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The University of Southampton
Humanities Graduate School

Ahren Lester

Prior to starting my Wolfson Foundation-funded PhD at Southampton on the co-discoverer of natural selection with Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, and his anti-vaccinationism, I undertook an AHRC-funded MRes in History (Distinction)—also at Southampton—looking at Wallace’s scientific and socio-political stance and how it fed into his proto-feminism.

Ahren Lester

Before that I completed a BA in History (First-class honours) at Southampton during which time I won the Lyttel Scholarship and Elsie M. Sandell Prize. It was during this time I was first introduced to Wallace through a course run by Dr Jonathan Conlin.

I have written and published widely on Wallace regarding his socialism, early botany and his various homes as well as being a regular book reviewer for the British Journal for the History of Science. I am a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London as well as a member of the Society for the History of Natural History and British Society for the History of Science.

Alfred Russel Wallace was one of the most famous and respected scientists in Victorian Britain. Independently of Charles Darwin he co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection as well undertaking work which has earned him the sobriquet of the ‘father of biogeography.’ So why did this revolutionary scientific genius oppose what is seen as one of our greatest contemporary medical achievements: smallpox vaccination?

My project seeks to try and understand this question looking as the social, political and scientific reasons behind his opposition. It will pull in various strands including the changes in liberal politics, growth of socialism and working-class politics, rise of the Victorian welfare state, spiritualism, statistics and the growing professionalisation of science and medicine. It will argue that Wallace’s response represented an early appreciation that these new social and scientific shifts required new thinking with regards to what constituted evidence and the ethical and political consideration of science and medicine. In short, that it required a whole new gamut of intellectual tools to be handled responsibly by a society facing rapid and dramatic changes.

Key Facts

Ahren is supervised by Dr Jonathan Conlin and Prof David Brown .

Email Ahren here .

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