Agricultural Genetics and Plant Breeding in Early Twentieth-Century Italy

Supervised by: Pancaldi, Giuliano
Language: en
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This thesis is about plant breeding in Early 20th-Century Italy. The stories of the two most prominent Italian plant-breeders of the time, Nazareno Strampelli and Francesco Todaro, are used to explore a fragment of the often-neglected history of Italian agricultural research. While Italy was not at the forefront of agricultural innovation, research programs aimed at varietal innovation did emerge in the country, along with an early diffusion of Mendelism. Using philosophical as well as historical analysis, plant breeding is analysed throughout this thesis as a process: a sequence of steps that lays on practical skills and theoretical assumptions, acting on various elements of production. Systematic plant-breeding programs in Italy started from small individual efforts, attracting more and more resources until they became a crucial part of the fascist regime's infamous agricultural policy. Hybrid varieties developed in the early 20th century survived World War II and are now ancestors of the varieties that are still cultivated today. Despite this relevance, the history of Italian wheat hybrids is today largely forgotten: this thesis is an effort to re-evaluate a part of it. The research did allow previously unknown or neglected facts to emerge, giving a new perspective on the infamous alliance between plant-breeding programs and the fascist regime. This thesis undertakes an analysis of Italian plant-breeding programs as processes. Those processes had a practical as well as a theoretical side, and involved various elements of production. Although a complete history of Italian plant breeding still remains to be written, the Italian case can now be considered along with the other case-studies that other scholars have developed in the history of plant breeding. The hope is that this historical and philosophical analysis will contribute to the on-going effort to understand the history of plants.