Jiří Sekerák

Mendel Birth Register (Photo by D.J. Fairbanks)

Dr. Jiří Sekerák PhD is the current Head of the Mendelianum of the Moravian Museum in Brno.  He is the editor of the journal Folia Mendeliana and author or co-author of articles and books on Mendel.  He is lead author, with Dr. Pavlína Pončíková as co-author, of Iconographia Mendeliana 2022, to be published this year, which contains photographic images of places, people, and documents associated with Mendel’s history.  It is an updated and expanded edition of the Iconographia Mendeliana published in 1965 at the centennial of Mendel’s presentations.

We are very much looking forward to the new and expanded edition of Iconographia Mendeliana, which will be an invaluable resource to geneticists and historians. Could you share with us the purpose of this book and how it will enhance scholarship on Mendel?

In 1965, at the centenary of the publication of Mendel’s paper, a large international symposium was held in Brno.  On this occasion, the Mendelianum published one of its first publications under the title Iconographia Mendeliana.  The uniqueness of this pictorial publication lay primarily in the breadth and depth of its coverage, which succeeded in gathering hitherto scattered pictorial and documentary material on Mendelian topics.  Another achievement of the Mendelanium at that time was the establishment of the new periodical Folia Mendeliana, the only international peer-reviewed historical-scientific journal dedicated to the results of research into Mendel’s life and work.  Folia Mendeliana was founded with the support of UNESCO and is still published regularly to the present day.  With the approaching bicentenary of Mendel’s birth, we have therefore decided to combine these two successful projects and to rework and expand the concept of the original Iconographia Mendeliana, which is nowadays practically unavailable to the public, and to supplement it with a selection of information and references to the most important works on the subject published by prominent scholars in the journal Folia Mendeliana.  We intend to present anew in condensed form the most important scientific papers on Mendel published over the past half-century, for example, historical-scientific works by authors such as F. Weiling, R. Olby, J. Heimans, J. Kříženecký, A. Matalová, V. Orel, and many others.

The date of Mendel’s birth is uncertain, with the dates July 20 and July 22, 1822 listed as possible dates in the historical record. Much speculation has ensued regarding the correct date.  Could you share with us your observations and thoughts regarding the date of Mendel’s birth?

Yes, the problem of the uncertain date is particularly piquant in the context of this year’s celebrations of the anniversary of Mendel’s birth.  P. W. van der Pas wrote that a solution to this problem will probably never be found.  On the occasion of the bicentenary celebrations, I have prepared a short review of the literature on this topic and a summary of all the important attempts to explain the correct date of Mendel’s birth and also the date of his baptism.  At the same time, I have added my observation, based on van der Pas’s assumption that we can never be sure of the actual date of Mendel’s birth.  The question today is not when Mendel was actually born, but why did he always state a different date of birth than the official date entered in the parish register?  In addition to the answer that it was given by tradition in the Mendel family that the date in the register was incorrectly recorded, here I suggest another possible reason: Mendel’s special relation to symbols, mathematics, number series and symmetry.  I am writing about this briefly in Iconographia Mendeliana, and I am also preparing a slightly more detailed report for my lecture at the Mendel Genetic Conference in Brno, 20–23 July, 2022, which will be published in Folia Mendeliana 58 (2022).