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OXFORD, 1946-1980


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Darlington's own accounts of his time at Oxford (MS. Darlington c. 15/C.11), though often characteristically sweeping and denunciatory, make clear his aims for research at Oxford and the difficulties he encountered. When he was appointed, the Botany Department was housed in a new building, inaugurated in 1951 though based on plans proposed in 1938, but its research under his predecessors Osborn and Tansley had been mainly ecological. Darlington defines his 'purpose at Oxford' as 'to make genetics in my own broad sense into the central framework of biology and biology itself integrated in this way into the central framework of education'. He goes on to enumerate the methods he intended to adopt towards achieving this as 'First, to teach undergraduates; secondly to appoint new staff in the department; thirdly to coordinate with other departments; fourthly, to establish through international conferences, which could be held with the greatest convenience in Oxford, the basic importance of chr.[omosome] studies in biology which might otherwise be disregarded. Fifthly to publish books explaining my general educational goal and the means of getting there'.

Of these aims, the simplest were the teaching of undergraduates, illustrated in the carefully prepared and updated lectures and the organization of the chromosome conferences (see Section H). His other ambitions however drew Darlington increasingly, and not always reluctantly, into controversy with university faculty boards and administration (over new departmental appointments), with the colleges (over admissions policy and the tutorial system) and more generally with the existing departmental system which militated against the reformed curriculum and coordinated cross-disciplinary studies which he sought. Like many heads of science departments, he was involved in proposals for the reform of the 'Oxford system', gave evidence to the Franks Commission of Inquiry and wrote publicly on the subject (MSS. Darlington c. 18-19/C.83-109). He appears to have been satisfied with the increase in the number of college Fellows appointed after the Franks Commission, while remarking that 'one of the results of course was an enormous waste of time in attending college meetings'.

Darlington's attempts to extend the scope of genetics into, for example, the new School of Human Sciences reflected a change of direction or more correctly a concentration of his own research away from plant genetics towards human and social genetics. This is shown in the major publications of his later years such as the revised Genetics and Man (1964), Evolution of Man and Society (1969), Little Universe of Man (1978) as well as many articles and lectures, e.g., on cousin marriage, and reviews (see sections D and E). His attention to these topics, though by no means new in his work and specified as his fifth step in advancing the cause of genetics, contributed to a withdrawal from university and departmental affairs, and a certain measure of isolation.

Darlington was a diligent Keeper of the Botanic Garden. In addition, he established a Genetic Garden and played a leading part in the acquisition of Nuneham Courtenay Arboretum (see MS. Darlington c. 17/C.67-82).


  • 1946-1980

Language of Materials

  • English

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom