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Lecturer: Mathew Thomson

Normative medicine had important implications for thinking about the nation. This is particularly evident in the growing interest in eugenics in the first half of the twentieth century. Nowhere has this attracted more attention than in the case of Nazi medicine. This lecture and seminar consider what we can learn from this episode. It also sets it within the context of broader international appeal of eugenics in the period.

Discussion/Essay Questions:

  • Account for the appeal of eugenics in first half of the twentieth century.
  • Was the role of eugenics in Nazi Germany exceptional?
  • What lessons can be drawn from the history of eugenics?

Required Reading:

Frank Dikotter, Race Culture: Recent Perspectives on the History of Eugenics', American Historical Review, 103 (1998), 467-78. [e-journal]

Donald MacKenzie, 'Eugenics in Britain', Social Studies of Science, 6 (1976), 499-532 [e-journal]

Daniel Wikler, 'Can we Learn from Eugenics?', Journal of Medical Ethics, 25 (1999), 183-94 [e-journal]

Further Reading:

Mark Adams (ed.), The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil and Russia (Oxford, 1990)

Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine (eds.), Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Michael Burleigh, Death and Deliverance: ‘Euthanasia’ in Germany, 1900-1945 (Cambridge, 1994)

Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wipperman, The Racial State: Germany 1933-1945 (Cambridge, 1991).

Ian Dowbiggin, Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 188o-1940 (1997)

Randell Hansen and Desmond King, ‘Eugenic Ideas, Political Interests, and Policy Variance: Immigration and Sterilization Policy in Britain and the U.S.’, World Politics, 53, (2001), pp. 237-263. e-journal

Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics (New York, 1985)

Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism and German National Socialism (New York, 1994)

Stefan Kuhl, For the Betterment of the Race (2013)

Edward J. Larson, Sex, Race and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South (1995)

John Macnicol, ‘Eugenics and the Campaign for Voluntary Sterilization in Britain between the Wars’, Social History of Medicine, 2 (1989), 147-69 e-journal

Pauline Mazumdar, Eugenics, Human Genetics and Human Failings: The Eugenics Society, its Sources, and its Critics in Britain (London, 1992)

Diane Paul, ‘Eugenics and the Left’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 45 (1984), 567-90 e-journal

William Schneider, Quality and Quantity: The Quest for Biological Regeneration in Twentieth-Century France (Cambridge, 1990)

Richard Soloway, Demography and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birthrate in Twentieth Century Britain (1995.

Nancy Leys Stepan, 'The Hour of Eugenics': Race, Gender and Nation in Latin America (1996)

Mathew Thomson, The Problem of Mental Deficiency: Eugenics, Democracy and Social Policy in Britain, 1870-1959 (Oxford, 1998)

Paul Weindling, Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945 (Cambridge, 1993)

Digital Resources: [note that to access resources less than 100 years old, you will need a Wellcome Library Card, available to all via the Wellcome Library, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2NB (for full privileges) or register online here (for access to digitized materials less than 100 years old): ] Note that this resource also hosts 650 digitized books addressing issues in the history of modern genetics, including eugenics. So if you can’t find it in our Library, try here!