Home / Marga Vicedo



Research Interests

I am interested in the history and philosophy of genetics, evolution, and animal research in the twentieth century. I am also interested in how ideas from biology are used in other fields such as psychology and the social sciences. In the philosophy of science, I have worked on scientific realism, the question of whether our best scientific theories offer us a reliable account of the world. I am also interested in the social and ethical implications of new genetic technologies. In the history of science, I have worked on several areas: the early history of genetics in the United States; the history of animal behaviour; and the history of views about human instincts, especially the maternal instinct.

In 2013, I published The Nature and Nurture of Mother Love: From Imprinting to Attachment in Cold War America. This book situates scientific views about maternal care and love in their historical context and provides a critical analysis of the ethological theory of attachment behavior.

Currently, I am working on two book-length projects. One is tentatively entitled “The Science of Maternal Instincts in American Society from Darwin to Evolutionary Psychology.” The other, “Historicizing the Science of the Affects: Autism, Emotions, and Gender,” is a historical examination of different views about autism in American society from 1943 to the present.


The Nature and Nurture of Love: From Imprinting in Ducks to Attachment in Infants 2013, University of Chicago Press.

The notion that maternal care and love will determine a child’s emotional well-being and future personality has become ubiquitous. In countless stories and movies we find that the problems of the protagonists—anything from the fear of romantic commitment to serial killing—stem from their troubled relationships with their mothers during childhood. How did we come to hold these views about the determinant power of mother love over an individual’s emotional development? And what does this vision of mother love entail for children and mothers?

In The Nature and Nurture of Love, Marga Vicedo examines scientific views about children’s emotional needs and mother love from World War II until the 1970s, paying particular attention to John Bowlby’s ethological theory of attachment behavior. Vicedo tracks the development of Bowlby’s work as well as the interdisciplinary research that he used to support his theory, including Konrad Lorenz’s studies of imprinting in geese, Harry Harlow’s experiments with monkeys, and Mary Ainsworth’s observations of children and mothers in Uganda and the United States. Vicedo’s historical analysis reveals that important psychoanalysts and animal researchers opposed the project of turning emotions into biological instincts. Despite those criticisms, she argues that attachment theory was paramount in turning mother love into a biological need. This shift introduced a new justification for the prescriptive role of biology in human affairs and had profound—and negative—consequences for mothers and for the valuation of mother love. [Click for discount flyer.]

Selected Publications

2012. “Playing the Game: Textbooks Speak about Love.” ISIS 103: 111-125.

2012. “The Secret Lives of Textbooks.” ISIS 103: 83-87.

2011. “The Social Nature of The Mother’s Tie To The Child: John Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment In Post-War America.” British Journal for the History of Science 44 (3): 401-426.

2010. “The Evolution of Harry Harlow: From the Nature to the Nurture of Love?History of Psychiatry 21 (2): 1-16.

2009. “Mothers, Machines, and Morals: Harry Harlow’s Work on Primate Love from Lab to Legend.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 45(3):193-218.

2009. “The Father of Ethology and the Foster Mother of Ducks: Konrad Lorenz as Expert on Motherhood.” ISIS 100:263-291.

2009. Charles Darwin’s real torment: Review of Darwin’s Sacred Cause. Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins by A. Desmond and J. Moore.” Endeavor 33(3):84-85.

2008. “The Genesis of Genetics: Review of In Pursuit of DNA. From Darwin to DNA by James Schwartz.” Nature Genetics 40(12):1267.

1999. “Experimentation, Realism, and the Historical Character of Science.” In Richard Creath & Jane Maienschein, eds.,  Biology and Epistemology. Cambridge University Press, pp. 215-243.

1999. “The Laws of Heredity and the Rules of Morality: Early Geneticists on Evolution and  Ethics.”  In Jane Maienschein & Michael Ruse, eds., Biology and the Foundations of Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp.  225-256.

1995. “Scientific Styles: Towards Some Common Ground in the History, Philosophy and Sociology of Science,” Perspectives On Science 3: 231-254.

1994. “Simplicity in Theory Construction and Evaluation: The Case of The Chromosome Theory of Mendelian Inheritance.”  In D. Prawitz and D. Westerstahl, eds., Logic and Philosophy of Science in Uppsala, 1994, pp. 525-539.

1992. “Is the History of Science Relevant to the Philosophy of Science?,” PSA1992, 2:490-496.

1991. “Realism and Simplicity in the Castle-East Debate on the Stability of the Hereditary Units: Rhetorical Devices Versus Substantive Methodology.”  Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 22:201-221.

Ph.D. Theses Supervised – University of Toronto

Riiko Bedford, in progress: “The Cultural Life of Heredity: Ideas of Heredity in American Science, Fiction, and Reform 1880-1940.” Co-supervisor.

Rebecca Moore, in progress: “The Business of Biology: Genetically Modified Organisms and the Canadian Patent System, 1976 – 2004.”

David Smillie, IHPST, in progress: “Representations of Darwin in the Media.”

Ph.D. Thesis Committees – University of Toronto

Delia Gavrus, “Men of Strong Opinions: Identity, Self-Representation, and the Performance of Neurosurgery, 1919–1950.” Committee Member.

Sebastián Gil-Riaño, “The Rise of Scientifc Antiracism: A Historical Epistemology of UNESCO’s Campaigns Against Racism, 1945-1978.” Committee Member.

Robinn Nunn, “From laughter to the limits of biomedical knowledge.” Committee Member.

Keynyn Brysse, “The Burgess Shale: a Cambrian mirror for modern evolutionary biology.” Committee Member.


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