Phillip Thurtle

Phillip ThurtleEducation

B.S., The Evergreen State College, 1983
Ph.D., Stanford University, 2002


Phillip Thurtle at University of Washington


Contact via email

Biographical Note

Phillip Thurtle is director of the Comparative History of Ideas program, associate professor in History, and adjunct in Anthropology at the University of Washington. He received his PhD in history and the philosophy of science from Stanford University. He is the author of The Emergence of Genetic Rationality: Space, Time, and Information in American Biology 1870-1920 (University of Washington Press, 2008), the co-author with Robert Mitchell (English, Duke University) and Helen Burgess (English, University of Maryland) of the interactive DVD-ROM BioFutures: Owning Information an Body Parts (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), and the co-editor with Robert Mitchell of the volumes Data Made Flesh: Embodying Information (Routledge, 2003) and Semiotic Flesh: Information and the Human Body (University of Washington Press, 2002). His research focuses on the material culture of information processing, the affective-phenomenological domains of media, the role of information processing technologies in biomedical research, and theories of novelty in the life sciences. His most recent work is on the cellular spaces of transformation in evolutionary and developmental biology research and the cultural spaces of transformation in superhero comics.

Phillip Thurtle's book

Publication Type

Non-Fiction, Scholastic

Latest Publication Title

The Emergence of Genetic Rationality: Space, Time, and Information in American Biology 1870-1920, University of Washington Press, 2008

Additional Publications

Biofutures: Owning Body Parts and Information, a DVD-ROM co-authored with Robert Mitchell and Helen Burgess, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008
Semiotic Flesh: Information and the Human Body, Co-editor with Robert Mitchell, University of Washington Press, 2002
Data Made Flesh: Embodying Information, Co-editor with Robert Mitchell, Routledge, 2003

Publication Excerpt

It is so obvious that it is easy to miss: classical genetics was a science of record keeping. Discerning the heritable traits of an individual required following the inheritance of these traits in the individual’s offspring. For slow-breeding organisms this called for documenting the passage of traits over numerous generations and in large populations. All of this required an enormous amount of “processing power.” Records needed to be kept over time, and an organized form of access and retrieval needed to be instituted. Today, with the extensive use of purebred cultures with short doubling times, it is easy to forget how much data collecting and information processing was needed to create and follow the extended pedigrees of slow-breeding organisms. At the turn of the century, “modern” record-keeping technologies were thought key to understanding heritable nature. Commercial animal breeders turned to managerial hierarchies to process information more efficiently; plant hybridizers began using systematized numerical notation; research centers implemented clearing houses of information that helped individuals gain access to goods, services, and information; and researchers of all kinds supplemented the keeping of notes in notebooks with filing schemes that relied on cross-referencing capabilities. This book looks at how “genetic rationality” arose from the introduction of these new practices for processing information. It will explore the claim that with the introduction of new forms of informational practices (such as vertical files, standardized forms, and middle managers) and the cultural incentives for implementing these practices came novel ways of exploring how living forms were related to each other.

How did Evergreen help you in your career?

Evergreen encouraged me to follow my interests. It then showed me that study and research was one of these interests.