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BA (Lancaster), PhD (Leeds), FRHistS
Chris Renwick is a historian of Britain since the early nineteenth century. His main area of expertise is the relationship between biology, social science, and politics, in particular how the interaction of the three has shaped the way we think about, study, and govern society. His work on these subjects has received international and interdisciplinary recognition. He was given the Forum for the History of the Human Science’s prestigious John C. Burnham Early Career Award in 2012 and his first book was shortlisted for the British Sociological Association’s Philip Abrams Memorial Prize in 2013.
Chris’ first book, British Sociology’s Lost Biological Roots: A History of Futures Past(Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), recovered the forgotten history of British sociologists’ engagement with biology during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As well as uncovering fraught behind-the-scenes debates about the role of biology in social science, the book explored the research programmes and agendas that British sociologists rejected during the founding debates about their discipline. In so doing, the book considered how the field might have been different and what that tells us about the kind of sociology we came to have in the UK.
Chris is currently working on an AHRC funded project entitled "Biology, Social Science, and History: Past, Present, and Future Interactions". One strand of this project is a piece of historical research focused on the period from 1910, when eugenics was entering a two-decade height of popularity, to the 1960s, when the agendas, aims, and practices we identifiy with modern social science were stabilised. Chris is exploring how biologists and social scientists were brought together by a shared interest in topics such as intelligence, fertility, nurtrition, and poverty, as well as funding bodies such as the Rockefeller Foundation, in a set of debates about the nature of society and social structure, which shaped ideas that are now central to politics and social policy in Britain. This research has led to a number of publications, including an article on the economist William Beveridge's failed attempt to establish a science called "social biology" at the London School of Economics during the 1920s and 1930s. Chris is currently working on a book about the origins of social mobility research in the UK.
Another strand of Chris' project involves thinking about the implications of debates about the relationship between biological and social thought for scholars in a number of different fields. In addition to giving numerous talks on this topic, Chris has written extensively on questions about research at the intersection of biology, social science, and history. He is also co-organising a conference, "The Future of the History of the Human Sciences", which will be held at the University of York in Aprl 2016 and feature extensive discussions of these issues. You can read more about this meeting on the conference website.
A number of Chris' talks and lectures are available online: