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. 2014 Sep;47 Pt A:74-86.
doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2014.05.008. Epub 2014 Jul 23.

Blood Groups and Human Groups: Collecting and Calibrating Genetic Data After World War Two

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Free PMC article

Blood Groups and Human Groups: Collecting and Calibrating Genetic Data After World War Two

Jenny Bangham. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Arthur Mourant's The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups (1954) was an "indispensable" reference book on the "anthropology of blood groups" containing a vast collection of human genetic data. It was based on the results of blood-grouping tests carried out on half-a-million people and drew together studies on diverse populations around the world: from rural communities, to religious exiles, to volunteer transfusion donors. This paper pieces together sequential stages in the production of a small fraction of the blood-group data in Mourant's book, to examine how he and his colleagues made genetic data from people. Using sources from several collecting projects, I follow how blood was encountered, how it was inscribed, and how it was turned into a laboratory resource. I trace Mourant's analytical and representational strategies to make blood groups both credibly 'genetic' and understood as relevant to human ancestry, race and history. In this story, 'populations' were not simply given, but were produced through public health, colonial and post-colonial institutions, and by the labour and expertise of subjects, assistants and mediators. Genetic data were not self-evidently 'biological', but were shaped by existing historical and geographical identities, by political relationships, and by notions of kinship and belonging.

Keywords: Blood groups; Collection; Genetics; National Blood Transfusion Service; Populations; World Health Organization.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
One of nine fold-out maps in The Distributions of the Human Blood Groups (1954). It shows the percentage of individuals carrying blood-group allele C in different geographical regions of the world, and uses isolines and shading to indicate threshold frequencies across space. This obscures evidence of the patchiness of sampling, the circumscription of geographical boundaries, and the political borders that structured collections. Permission to reproduce the image could not be obtained because the copyright holder, Blackwell Scientific Publications Oxford, no longer exists. The image is reproduced under provisions of ‘fair dealing’ for purposes of research, criticism, and review.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Maps from ‘An Analysis of the ABO Blood-Group Records of the North of England’ by John Fraser Roberts (1953). They show the frequencies of blood-group allele O (indicated by the small numbers) in parts of Great Britain around the city of Newcastle. The upper figure shows the whole width of the country, and the lower figure indicates the region around Newcastle itself. Note the dark line apparently indicating a sharp change in the A:O ratio. Pointing to the inscription work used to make this data meaningful, Fraser Roberts explained that a “number of experiments were tried and it soon became clear that it is possible to draw a single line from east to west” (p. 370). Reprinted with permission of Nature Publishing Group, www.nature.com.
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Section of table 14 from Distribution of the Human Blood Groups (1954) showing the frequencies of the ABO groups. The table displays (from right to left) population (national, religious, racial, geographical) categories, citations to the papers where the data is from, the number of people tested, observed and expected proportions of the different ABO blood groups (phenotypes), and proportions of the ABO alleles (r, p, q). See Fig. 1 for permissions information.
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
Section of table 20 from Distribution of the Human Blood Groups (1954) showing the frequencies of the Rhesus blood groups. The table displays (from right to left) population (national, religious, racial, geographical) categories, citations to the papers where the data is from, the number of people tested, the percentage of people tested as Rhesus-positive and Rhesus-negative, and proportions of the D and d alleles. See Fig. 1 for permissions information.
Fig. 5
Fig. 5
A section of the contents pages of The Distribution of the Human Blood Groups (1954) giving a sense of the nested chapter organization of Mourant's book in relation to geographical, national, religious and racial categories. See Fig. 1 for permissions information.

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