Frédéric Vagneron

Lecturer in history of medicine and health
Université de Strasbourg, France


Frédéric Vagneron is a historian of medicine and health and lecturer at the University of Strasbourg, France. His research focuses on the history of medicine and health since the 19th century, combining local, national and international scales. Vagneron's doctoral research has dealt with the history of influenza in France. His current historical investigations focus on the history of the relationship between human and animal health, from a perspective of the history of knowledge and public action. This research focuses on three areas: the creation of the first international microbial collection center in Switzerland after 1945, which led to the release of the myxomatosis virus in Europe in 1952; the construction of animal health as a field of international public action between the WHO, FAO and OIE, from 1945 to the present day; and, as part of the DryAp project (Research Council of Norway), the international framing and response to the problem of the drying up of innovation in the field of antibiotics.



"Culture, Codes, Communities: Connecting the International History of Microbiology and Microbial Culture Collections (1890-2010)"
with Claas Kirchhelle (University College Dublin) 

Since ca. 1900, microbial culture collections have served as obligatory passage and anchoring points for the global production, circulation, and preservation of microbiological knowledge, bioindustrial innovation and property, and microbial heritage. University researchers, public health workers, and biomedical entrepreneurs rely on the genetic and cellular stability of deposited reference strains and type cultures to assess new health threats, calibrate diagnostics and therapies, and make claims for innovation. Maintaining and growing these collections is subject to considerable biological and social challenges. Collecting, preserving, and studying the hundreds of thousands of frozen, lyophilised, or cultured microbial organisms requires elaborate sampling networks and sophisticated technical infrastructures. Resulting collections’ shape is influenced not just by scientific considerations but by the geopolitical and economic interests of the organisations and states maintaining them. It is therefore unsurprising that the geographic distribution of collections and the circulation of strains mirrors international power and financial imbalances, nor that their contents and access to collections are often highly selective. Culture, Codes, Communities reconstructs the rise, evolution, and power dynamics of this global network of culture collections. It does so by focusing on institutional case studies including the British National Collection of Type Cultures (NCTC), the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), the International Center for Information on and the Distribution of Type-Cultures in Lausanne, and the World Federation of Culture Collections (WFCC). The paper shows that geopolitics were embedded in the biological composition and political mission of culture collections from the very beginning. It also shows how new intellectual property regimes and microbiological technologies like phage-typing or genomic sequencing repeatedly shifted collections’ mission and the networks tying them together: whereas early collections primarily served as national repositories of ‘useful’ microbes and reference strains, the post-war period saw competing visions of  internationalisation lead to the rise and fall of the internationalist Lausanne collection and the formalisation of international exchange and referencing with the foundation of the WFCC in 1970. Technologically, the decades after 1970 saw an increasing focus on ‘mining’ collections’ genetic codes for biotechnological applications and as necessary archives for intellectual property, while the decades after the passage of the 1992 UN declaration on biological diversity saw an increasing focus on collections’ role in preserving the planet’s past and current microbial heritage. The paper ends by challenging the common view of culture collections as neutral representations of the world and proposes a new form of biohistorical Quellenkritik when using their contents.