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Eugenics (Mathew Thomson)

This seminar examines the rise, fall and possible rise again of eugenics since the nineteenth century. It will begin with discussion of the emergence of eugenics in Britain, moving to its international spread and the impact and significance of its association with the Nazi regime, finishing with reflection on what happened to eugenics and whether it has a place in modern medicine. There is a now a very substantial literature on the subject (you will find much more than listed here if you search under eugenics in the Library catalogue). There are also exciting opportunities to access digital collections of material from the time, and students will be expected to look at some of this material in preparation for the seminar.

The seminar will focus on the following questions:

1. How do we explain the emergence of a eugenics movement in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century? Find two examples of sources from the time (from the online digital archives) to contribute to the discussion)

2. To what extent was Nazi Germany an exceptional case in the history of eugenics?

3. What happened to eugenics after the Second World War, does it have a place in modern medicine, and what role should history have to play in discussion about the return of eugenics? Again, if you can find a source from the digital archives to cast light on this discussion do bring it along.

Core Reading

Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (2012): Read the Introduction and Epilogue and then select some of the chapters according to interest. e-book

Fraser Nelson, ‘The Return of Eugenics’, Spectator, 2 April 2016: e-journal

Codebreakers: Makers of Modern Genetics (Wellcome Digital Archive):

Digital Archive of the Eugenics Review, 1909-68 (journal of the British Eugenics Society):

Further Reading

1. Eugenics in Britain

C.P. Blacker, Eugenics: Galton and After (1979).

Michael Freeden, ‘Eugenics and Progressive Thought: A Study in Ideological Affinity’, Historical Journal, 22 (1979), pp.645-71. e-journal

Bradley Hart, ‘Watching the Eugenic Experiment Unfold: The Mixed Views of British Eugenicists Toward Nazi Germany in the Early 1930s’, Journal of the History of Biology, 35 (2013), pp.33-63. e-journal

E.J. Larson, ‘The Rhetoric of Eugenics: Expert Authority and the Mental Deficiency Bill’, British Journal for the History of Science, 24 (1991), pp.45-60. e-journal

Donald Mackenzie, ‘Eugenics in Britain’, Social Studies of Science, 6 (1976), pp.499-532. e-journal

Donald Mackenzie, Statistics in Britain, 1865-1930: The Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge (1980).

Angus Maclaren, Reproduction by Design: Sex, Robots, Trees and Test-Tube Babies in Interwar Britain (2012). e-book

John Macnicol, ‘Eugenics and the Campaign for Voluntary Sterilization in Britain between the Wars’, Social History of Medicine, 2 (1989), pp.147-70. e-journal

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

Dorothy Porter, ‘Enemies of the Race: Biologism, Environmentalism, and Public Health in Edwardian Britain’, Victorian Studies, 34 (1991), pp.159-79. e-journal

Chris Renwick, British Sociology’s Lost Biological Roots (2012). e-book

Angelique Richardson, Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century: Rational Reproduction and the New Woman (2003).

Geoffrey Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900-1914 (1976).

Geoffrey Searle, ‘Eugenics and Class’, in Charles Webster (ed.), Biology, Medicine and Society, 1840-1940 (1991), pp.217-42. e-book

Richard Soloway, Demography and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birthrate in Twentieth Century Britain (1990).

Dan Stone, Breeding Superman: Nietzsche, Race and Eugenics in Edwardian and Interwar Britain (2002).

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

2. Nazi Germany and Beyond

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

Gotz Aly, Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene (1994).

Elazar Barkan, The Retreat of Scientific Racism: Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars (1992). e-book

Michael Burleigh, Death and Deliverance: ‘Euthanasia’ in Germany 1900-1945 (1994). multiple copies in library

Ian Dowbiggin, Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United Sates and Canada, 1880-1940 (1997).

Randall Hansen and Desmond King, Sterilized by the State: Eugenics, Race and the Population Scare in 20th century America (2013). e-book

Daniel Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (1985).

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

Stefan Kuhl, For the Betterment of the Race: The Rise and Fall of the International Movement for Eugenics and Racial Hygiene (2013). e-book

Benno Muller-Hill, Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies and Others. Germany 1933-45 (1998). multiple copies in library

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

Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c. 1848-1918 (1989). e-book

Robert Proctor, Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis (1988). multiple copies in library

Nils Roll-Hansen, ‘Geneticists and the Eugenics Movement in Scandinavia’, British Journal of the History of Science, 22 (1989), pp.335-46. e-journal

Charles, Rosenberg, ‘The Bitter Fruit: Heredity, Disease and Social Thought in Nineteenth Century America’, in idem, No Other Gods (1976).

Maria Sophia Quine, Population Politics in Twentieth-Century Europe: Fascist Dictatorships and Liberal Democracies (1996). e-book

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

Nancy Stepan, The Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender and Nation in Latin America (1991).

Paul Weindling, ‘Compulsory Sterilization in National Socialist Germany’, German History, 5 (1987), pp. 10-24. e-journal

Paul Weindling, Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism, 1870-1945 (1989). e-book

Paul Weindling, ‘”The Sonderweg” of German Eugenics: Nationalism and Scientific Internationalism’, British Journal of the History of Science, 22 (1989), pp.321-34. e-journal

3. Eugenics since the Second World War

Nicholas Agar, Liberal Eugenics: in Defence of Human Enhancement (2005). e-book

Troy Duster, Backdoor to Eugenics (2003).

Clare Hanson, Eugenics, Literature and Culture in post-War Britain (2013). e-book

Anne Kerr and Tom Shakespeare, Genetic Politics from Eugenics to Genome (2002).