Scientific Innovation in Livestock Breeding in the Netherlands, 1900-2000


The history of livestock breeding in agriculture is a topical research theme that attracts increasing attention from historians of science. Animal breeding studies throw a fascinating light on scientific innovation, particularly on how processes of production, translation and appropriation of new knowledge work in a practical context.

We propose to study livestock breeding in the Netherlands, one of the world's leading countries in the field, having produced such internationally renowned breeds as Barneveld chicken, Texel sheep and Friesian cattle. The aim is to explain the growing role of science in livestock breeding in the course of the twentieth century, and the focus will be on the interactions between scientific and practical workers. These interactions will be studied from the perspective of what the applicant has called 'cultures of breeding'. A culture of breeding is an ensemble of convictions, beliefs, traditions, practices etc. with respect to livestock breeding that involves scientific, technical, economic, normative, esthetic and commercial considerations. The economically important branches of pig, sheep and chicken breeding will serve as case studies.

A central hypothesis to be tested is that the main contribution of science to these fields consisted in a thorough rationalization rather than in the application of insights derived from the new science of Mendelian genetics developed after 1900. Furthermore, the 'cultures of breeding' approach is expected to correct the commonly held view that the modernization of animal breeding in the Netherlands was a natural and almost inevitable consequence of economic and/or scientific developments. At the same time we question a recent interpretation that suggests that 'the modernization project' was a scenario for the future enforced on the farmers by a coalition of scientists and policy makers. Our approach stresses the multifarious influences that shape cultures of breeding and the active role of both scientists and farmers.

Today the expansion of genomics and biotechnological research is expected to result in profound changes in livestock production. A long-term perspective on the dynamics of cultures of breeding helps to understand how innovation processes in animal breeding work, and this is indispensible for making sensible policy decisions on how to proceed with livestock production in the coming decades.


Hoofdstuk in boek

  • M. Ruse, L.T.G. Theunissen(2013): The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Darwin and Evolutionary Thought pp. 88 - 94 , Cambridge
  • M. Meletti, J.A. Lenstra, M. Felius, L.T.G. Theunissen(2014): Ecology, Evolution and Behavior of Wild Cattle. Implications for Conservation pp. 30 - 38 , Cambridge

Wetenschappelijk artikel

  • M. Felius, P.A. Koolmees, B. Theunissen, NN European Cattle Genetic Consortium, J.A. Lenstra(2011): On the Breeds of Cattle DIversity pp. 660 - 692 ISSN: 1424-2818.
  • L.T.G. Theunissen(2012): Breeding for Nobility or for Production? Isis pp. 278 - 309 ISSN: 0021-1753.
  • L.T.G. Theunissen(2012): Darwin and His Pigeons Journal of the History of Biology pp. 179 - 212
  • L.T.G. Theunissen(2012): De Fries-Hollandse zwartbonte in de twintigste eeuw Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis pp. 536 - 551
  • W. Dekkers, B. Theunissen(2014): Darwins vergeten onderzoek naar erfelijke variaties bij hoenderrassen Argos pp. 21 - 29
  • M. Felius, M.L. Beerling, D.S. Buchanan, B. Theunissen, P.A. Koolmees, J.A. Lenstra(2014): On the History of Cattle Genetic Resources Diversity pp. 705 - 750 ISSN: 1424-2818.
  • L.T.G. Theunissen(2014): Practical Animal Breeding as the Key to an Integrated View of Genetics, Eugenics and Evolutionary Theory Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences pp. 55 - 64 ISSN: ISSN: 1369-8486.
  • B. Theunissen, J.J. Oldenburger(2015): Alexander Numan (1780-1852) en de veredeling van de Nederlandse schapenrassen Studium. Tijdschrift voor Wetenschaps- en Universiteitsgeschiedenis pp. 65 - 83 ISSN: 1876-9055.
  • L.T.G. Theunissen(2018): The Transformation of the Dutch Farm Horse into a Riding Horse Agricultural History pp. 24 - 53 ISSN: 0002-1482.

Professionele publicatie

  • B. Theunissen(2014): Fokkerij en voortplantingstechnieken pp. 62 - 63

Publicatie bedoeld voor een breed publiek

  • J.J. Oldenburger(2013): Een lama uit Middelburg
  • J.J. Oldenburger(2013): Schapen, academici en liefhebbers
  • J.J. Oldenburger(2014): Bronstige bokken





Prof. dr. L.T.G. Theunissen

Verbonden aan

Universiteit Utrecht, Faculteit B├Ętawetenschappen, Departement Natuur- en Sterrenkunde


Dr. S.F. van der Laan, Drs. J.J. Oldenburger, Prof. dr. L.T.G. Theunissen


01/09/2012 tot 01/03/2017