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Week 4

National Fitness and Decline

I. How powerful were feelings about national decline in Britain in the first decades of the century?
II. What does British imperialism and the treatment of ethnic minorities within Britain reveal about attitudes towards race in the early twentieth century?
III. Why did a concern about the eugenic fitness of the race emerge in the first decades of the century?
IV. What does the Eugenics Review tell us about feelings of decline, attitudes towards race and nation, and the nature of eugenics in early twentieth-century Britain?

• You can access the Eugenics Review electronically at:

• For much of the twentieth century, the imperial experience was one of decline. For thoughts about the impact of this process on national identity: Paul Rich, 'Imperial Decline and the Resurgence of English National Identity, 1918-1979', in T. Kushner & K. Lunn (eds.), Traditions of Intolerance (1989), 33-52; R. Soloway, 'Counting the Degenerates: The Statistics of Race Deterioration in Edwardian England', Journal of Contemprary History, 17 (1982), 137-64; David Cannadine, 'Apocalypse When? British Politicians and British 'Decline' in the Twentieth Century', in Peter Clarke & Clive Trebilcock (eds.), Understanding Decline: Perceptions and Realities of British Economic Performance (1997), 261-84. In fact, the relative lack of domestic resistance to imperial withdrawal may cast some doubt on the Empire-mindedness of the British people: John Darwin, 'Fear of Falling: British Politics and Imperial Decline since 1900', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th ser. 36 (1986), 39-43.
• For thoughts on the relationship between the imperial experience and ideas of race in Britain: P. Rich, Race and Empire in British Politics (1990); P. Mandler, ‘“Race” and “Nation” in Mid-Victorian Thought’, in S. Collini, R. Whatmore & B. Young (eds.), History, Religion and Culture: Essays in British Intellectual History 1750-1950 (2000); P. Rich, ‘The Quest for Englishness’, in G. Marsden (ed.), Victorian Values: Personalities and Perspectives in Nineteenth-Century Society (1990).
• On scientific racism: N. Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800-1960 (1982); G. Jones, Social Darwinism and English Thought (1980); D. Lorimer, ‘Race, Science and Culture: Historical Continuities and Discontinuities, 1850-1914’, in S. West (ed.), The Victorians and Race (1996), pp. 12-33; W. Ernst & B. Harris (eds), Race, Science and Medicine, 1700-1960 (1999), chapters 7, 9, 11, 12.
• On the treatment of ethnic minorities: Colin Holmes, John Bull’s Island: Immigrants and British Society, 1871-1971; David Feldman, 'The Importance of Being English: Jewish Immigration and the Decay of Liberal England', in D. Feldman & G. Stedman Jones (eds.), Metropolis (1989); D. Feldman, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture, 1840-1914; L. Tabili, ‘The Construction of Racial Difference in Twentieth Century Britain: The Social Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, 1925’, Journal of British Studies, 33 (1994), 54-98; Panikos Panayi, Immigrants, Ethnicity and Race in Britain 1815-1945 (1994); P. Panayi, Racial Violence in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1993); P. Vasili, The First Black Footballer: Arthur Wharton 1865-1920 (1998).
• On Edwardian anxieties about the health of the race and the rise of eugenics; G. Searle, The Quest for National Efficiency (1971); G.R. Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900-1914 (1976); R. Solloway, Demography and Degeneration (1990); M. Thomson, The Problem of Mental Deficiency: Eugenics, Social Policy and Democracy in Britain, 1970-1959 (1998).