An American prelude to Hitler or to the Human Genome Project…perhaps both?
Eugenics was a global movement popular in the United States at the turn of the last century. Proponents believed that knowledge about hereditary genetics could be used to cultivate better human beings. They promoted ideas like “fitter family” contests, government-supported sterilization, and laws prohibiting anyone who was “epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded” from marrying.
Eugenicists were suspicious of groups they feared posed a threat to the purity of the native-born stock. Bad people, right? Not so fast. Although eugenics inspired some of Hitler’s most deplorable actions, many progressives, religious leaders, and academics initially endorsed the movement. In the past though, right? Again, not so easy…how about our current interest in using gene technology to make decisions about who should and shouldn’t be born? Isn’t this a form of engineering the future? Eugenics in the context of history, science, culture, religion, philosophy, and politics–the idea of normative and links to today’s search for genetic perfection.
Lundy Braun, Associate Professor of Africana Studies, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Brown University. Braun’s research focus includes the history of the global circulation of knowledge about race and technology in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as, race, genomics, and health inequality.
Wendy Kline, Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Cincinnati. Kline is the author of Building a Better Race: Gender, Sexuality, and Eugenics from the Turn of the Century to the Baby Boom, a history of the eugenics movement.
Diane B. Paul is a Professor Emeritus of the Political Science Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she directed the interdisciplinary program in Science, Technology, and Values. Much of her research has focused on historical and policy issues in the realm of genetics.