Genetics as a Modernization Program: Biological Research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes and the Political Economy of the Nazi State
Historical studies in the natural sciences 2010 Fall; 40(4): 429-56
During the Third Reich, the biological institutes of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWG, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft) underwent a substantial reorganization and modernization. This paper discusses the development of projects in the fields of biochemical genetics, virus research, radiation genetics, and plant genetics that were initiated in those years. These cases exemplify, on the one hand, the political conditions for biological research in the Nazi state. They highlight how leading scientists advanced their projects by building close ties with politicians and science-funding organizations and companies. On the other hand, the study examines how the contents of research were shaped by, and how they contributed to, the aims and needs of the political economy of the Nazi system. This paper therefore aims not only to highlight basic aspects of scientific development under Nazism, but also to provide general insights into the structure of the Third Reich and the dynamics of its war economy.
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