Exactly 100 years ago, G K Chesterton wrote a book called ‘Eugenics and Other Evils’, and became a rare public voice speaking in opposition to the then hugely popular idea that the science of selective breeding was going to save the world. Most people today associate eugenics with the Holocaust and other horrors carried out by the Nazis. The history of eugenics, though, is much longer and more complex than we often get to think about. For this series of essays, writer and historian Subhadra Das invited five historians and museum curators to share their research about the history of education, medicine and the welfare state, and help us to think about what the legacies of eugenic thinking mean for our lives today.
Intelligence testing, race and eugenics
Specious ideas and assumptions about intelligence that were born during the great flourishing of eugenics well over 100 years ago still inform the British education system today, as Nazlin Bhimani reveals.
How tuberculosis became a test case for eugenic theory
A 19th-century collaboration that failed to prove how facial features could indicate the diseases people were most likely to suffer from became a significant stepping stone in the new ‘science’ of eugenics.
The secret lives of Britain’s first Black physicians
Dr Annabel Sowemimo explores the web of connections between early Black British doctors, the role of empire in West Africa and the pernicious reach of scientific racism.
Making sunstroke insanity
Medical historian Dr Kristin Hussey takes a closer look at sunstroke and mental illness, and how, in the late 19th century, they connected at the crossroads of colonial science and the idea of whiteness.