanations of the arbores consanguinitatis and affinitatis. Two doctoral dissertation projects examine how diagrams were used in the legal definition and administrative implementation of social categorizations. They study a phase when these kinship diagrams still stood in the service of prescriptions in religion and law rather than of descriptions of nature. Conceptions of kinship, rather than being a legacy of older stages of society, were actively devised and developed in this period. By following such efforts, we can establish new connections among several key developments of an emergent biopolitics such as incest prevention, the social preclusion of access to the nobilities, and attempts at systematizing status groups and entire populations, also in the new European colonies. In these processes, kinship diagrams were mostly employed to keep the social body free from pollution and illicit mixtures.

Relevant publications by Simon Teuscher

"Bilatéralité vs Conceptions Androcentriques de La Parenté En Europe: Quelques Réflexions à Partir Des Arbores Consanguinitatis de La Fin Du Moyen Âge." Genre & Histoire 21 (Spring 2018).

"Problems of Scale and Mediation in Studies of Kinship in the Past." In Reframing the History of Family and Kinship: From the Alps towards Europe, edited by Albera Dionigi, Luigi Lorenzetti, and Jon Mathieu, 33-46. Bern: Peter Lang, 2016.

Teuscher, Simon, and Margareth Lanzinger. "Editorial. Trennende Verwandtschaft." Historische Anthropologie 22, no. 1 (2014): 1-3.

"Flesh and Blood in the Treatises on the Arbor Consanguinitatis (Thirteenth to Sixteenth Centuries)." In Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to the Present, edited by Christopher Johnson, Bernhard Jussen, David Warren Sabean, and Simon Teuscher, 83-104. New York: Berghahn Books, 2013.

Teuscher, Simon, and David Warren Sabean. "Introduction." In Blood and Kinship: Matter for Metaphor from Ancient Rome to the Present, edited by Christopher Johnson, Bernhard Jussen, David Warren Sabean, and Simon Teuscher, 1-17. New York: Berghahn Books, 2013.

Subproject: Incest Prohibitions and the Protestant Reformation: Systematizing Kinship without Diagrams

Forbidden Degrees of Marriage in "Von Eheverlöbnissen, und verbotenen Gradibus" (1583) by Tilemann Hesshus, Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel

Stéphanie Prieto, MA
Doctoral candidate
Tel.: +41 44 634 28 50

This project examines Reformed theologians' attempts to rid themselves of the old Catholic tradition of using diagrams to define the range of kin that fell under incest prohibitions. Since the Early Middle Ages, Catholic theologians and specialists of canon law had developed diagrams to define the range of kin that fell under incest prohibitions and used these diagrams to quantify and measure kinship in degrees. For many of the Reformed theologians in England, France, Germany, and Switzerland, the call to return to the sole authority of the scripture (sola scriptura) also implied the rejection of kinship diagrams and the system of quantification developed by the servants of the 'popish church'. While they agreed that the list of prohibited relations in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18) was incomplete, they rejected the use of these diagrams to complete it.

Instead, they discussed alternative methods, experimented with long lists, some of which numbered relationships without attributing degrees to them, and developed complicated textual justifications. The debates about the matter were fervent but ultimately a mere episode of history: by the end of the 16th century, most Protestant scholars had returned to some form of diagrams and quantification -- although not necessarily the ones inherited from the Catholic tradition.

Nevertheless, the case of the Protestant rejection of kinship diagrams is of major interest for the study of historical diagrammatics. The attempt to entirely replace diagrams by texts reveals the extreme interdependence of diagrams and texts. Furthermore, it offers insight into two questions: to what extent did Western conceptualizations of kinship depend on diagrams and quantification, and to what degree were Protestant attempts at (re-)conceptualizing kinship with stronger emphasis on descent contingent on received tools and manners of conceptualizing kinship?

Subproject: A Global Expansion of Procedures to Determine Descent?

Kinship diagram of the Choqueticlla and Colqueguarachi families, 1804, La Plata (today Sucre), National Archive of Bolivia.

Julian Miguez, MA
Doctoral candidate
Tel.: +41 44 634 28 50

The project examines uses of the canon law diagrams that had particularly far-reaching, if not terrible political, consequences when used in legal and administrative procedures to determine the purity of descent. Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, these procedures spread rapidly and appeared in such different contexts that they seem to be unrelated. Examples include proofs of noble descent (Ger. Ahnenproben) that became a prerequisite for being admitted to collegiate chapters and tournament societies in Germany in particular and tests of "purity of blood," of pure Christian descent (i.e. "untainted" by Jewish or Muslim ancestors). The latter were required to gain access to universities and many urban offices on the Iberian Peninsula. A little later and in close connection, there emerged procedures to assign individuals to racial and mestizo groups in the Spanish Americas and probably also to castes that were of different legal status in East Indian colonies. These innovations have received some attention as new systematizations of social exclusion within their particular contexts, but both the exact testing procedures as such and their interrelations across continents and domains remain as yet unexamined. The project will analyze to what extent these procedures were derived from the diagrams and the methods of measuring degrees of kinship that Catholic theologians had used since the High Middle Ages to define and implement incest prohibitions. They all include examinations of the status of ancestors, of four grandparents, eight great grandparents, or sixteen, thirty-two, or even more ancestors. The logic of these procedures had to prevail, for example, against notions of relatedness that gave precedence to paternal descent in Europe, not to speak of the great range of different native conceptualizations of kinship in the Americas and on the Indian subcontinent. How a particular use of diagrams was adapted to new purposes is an interesting question in the context of a history of diagrams of relatedness, and the engagement with that question will also reveal commonalities between processes as varied as the social closing off of access to Europe's nobilities and racial stigmatization in its colonies.

Main Project Research Group Staffan Müller-Wille: The Construction of Diagrams of Relatedness in the History of Natural History and Genetics, 17th to 20th Century

Table of affinity of the plant kingdom, from August Batsch, Tabula affinitatum regni vegitabilis (1802)

Prof. Dr. Staffan Müller-Wille, University of Exeter
Project Leader

Drawing on project leader Staffan Müller-Wille's expertise in the cultural histories of heredity and natural history, the research group based in Lübeck focuses on the longue-durée history of diagrammatic tools employed in the life sciences to depict, analyze, and integrate knowledge about relations of similarity, affinity, and descent among organisms. If genealogy experienced a naturalization of kinship in early modern and modern Europe, the life sciences experienced a genealogization in turn, employing a repertoire of diagrams derived from the domain of human genealogy and history to understand the reproduction and evolution of organic forms. This research group assumes, first, that diagrammatic articulations of relatedness in the life sciences opened  a field of alternative, and often conflicting, ways of addressing biological diversity. A second assumption is that the concepts used in the life sciences to categorize relatedness can only be adequately understood by addressing diagrams as information tools whose primary function is the storage, organization, and mobilization of knowledge.

Relevant publications by Staffan Müller-Wille

"Joining Data Across Cultures: Kinship Analysis and Statistics in Late Nineteenth-Century Anthropology." In Varieties of Data Journeys: Data Processing and Movements Within and Across Practices, edited by Sabina Leonelli and Niccolò Tempini. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, in press.

"Making and Unmaking Populations." Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 48, no. 5 (November 2018): 604-15.

"Names and Numbers: 'Data' in Classical Natural History, 1758-1859." Osiris 32 (2017): 109-28.

"Verfahrensweisen der Naturgeschichte nach Linné." In Akteure, Tiere, Dinge. Verfahrensweisen der Naturgeschichte in der Frühen Neuzeit, edited by Silke Fröschler and Anne Mariss, 109-24. Cologne: Böhlau, 2017.

Gregor Mendel (2016). Experiments on Plant Hybrids (1866). Translation and commentary by Staffan Müller-Wille and Kersten Hall. British Society for the History of Science Translation Series. URL=http://www.bshs.org.uk/bshs-translations/mendel.

"Brüche in der Stufenleiter der Natur. Diversität in der Naturgeschichte 1758-1859." In Diversität. Geschichte und Aktualität eines Konzepts, edited by André L. Blum, Nina Zschocke, Vincent Barras, and Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, 41-59. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2016.

Müller-Wille, Staffan, and Christina Brandt, eds. Heredity Explored: Between Public Domain and Experimental Science, 1850-1930. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2016.

Müller-Wille, Staffan, and Christina Brandt, eds. "Revisiting the Origin of Genetics." In Heredity Explored: Between Public Domain and Experimental Science, 1850-1930, 367-94. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2016.

"Hérédité, race et eugénisme dans le long xixe siècle." In Histoire des sciences et des savoirs. Modernité et Globalisation, edited by Kapil Raj and Otto Sibum, 391-409. Paris: Seuil, 2015.

"Linnaeus and the Four Corners of the World." In The Cultural Politics of Blood, 1500-1900, edited by Kimberly Anne Coles, Ralph Bauer, Carla L. Peterson, and Zita Nunes, 191-209. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Charmantier, Isabelle, and Staffan Müller-Wille. "Carl Linnaeus's Botanical Paper Slips (1767-1773)." Intellectual History Review 24 (2014): 215-38.

Charmantier, Isabelle, and Staffan Müller-Wille. "Worlds of Paper: An Introduction." Early Science and Medicine 19, no. 5 (2014): 379-97.

"Epigenese und Präformation: Anmerkungen zu einem Begriffspaar." In Kulturen der Epigenetik: Vererbt, codiert, übertragen, edited by Vanessa Lux and Jörg Thomas Richter, 237-44. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014.

"Race and History: Comments from an Epistemological Point of View." Science, Technology and Human Values 39 (2014): 597-606.

"Reproducing Difference: Race and Heredity from a Longue Durée Perspective." In Race, Gender and Reproduction: Philosophy and the Early Life Sciences in Context, edited by Susanne Lettow, 217-35. New York: SUNY Press, 2014.

"Systems and How Linnaeus Looked at Them in Retrospect." Annals of Sciences 70 (2013): 305-17.

Subproject: The Age of Affinity: Diagrams in Natural History, 17th to early 19th Century

Niklaas Görsch

A key development in early modern natural history that so far has received very little attention from historians of science is the introduction of various dichotomous and tabular diagrams to illustrate classifications of plants and animals towards the end of the seventeenth century, culminating in the popularization of Linnaeus' system of nature (1735), especially his sexual system of plant classification, in the eighteenth century. While initially these diagrams seem to have served purposes of species diagnosis and identification only, a first debate emerged around 1700 about whether they were able to capture "natural affinities" and, in particular, serve as guides towards medical and other useful properties of plants. This debate continued throughout the eighteenth century and finally led to the strict distinction between dichotomous keys on the one hand and the 'natural system' on the other, which was now preferably visualized as a map or network. While some literature exists about the practices behind such diagrams, like the collection and exchange of specimens and the inductive processes of describing and comparing (Stevens 1994; Müller-Wille & Charmantier 2012; Winsor 2015), we know almost nothing about their wider cultural meaning. The project will look at the diagrams primarily as tools of information processing, not only information about the natural world, but also about the world of its observers and their social status (Müller-Wille 2017).

This project will be the first to study manuscript and print sources that make it possible to reconstruct in detail how central diagrams in this history were crafted, whether there were models or precedents in other domains (like law or trade), what purposes they were supposed to serve, and how they were debated among naturalists. Such central diagrams include the "synoptic tables" produced by J. Jungius, A. Q. Bachmann, Ch. Knaut, and Ch. B. Valentini around 1700 but also Linnaeus' much more prominent 'sexual system', which has been discussed as an exemplar of scientific projections of the social onto the natural world (Schiebinger 1991). And while the astonishingly complex network-like diagram of plant affinities by A. Batsch of 1802 has received considerable attention (e.g. Polianski 2004; Gießmann 2007), similarly important diagrams, such as P. D. Giseke's Tabula genealogico-geographica affinitatum plantarum (1790) have remained virtually untouched. In order to reconstruct the social concepts and practices behind the construction, iconicity, and wider use of such diagrams, Niklaas Goersch will spend time at libraries in Wolfenbüttel, Gotha, and London.


Gießmann, Stefan (2007). Netze als Weltbilder. Ordnungen der Natur von Donati bis Goethe. In: Ingeborg Reichle et al. (eds.). Verwandte Bilder. Die Fragen der Bildwissenschaft. Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 243-261.

Müller-Wille, Staffan & Charmantier, Isabelle (2012). Natural History and Information Overload: The Case of Linnaeus. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1), 4-15.

Müller-Wille, Staffan (2017). Names and Numbers: "Data" in Classical Natural History, 1758-1859. In: Elena Aranova, Christine von Oertzen & David Sepkoski (eds.), Data Histories (Osiris 32). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 109-128.

Polianski, Igor J. (2004). Die Kunst, die Natur vorzustellen: Die Ästhetisierung der Pflanzenkunde um 1800 und Goethes Gründung des Botanischen Gartens Jena. Cologne: König, Walther.

Schiebinger, Londa (1991). The Private Life of Plants: Sexual Politics in Carl Linnaeus and Erasmus Darwin. In: Margaret Benjamin (ed.). Science and Sensibility: Gender and Scientific Enquiry, 1780-1945. Oxford: Blackwell, 121-143.

Stevens, Peter F. (1994). The Development of Systematics: Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu, Nature and the Natural System. New York: Columbia University Press.

Winsor, Mary P. (2015). Considering Affinity: An Ethereal Conversation. Endeavour 39 (1), 69-79; (2), 116-126, (3-4), 179-187.

Subproject: The Role of Diagrams in Canonizing and Popularizing Mendelian Genetics

Slide illustrating Mendelian inheritance for eye-color, Archive of the German Hygiene Museum, Dresden

Andrea Ceccon

This project deals with a period that historians of biology have identified as a crisis and the eclipse of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection (e.g. Bowler 1983; Gayon 1998). At that time, an increasing number of biologists adopted theories of heredity that did not conceive of organismic variation as continuous, but as saltational and combinatorial. It is against this theoretical background that the rapid rise of Mendelian genetics at the beginning of the twentieth century took place, which was notably accompanied by a sustained critique of common conceptions of relatedness in terms of direct causal connections between ancestors and descendants. Instead, important contributors to the debate about heredity around 1900, such as F. Galton, H. de Vries, and W. Johannsen, argued that inheritance worked through the transmission and permutation of invisible dispositions, or later 'genes', in the germ line. "Ancestry by itself is irrelevant; dispositions are decisive", as Johannsen put it forcefully to his students in lectures held in 1905, with intended anti-aristocratic undertones (Müller-Wille 2007, 800).

As intuitive as the combinatorial logic of Mendelians appears to anyone familiar with the foundations of genetics today, it took considerable time and effort to make it prevail over more traditional conceptions of heredity and kinship, since it built on a unique and highly counterintuitive integration of mathematical and biological skills - in essence, combinatorial analysis and artificial crossings. This subproject will look at how diagrams were integral to this process and how their canonization and popularization eventually enabled reconceptualizations of kinship in terms of probabilities (and "eugenic" risks) of sharing the same genetic disposition. For this, two sets of sources will be investigated. The first set comprises textbooks such as E. von Tschermak's 1901 edition of Mendel's papers, R. C. Punnett's Mendelism (1905), Johannsen's Elemente der exakten Erblichkeitslehre (1909), or W. E. Castle's Genetics and Eugenics (1916), which employed a wide variety of graphs and diagrams to teach the basics of Mendelian genetics. While one of the rediscoverers of Mendelian genetics, C. Correns, initially experimented with tree-like diagrams (Segregationsbäume) in order to visualize Mendel's laws (Rheinberger 2005), it was especially the binomial distribution illustrated in the so-called Punnet square that became central for genetic practices and understandings of relatedness (Edwards 2012). In particular, copies of textbooks, to be found in libraries in Copenhagen and Berlin and on Internet Archive, will provide evidence of the actual use of diagrams, e.g. in the form of readers' annotations. The second set of sources consists in the large collection of pedagogical slides and exhibition documents preserved at the German Hygiene Museum in Dresden that allows insights into the popularization of Mendelian reasoning (Nikolow 2015).


Bowler, Peter (1983). The Eclipse of Darwinism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Edwards, Jeanette (2012). Ancestors, Class, and Contingency. Focaal. Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 62, 70-80.

Gayon, Jean (1998). Darwinism's Struggle for Survival: Heredity and the Hypothesis of Natural Selection. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Müller-Wille, Staffan (2007). Hybrids, Pure Cultures, and Pure Lines: From Nineteenth-Century Biology to Twentieth-Century Genetics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 38, 796-806.

Nikolow, Sybilla (2015). "Wissenschaftliche Stillleben" des Körpers. In Sybilla Nikolow (ed.). "Erkenne Dich selbst!". Strategien der Sichtbarmachung des Körpers im 20. Jahrhundert. Cologne: Böhlau, 11-45.

Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg (2005). Eine Randnotiz zur Repräsentation von Generationen in Mendels Vererbungslehre. In: Sigrid Weigel et al. (eds.). Generation: Zur Genealogie des Konzepts - Konzepte von Genealogie. Munich: W. Fink, 261-266.

Main Project Research Group Caroline Arni: Genealogical Diagrams in an Urban Society, 19th and early 20th Century

Prof. Dr. Caroline Arni, University of Basel
Project Leader
Tel: +41 61 207 46 73

The research group based in Basel applies the diagrammatic approach to relatedness by examining different kinds of genealogical reconstruction performed within the same social context. The shaping of modern concepts of collective entities such as families, national and local communities, or species has been driven by global exchange and political ruptures: experiences of diversity and discontinuity generated a need for conceiving continuity through change. The city of Basel in the modern period provides a pertinent case for answering that call. It confronts us with an urban society defined by the global activity of trading houses and industrial entrepreneurship, by a conflict-laden and protracted path to democratization, and by a high influx of migrant workers who came from neighboring cantons as well as from the German and French areas and who constituted a highly mobile and diverse population. Within this society, there existed a great concern for the conceptualization of relations in terms of descent that left its traces in a rich body of archival material. The group thus centers on Basel as an exemplary site for exploring how practices of conceiving, determining, and representing relatedness in terms of descent were integral to a specific social and political situation, its history and development. The group examines two sites of such practices—the bourgeois family and the psychiatric institution. They provide material for a diagrammatic approach to how genealogy was practiced in familial and scientific contexts. The two projects’ shared framework makes it possible to compare how these parallel practices of genealogy dealt with and formed a specific historical situation.

Relevant publications by Caroline Arni

"Historische Anthropologie nach der Kultur. Anthropologische Potentiale für eine rekursive Geschichtsschreibung." Historische Anthropologie 26, no. 2 (2018): 200-223.

Prenätale Zeiten. Das Ungeborene Und Die Humanwissenschaften (1800-1950). Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2018.

"The Prenatal: Contingencies of Procreation and Transmission in the Nineteenth Century." In Heredity Explored: Between Public Domain and Experimental Science 1850-1930, edited by Christina Brandt and Staffan Müller-Wille, 285-309. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2016.

"Traversing Birth: Continuity and Contingency in Research on Development in Nineteenth-Century Life and Human Sciences." History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 37, no. 1 (2015): 50-67.

Entzweiungen. Die Krise der Ehe um 1900. Cologne: Böhlau, 2004.

Subproject: Registering Doom: Pathological Genealogies

Diagram of an average population from Luxenburger, H. (1928). Demographische und psychiatrische Untersuchungen in der engeren biologischen Familie von Paralytikerehegatten, p. 456.

Amos Kuster, MA
Doctoral candidate

Psychiatric institutions and their assiduously systematic collection of patient data played an essential role in the formation of nineteenth-century conceptions of inheritance. Empirical and statistical evidence pointing towards the heritability of psychic pathologies in families grew throughout the 19th century (Porter 2018). By 1900, recently rediscovered Mendelian rules seemed to provide a mechanism for the transmission of properties and even promised to allow for prognoses (Gausemeier 2008). But what did it mean to be pathologically related to fellow human beings? How would parent and child become companions in disease?

This project concerns the previously unexplored topic of pathological kinship. This gap is both historiographic and historical—historiographic in so far as among the vast research on concepts of heredity there are hardly any studies that treat “kinship” as an epistemological category within the sciences of heredity; historical in the sense that the psychiatric science of heredity did not critically reflect on “kinship” as a subject but assumed it as given in nature. Thus, building on the findings of new kinship studies, one can argue that “kinship” cannot be presupposed precisely where that concept is in use (Carsten 2004).

A case study from around 1925-1928, when Ernst Rüdin directed the psychiatric clinic in the city of Basel, will show that exactly in this presumed gap were an abundance of practices to negotiate and especially produce supposedly unproblematic “kinship.” The central source base consists of patient dossiers from the Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Friedmatt, which contain admission forms including a family history and detailed genealogical questionnaires.

Such sources raise questions of the reciprocity between knowledge of psychiatric inheritance and retrospective narration; of objectivization and the production of relationships and kinship structures; and especially of the informing of medical personnel through Mendelian and genealogical diagrams of families and heredity. This project will analyze the diagrammatic dimensions of psychiatric research programs on heredity, genealogical work, and popular conceptions of kinship. This historical-diagrammatic perspective will be supplemented by historical-anthropological questions concerning both the occurrence of such icons and their absence.


Carsten, Janet. 2004. After Kinship. New Departures in Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gausemeier, Bernd. 2008. “Pedigree vs. Mendelism: Concepts of Heredity in Psychiatry before and after 1900.” In Conference : Heredity in the Century of the Gene (A Cultural History of Heredity IV), Preprint 343, 149–62. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

Porter, Theodore M. 2018. Genetics in the Madhouse: The Unknown History of Human Heredity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Subproject: Drawing Continuity: The Making of Bourgeois Family Trees

Family Tree of the Burckhardt Family, 19th century (Stammbäume 53, Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt)

Fiona Vicent, MA
Doctoral candidate

This project examines the crafting of family trees by bourgeois families in the city of Basel during the 19th and early 20th century, most of whom descended from the old patriciate and formed close-knit networks of economically and symbolically powerful kin groups (Sarasin 1997). These bourgeois kin groups were a crucial “mover of modernity,” a modernity that has long been falsely associated with the declining importance of kinship (Sabean & Teuscher 2007). Their tendency to adopt the genealogical enterprise of a bygone nobility, while purging it of its mythical contents (Timm 2016), constituted a historical bridgehead between ‘old’ noble and ‘new’ generalized forms of genealogy (Bouquet 1996).

As the project is interested in the genealogical practice of “family treeing” (Edwards 2018, title), it will focus on the actors, work, and technologies that went into the production of bourgeois family trees, as well as the uses of those diagrams, for example in the context of socialization. Additionally, it will also concentrate on the forms of relatedness such diagrams express, their design and arrangement of genealogical information in a diagrammatic form and the interplay of lines, texts and images.

At the basis of the study are two different sets of sources, both held by the public records office of Basel (Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt): 1) The large collection of representative family trees dating from the late 18th up to the middle of the 20th century, and 2) the documentation of their making as preserved in family estates. The latter consists of folders with transcriptions of parish registers, sketches, templates, tables of marriage alliances, newspaper articles, and diaries. These source materials lend themselves to the analysis of how the various familial documents relate to the family trees. This involves questions of whether these sources contradict each other (e.g. in regard to who is in- und who is excluded) or whether complimentary sets of information or successive steps of data gathering and presentation can be detected. In this context, the project will also specifically pay attention to the gender aspect by not only analyzing how women and men and the patrilineal order are diagrammatically (re-) presented, but also by asking how the production of diagrams negotiated the (possibly contentious) gendered structure of descent and transmission.

Regarding the rise of genealogical societies in the 19th century (Sabean 2010) and the contemporary discourses in genealogical handbooks on the designs and configurations of genealogical diagrams (Teicher 2014), the study should also explore how the designs and meanings of genealogical diagrams evolved over the course of the “long 19th century”: Can we, for example, trace a transformation of the genealogical diagrams from arboresque, “esthetic” designs to more abstract, “scientific” ones?


Bouquet, Mary (1996). Family Trees and their Affinities: The Visual Imperative of the Genealogical Diagram. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2 (1), 43-46.

Edwards, Jeanette (2018). A Feel for Genealogy: “Family Treeing” in the North of England. Ethnos 83 (4), 724-743.

Sabean, David W. & Teuscher, Simon (2007). Kinship in Europe: A New Approach to Long-Term Development. In: David W. Sabean, Simon Teuscher & Jon Mathieu (eds.). Kinship in Europe. Approaches to Long-Term Development (1300–1900). New York: Berghahn, 1–32.

Sabean, David W. (2010). Constructing Lineages in Imperial Germany: eingetragene Familienvereine. In: Fenske Michela (ed.). Alltag als Politik – Politik im Alltag. Dimensionen des Politischen in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Ein Lesebuch für Carola Lipp. Berlin: Lit, 143-157.

Sarasin, Philipp (1997). Stadt der Bürger. Bürgerliche Macht und städtische Gesellschaft. Basel 1846–1914, 2nd ed. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Teicher, Amir (2014) “Ahnenforschung macht frei“ On the Correlation between Research Strategies and Socio-Political Bias in German Genealogy, 1898-1935. Historische Anthropologie 22 (1), 67-90.

Timm, Elisabeth (2016). Reverenz und Referenz. Zwei Weisen der popularen Genealogie seit dem 19. Jahrhundert und ein neuer genealogischer Universalismus? In: Christine Fertig & Margareth Lanzinger (eds.). Beziehungen - Vernetzungen - Konflikte. Perspektiven Historischer Verwandtschaftsforschung. Cologne: Böhlau, 209–231.

Main Project Research Group Marianne Sommer: Evolutionary, Cultural, and Genetic Anthropology, 19th–21st Century

"Stammbaum der zwölf Menschen-Arten" from Ernst Haeckel (1898 [1868]). Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, p. 743.

Prof. Dr. Marianne Sommer
Project Leader
T +41 41 229 56 15

The research group based at the University of Lucerne focuses on diagrams of relatedness in subfields of biology, anthropology, and ethnology. The group builds on work by Marianne Sommer on the phylogenetic tree and the controversies around it in the human origins sciences – the practices, technologies, assumptions, and politics behind the construction as well as the cultural power of different renderings of human descent and kinship, such as the line, the tree, the map, and the network. The group aims at a longue-durée view of diagrams that have played important roles in the identification and the establishment of relations between peoples globally from the 19th century up until today.

Relevant publications by Marianne Sommer

History Within: The Science, Culture, and Politics of Bones, Organisms, and Molecules. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Evolutionäre Anthropologie zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius, 2015.

“(Net)Working a Stone into a Tool: How Technologies of Serial Visualization, Arrangement, and Narration Stabilized Eoliths as Archeological Objects.” In Historiographical Approaches to Past Archaeological Research, edited by Gisela Eberhardt and Fabian Link, 15–45. Berlin: Edition Topoi, 2015.

Marianne Sommer and Veronika Lipphardt (eds.). History of the Human Sciences 28, no. 5 (2015) - Special Issue 'Visibility Matters: Diagrammatic Renderings of Human Evolution and Diversity in Physical, Serological and Molecular Anthropology.'

Marianne Sommer and Veronika Lipphardt. “Visibility Matters: Diagrammatic Renderings of Human Evolution and Diversity in Physical, Serological and Molecular Anthropology.” History of the Human Sciences 28, no. 5 (2015): 3–16.

“Population-Genetic Trees, Maps and Narratives of the Great Human Diasporas.” History of the Human Sciences 28, no. 5 (2015): 108–45.

“Biology as a Technology of Social Justice in Interwar Britain: Arguments from Evolutionary History, Heredity, and Human Diversity.” Science, Technology and Human Values 39, no. 4 (2014): 560–85.

“History in the Gene: Negotiations between Molecular and Organismal Anthropology.” Journal for the History of Biology 41, no. 3 (2008): 473–528.

Bones and Ochre: The Curious Afterlife of the Red Lady of Paviland. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007.

“Ancient Hunters and Their Modern Representatives: William Sollas’s (1849-1936) Anthropology from Disappointed Bridge to Trunkless Tree and the Instrumentalisation of Racial Conflict.” Journal of the History of Biology 38, no. 2 (2005): 327–65.

Subproject: Trees in Translation: Diagrammatic Techniques in Ethnography, 1850–1975

Henry L. Morgan, Tamil System of Consanguinity (1870), p. 392

lic. phil. Lea Pfäffli

While the importance of visual technologies like cartography, photography, and film for the history of ethnography has been widely and critically discussed, the great epistemological significance of diagrams has as yet to be recognized. The project addresses this vacuum through a reconstruction of the role of diagrammatic techniques in the formation, stabilization, and development of kinship studies. It investigates how diagrams — at the beginning mostly pedigrees — helped to render ethnographical knowledge comparable, amenable to accumulation and standardization.

At the center are two case studies. The first concerns the emergence of kinship studies in the mid-19th cen. In collaboration with the native American E. S. Parker, the lawyer H. L. Morgan developed a questionnaire on kinship terminology, which he sent to missionaries and colonial officials (who worked with indigenous experts on kinship, see Gardner 2016 on the Australian region). Morgan first translated the standardized data from the questionnaires into tabular overviews. As a second step, and using diagrammatic techniques of Canon law, he transferred the tables into different tree diagrams, each standing for a particular system of kinship. Influenced by the theories of evolution and matrilineality by the Swiss legal historian J. J. Bachofen, Morgan interpreted these kinship systems as successive stages in the development from barbarism to civilization. Morgan’s global project resulted in Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family and Ancient Society, with which his extremely influential ideas circulated beyond ethnography and were for example incorporated by F. Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State and S. Freud in Totem and Taboo.

The second case study is the British Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Straits (1898–99). As a member of this expedition, anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers investigated the pedigrees of islanders, originally to examine the heredity of eye diseases. In the course of his work, however, family-ethnological questions became Rivers’s main interest. It is documented that indigenous experts used branches and sticks to communicate genealogical knowledge to the anthropologist and that they drew pedigrees in his field book. Rivers eventually contributed significantly to the standardization of diagrams as a vital epistemological tool in kinship studies and as a warrant of ‘objectivity’. His method was crucial for the formation of the Cambridge Anthropological School, as is documented, for example, in the textbook Notes and Queries on Anthropology. Thus, in both of these fundamental cases, pedigrees became the central tool of data formation during fieldwork, and pedigrees as specific two-dimensional, schematic arrangements of lines and signs facilitated the communication of knowledge within different fields of thought.


Gardner, Helen (2016). The Genealogy of the Genealogical Method: Discoveries, Disseminations and the Historiography of British Anthropology. Oceania 86 (3), 294–319.

Subproject: Diagrams of ‘Race’ in Human Population Genetics and Critical Theory

Worldwide admixture structure
"Worldwide admixture structure" from Verdu P, Pemberton TJ, Laurent R, Kemp BM, Gonzalez-Oliver A, Gorodezky C, et al. (2014) Patterns of Admixture and Population Structure in Native Populations of Northwest North America. PLoS Genet 10(8): e1004530. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004530 http://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1004530

Ruth Amstutz, MA
Doctoral candidate

The project opens a window on the present by engaging with two fields in which recent developments have been shaped by diagrammatic conceptualizations of “race”—human population genetics and critical theory. That knowledge from human population genetics, especially since the revolution in DNA and computer technologies transformed the field in the 1980s, enters public debates about the ‘genetics of race’ is currently exemplified by the controversies surrounding the geneticist D. Reich’s claim that scientists understate the genetic differences between populations due to issues of political correctness (Reich 2018). While there is a growing corpus of literature on the history and social impact of human population genetics (e.g. Reardon 2004; Abu El-Haj 2012; Nash 2015), the role of this science’s abundance of diagrams that convey individual and group relatedness on the basis of genetic data begs further investigation (Sommer & Lipphardt 2015; Sommer 2016, 249–384). Also in the 1908s, critical theory introduced the diagrammatic conception of “intersection” (Crenshaw 1989, 82–83). Intersectionality stands for complex interlinkages and interdependencies of power structures with regard to “race,” class, and gender, among other factors of discrimination. Intersectional research and arguments have gained momentum in different academic fields as well as in public discourse and activism (Meyer 2017). The project brings this explicitly diagrammatic conceptualization of “race” into communication with the diagrammatic thinking and imaging of “race” in human population genetics.

Two points are of particular interest: First, the development of human population genetics as well as of intersectionality is marked by a tension between their own discourses and diagrams. Contrary to the anti-racist, humanist discourse of population genetics, the tree has been the main icon to visualize the phylogenetic relationship between human groups, although the branches of human population genetic trees might be read as conveying separately evolving, isolated races (Sommer 2015c, 135). Critical theory, on its part, has contested that social categories work additively, but the diagrammatic concept of intersection suggests that discrete and independently developing axes of discrimination cross in an individual. Secondly, in both fields, alternatives have been introduced. In critical theory, we find conceptualizations of social structures in terms of the matrix (Butler 2004), the assemblage (De Landa 2006), interdependency (Walgenbach et al. 2007), or multi-dimensionality (Demirović & Maihofer 2013, 40; see also Hall 2000; Erel et al. 2007). In human population genetics, a variety of diagrammatic visualizations of human genetic relations were developed in tandem with technological innovations. Since 2000, for example, visualizations based on the computer programs Structure and Frappe have emphasized the genetic ethnic admixture of individuals and thus populations.

Through a diagrammatic approach, the project will bring concepts of, and debates on, “race” in critical theory and genetics into a common analytical framework. How can the experimentation with diagrammatic conceptualizations of “identity” in critical theory inform the reading of human population genetic diagrams? Can parallels be established in the histories of diagrams in both fields? And how do they relate to discourses on “race”?


Abu El-Haj, Nadia (2012). The Genealogical Science. The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Butler, Judith (2004). Undoing Gender. London: Routledge.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé W. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum (1), 139-167.

De Landa, Manuel (2006). A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. London: Continuum.

Demirović, Alex & Maihofer, Andrea (2013). Vielfachkrise und die Krise der Geschlechterverhältnisse. In: Hildegard M. Nickel & Andreas Heilmann (eds.). Krise, Kritik, Allianzen. Arbeits- und geschlechtersoziologische Perspektiven. Weinheim/Basel: Belz/Juventa, 30-48.

Erel, Umut et al. (2007). Intersektionalität oder Simultaneität? - Zur Verschränkung und Gleichzeitigkeit mehrfacher Machtverhältnisse - eine Einführung. In: Jutta Hartmann et al. (eds.). Heteronormativität. Empirische Studien zu Geschlecht, Sexualität und Macht. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 239-250.

Hall, Stuart (2000). Postmoderne und Artikulation. In: Nora Räthzel (ed.). Cultural Studies. Ein politisches Theorieprojekt. Ausgewählte Schriften 3. Hamburg: Argument, 52-77.

Meyer, Katrin (2017). Theorien der Intersektionalität zur Einführung. Hamburg: Junius.

Nash, Catherine (2015). Genetic Geographies. The Trouble with Ancestry. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Reardon, Jenny (2004). Race to the Finish. Identity and Governance in an Age of Genomics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Reich, David (2018). How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of "Race". The New York Times, March 23, 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/03/23/opinion/sunday/genetics-race.html (accessed May 10, 2018).

Sommer, Marianne (2015). Population-Genetic Trees, Maps and Narratives of the Great Human Diasporas. History of the Human Sciences 28 (5), 108-145.

Sommer, Marianne (2016). History Within: The Science, Culture, and Politics of Bones, Organisms, and Molecules. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sommer, Marianne & Lipphardt, Veronika (eds.) (2015). Visibility Matters: Diagrammatic Renderings of Human Evolution and Diversity in Physical, Serological and Molecular Anthropology. Special Issue: History of the Human Sciences 28 (5).

Walgenbach, Katharina et al. (eds.) (2007). Gender als interdependente Kategorie. Neue Perspektiven auf Intersektionalität, Diversität und Heterogenität. Opladen: Barbara Budrich.