Controlling Heredity: The American Eugenics Crusade 1870-1940

By Pope, Bonnie | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Controlling Heredity: The American Eugenics Crusade 1870-1940


Pope, Bonnie, Nursing History Review


Controlling Heredity: The American Eugenics Crusade 1870-1940. University of Missouri Libraries, Special Collections and Rare Books, Columbia, MO. Curated by Michael Holland, http://mulibraries.missouri.edu/specialcollections /exhibits/eugenics/index.htm

Controlling Heredity is a collaboration between the University of Missouri (Mizzou), Life Sciences and Society Program and the University Special Col- lections Department that describes the American eugenics movement from the 1870s to the 1940s; it also provides a glimpse into the role of the Mizzou dur- ing the movement using materials from the Mizzou archives. The purpose of the site is to explore the "intersections between ethics and the pseudo-science \sic\ of eugenics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries."1 The site originated in March 2011, as part of the Mizzou Life Sciences and Society Seventh Annual Symposium, Ethics and the Brain, and is operated by the Mizzou Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books department.

Controlling Heredity is divided into three thematic sections: Origins, Eugenics in America, and Eugenics at Mizzou. Each section has a short main overview, with links to key figures and subtopics in a text box to the right of the screen. The subtopics include links to open access material (through Google Books) and items found among the Mizzou Special Collections holdings. Each subtopic page has a brief introduction, a short bibliography, and select "Exhibited Items," which are illustrations and copies of pages from archival materials, and can be enlarged by clicking. At the bottom of each page is a link to the exhibit timeline, which puts the assembled materials in chronologic, rather than thematic, order. The introductory page also features a video from the symposiums opening speaker Stefani Engelstein presenting her paper "Visions of Transparency: The Human Body and Social Order." The site is not large, and the navigation controls remain fixed on each page, which makes it difficult to get lost within the site, but links to the MU Library and to Google Books do bring the user to outside sites, losing the original location.

The "Origins" section provides background material for the development of eugenic thought in Britain, Europe, and the United States, with links to the leading works in this area. Well-known authors such as Charles Darwin and Francis Galton are covered more extensively in subsets of this section, as well as lesser known figures such as Karl Pearson and Cesare Lombroso. Although useful in a general form, this is the smallest section of the site, and most of the information can be found elsewhere in more detail.

"Eugenics in America" is by far the strongest and most comprehensive section of this site because it illustrates the pervasive presence of eugenics in public policy, and the depth of support for these ideas among the intel- lectual and social elite in the early 20th century. …

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