Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Eugenics Movement, and Its Relevance Today

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Eugenics Movement, and Its Relevance Today

Article excerpt

For many if not most people, the term "eugenics" gives rise to one of two images; Nazi Germany's attempts at "purification" and creating an Aryan master race, or the science fiction predictions of such films as Gattaca. Fewer are aware (and some who are aware would rather forget) that there was a powerful eugenics movement in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. And though it would be comforting to think the movement was the product of a radical fringe, it boasted such champions as Alexander Graham Bell and Oliver Wendell Holmes - who declared in the Buck vs. Bell (forced sterilization) decision of 1927, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Given the ongoing genetics revolution, the Dolan DNA Learning Center (part of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York) has decided it is time we were reminded of that history, and has gathered an impressive - and sobering - look at this lamentable crusade, at the Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement.

An especially appropriate host for this project, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory was a center of research for the Human Genome Project, and also served as the Eugenics Record Office during the early part of the last century. The website, first launched in January 2000, underwent a significant upgrade last November, and offers a series of Flash-interactive exhibits and a searchable image archive with more than 2,500 photographs, letters, articles, and scientific reports related to the eugenics movement. (Those who might prefer a lower-bandwidth, mainly HTML version of the site will find a link to the original production at the bottom of the Splash page.)

After entering the main exhibit, surfers can access a useful, but easily overlooked, Project Overview link at the bottom of the browser window. Opening with a quote that seems to be included as much for the benefit of the site's hosts as for its visitors ("Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"), the Overview provides a quick background to the subject matter and a warning that the material contains much that most people today will - fortunately - find offensive.

Documents in the Archive can be accessed through directories arranged by Topic, Object, and Time Period, as well as an Image collection and Keyword Search. Visitors can easily move between directories via a series of tabs at the bottom of each page, and each Topic collection includes a brief introduction. Materials range from such benign subjects as Agricultural Genetics and an explanation of Gregor Mendel's theories of heredity, to forced Sterilization Laws and the "Fitter Families for Future Firesides" contests - where human 'stock' was judged at state fairs along with the horses and pumpkins. …

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