I’ve been reading Cabinet for years and so I’m doubly pleased for having my timeline of twin history in its latest, Fall issue. The first page of my piece on twins is shown to the right, you can get the full version here.
On the whole this article expresses my wider interest in twins and their history. So far I think that history about twins has been rather isolated, dispersed, cut up, reared apart – untwined. But it’s important, I think, to show how twins have a history that can draw them together, one that stretches far beyond the formulation of the scientific disciplines, such as embryology, psychiatry and behavioural genetics, with which they are now so readily associated. The reward of a cultural history approach is to show how twins were understood in times where biological knowledge had yet to be tested, revised and disseminated in the way it is today. So one of my aims is to explore the prehistory of genetic and reproductive processes as they revolve around the twin. In other words, how did people respond to the genetic and reproductive oddity of twinning, prior to the explicit codification of and discursive manufacture of genetics and embryology?
Experiences and reflections upon the actuality of twin conception and birth, physical and behavioural similitude, the perception of difference and the special significance attached to how twins behave in the womb, all had effects for twins and for those close to or concerned with them – are these effects a historical constant? What kinds of knowledge did twins produce about themselves and the world beyond their immediate experiences? What did people identify in twins – if they identified anything at all – that we now understand as the effects of specific biological processes? This is my aim: to trace responses to twins – positive, negative or composed of conflicting opinion – in times where the science of biology had yet to fully emerge. One outcome, I hope, is to reconcile the scientific and the imaginary as well as complicate the notion of an exclusively ‘scientific’ perspective on twins, that can be thought separable from earlier discourses. The article in Cabinet was a really useful place to think about twins in this broader sense; I hope there will be more opportunities to keep the history of twins open but together.