Project Description: 

In 1924, Hugo Iltis (1882-1952) published (in German) what is still the definitive biography of Gregor Mendel, titled "The Life of Mendel." Iltis, like Mendel, was born and lived in Brno in the Czech Republic and used Mendel's papers and letters to write his biography. The book was translated into English in 1932. Iltis then used Mendelian genetics to criticize Nazi race theories, writing 3 highly critical essays in the 1930s. The Nazi's obtained the essays and threatened to string him up in the public square when they reached Brno. With the help of Albert Einstein and anthropologist Franz Boas, Iltis was offered a position at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, VA. He caught the last plane out of Prague, Czechoslovakia, in December 1938 and six weeks later his family followed on a dark train through Germany. They all met up in Cherbourg, France, and sailed to America. After getting established at Mary Washington College in 1939, Iltis began writing a second edition of his book based on new research and understandings of genetics that were emerging in the twentieth century. He completed a manuscript of 955 double-spaced pages before his death in 1952. The manuscript, which was donated to the archives of the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2017 by Hugo Iltis's son, has been retyped and is now in preparation for submission to the University of California Press which has expressed great interest in its publication.

The book contains three parts (1) a historical sketch of the development of genetic research and ideas before Mendel; (2) a detailed biography of Mendel, describing his life, work, and ideas, and (3) a presentation of the development of modern genetics under the influence of Mendel’s conception. It will contain a preface explaining who Hugo Iltis was, how he came to write the “Life of Mendel,” an introduction by a historian of biology familiar with Mendel and the emergence of genetics, and appendixes containing Hugo’s notes made from his interviews with Mendel’s friends, a copy of Mendel’s original 1866 paper, glossaries of people and terms, a bibliography, and an index.

Undergraduate's Role: 

An undergraduate researcher will assist in preparing the manuscript for publication, in particular in preparing a glossary identifying some 200 biologists and geneticists discussed in the book (each entry approximately 3 sentences long) and a glossary of approximately 50 scientific and genetic terms used in the book, and will assist in proofreading the manuscript against the original pages typed by Hugo Iltis and preserved in the archives of the special collections of the University of Wisconsin of which I have obtained copies. The undergraduate's contributions will be noted with great thanks in the Acknowledgments of the book.

Undergraduate's Qualifications: 

An undergraduate student should be interested in (but does not need to be an expert in) the history of Gregor Mendel, his life, and the history and current state of the field of genetics. S/he should have editorial experience and be interested in preparing manuscripts for publication.

On Campus
3-6 hours
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