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Unit information: Eugenics: The First Fifty Years (1883-1932) (Level H Reflective History) in 2018/19

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Unit name Eugenics: The First Fifty Years (1883-1932) (Level H Reflective History)
Unit code HIST30084
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. John Lyons
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Description: News items about the augmentation/alteration of the human body through technology, medical procedures, and gene therapy abound in a twenty-first century culture in which the idea of ‘Posthumanity’ has now come to the fore. Interventions in human development are not new, of course, and in this unit students will encounter in detail a period in which such views were being put forward with great vigour, the first fifty years of the Eugenics ‘project’ (1883-1932). Significantly for historians, between then and now lies the mass implementation of Eugenic procedures by the Nazis, both before and during WWII. How then should we read, interpret, describe, and evaluate the early proponents of Eugenics as they developed and implemented their ideas during the first third of the twentieth century? From Francis Galton who coined the term and the pivotal pre-WWI years through to the three major International Congresses on Eugenics (1912, 1921, & 1932), this was a period in which their views of humanity and its future were being expressed with a forthrightness which often shocks today and yet which also finds its own echoes in the assumptions expressed within the contemporary discussions of the Posthuman. How might the historian evaluate the former and speak to the latter when the future of humanity and its diversity is on the line?

Aims: Reflective history is identified in the Subject Benchmarking Statement as an important skill. Whilst students will 'reflect' on their work in all of their units the aim of this unit will be to focus on that reflective practice and to enable students to carry it forward in conjunction with the study of the early years of Eugenics (1883-1932) in historical perspective.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to demonstrate:

(1) an advanced knowledge of the early years of the Eugenics ‘project’ and a number of its practical applications;

(2) a heightened understanding of the particular and unique skills that historians acquire and of the way in which they apply those skills to a specific task;

(3) the ability to evaluate critically the views of others, and to develop their own interpretations which they can substantiate appropriately;

(4) a deeper understanding of their own individual acquisition and application of those skills, self-reflection being an important attribute of the historian;

(5) a stronger awareness of how their skills might be applied more generally to other contexts.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar weekly

Assessment Details

2-hour exam (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Barkan, E., The Retreat of Scientific Racism Changing Concepts of Race in Britain and the United States between the World Wars (CUP, 1991).

Bashford, A. & P. Levine (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (OUP, 2010).

Black, E., War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003).

Hansen, R. & D.S. King, Sterilized by the State: Eugenics, Race, and the Population Scare in Twentieth-Century North America (CUP, 2013).

Kevles, D.J., In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Harvard University Press, 2001).

Rosen, C., Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement (OUP, 2004).