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Legacies of Eugenics Project

Legacies of Eugenics is a research project focused on the history and legacies of eugenics around University College London (UCL) during the twentieth century. Our primary focus is the “Eugenics Laboratory,” started by Professor Karl Pearson in 1907 and funded by Francis Galton, as well as its successors (such as the short-lived Department of Eugenics) and directors (including Ronald A. Fisher and Lionel Penrose).

What Does the Legacies of Eugenics Project Do?

The Legacies Project undertakes several types of activities:

Research

We undertake original historical investigations focused on eugenics research and advocacy within the university, including biography, institutional history, and contextual studies. Our research is published in peer-review publications, presented at professional conferences, and disseminated through blogs and research seminars.

Reconstruction

Histories of eugenics in UCL are fragmented, so reassembly is required to understand what was attempted and how such activities fit within the university envelope. Our work involves the publication of a new Guide to Researching Eugenics at UCL and a major “Legacies of Eugenics Digital Library”. We have reconstructed bibliographies for key research groups associated with eugenics at UCL (e.g., the Eugenics Laboratory and the Biometric Laboratory), we have helped to correct catalogues and databases, and we have helped professionals within our institution better understand the historical collections they encounter. We reprinted Farrall’s classic history of eugenics in University of London.

Engagement

We help UCL staff and students learn about the history of eugenics at their university, and we facilitate connections to sources of historical information, such as UCL Special Collections. Our work involves departmental seminars, staff briefings, and a new undergraduate module on “Eugenics in Science and Culture” (more). We also assist colleagues writing their own accounts of eugenics at UCL.

Consultation

We advise UCL executives about the history of eugenics within the institution, such as when considering de-naming, when responding to external inquiries, and when vetting new proposals. We consult on media projects, too. We also work to develop lessons from the institution’s history of allowing eugenics research and advocacy under its roof.

Who is the Legacies Project?

The project team includes Project Director, Professor Joe Cain, and STS Research Fellow in History of Eugenics, Dr Maria Kiladi. More about the Legacies Project. We also benefit from research undertaken by students in UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS).

The Legacies Project launched in 2020 following completion of the UCL Eugenics Inquiry. Cain served on the Inquiry committee. Kiladi was employed by the Inquiry to undertake historical research. At the conclusion of the Inquiry in February 2020, it was clear much more historical research was required. The then UCL Provost and President, Professor Michael Arthur, accepted our request for special project funding to facilitate more research and more reconstruction. The Legacies Project was funded as a two-year project, and it is hosted by UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS).