(a note on content)
Some of the stories in the exhibition feature racist, ableist, and/or homophobic medical terms which are offensive. As curators and writers of this exhibition, we have done our best to use these terms responsibly, with a view to appropriately contextualising and exploring these ideas and their history, and encouraging continuing critical thought in the interests of positive social change in the future.
While trying to address these issues squarely, we are also aware that we may ourselves use racist and ableist language naively or in error. As such, we welcome corrections and suggestions for improving the language used here, and encourage you to get in touch with us to help us learn and improve the language of the exhibition if you feel we have done so. The exhibition also features images of pathology specimens which include human organs.
GALT040, Hair Colour Gauge, UCL Science Collections (Galton Collection), 1905.
In the Galton Collection at UCL lies a peculiar object. What could be mistaken for a large glasses case, actually contains 30 differently colored samples of fake hair. This object (GALT040), known as a Haarfarbentafel (hair color scale or the Fischer-Saller scale), was owned and created by a Nazi eugenicist for the purpose of propagating racial myths. Precisely how GALT040 first entered the Galton collection at UCL remains unknown. The object has two possible provenances. It was either left to UCL by Galton himself in 1911 or was purchased by Karl Pearson (a protégé of Galton’s) between March 1908 and mid-1912 (Maxwell et al. 2012, p.59).
Eugenics has always been based on the idea that there are human traits which are inherently “undesirable”. When Francis Galton coined the term “eugenics” in 1883, he took it from the Greek meaning “well-born”, enforcing the idea that this field of “science” is racist in nature (Maxwell et al. 2012, p.15). In his own words, Galton believed eugenics to be “the science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race” (Galton, 1904). Inborn qualities, of course, meaning anything from hair color to skull size. The belief that some of these qualities were undesirable (or more desirable than some and less than others) led to a need for a standardized way to decipher who belongs in what group and with who. Enter the Haarfarbentafel. Beyond being a mouthful, it is what would become the standard tool for assessing hair color, a characteristic measured in the field of physical anthropology as well as eugenics. Developed by the ironically first-named German Dr. Eugen Fischer, this specific model of hair color scale became the most alluring scale for aspiring eugenicists as it contained material analogous with real hair, thus helping to remove the ambiguity of older scales; which, in archaeological terms, resembled munsell soil coloration charts and were comparably subjective (Maxwell et al. 2012, p.19). Fischer first introduced his Haarfarbentafel in 1907 when he published an article explaining that the study of human hair color had been restricted by the technology at the time, comparing it unfavorably to the scales used to measure skin tone and eye color- other characteristics frequently measured by eugenicists (Maxwell et al. 2012, p.37).
The idea that one race is superior or the belief that certain traits needed to be “bred out” were not new. Almost one hundred years before Galton coined the term eugenics, German physicist and anthropologist Johann Friederich Blumenbach wrote a paper in which he identified the five different groups humanity could “naturally” be divided into, for example (Blumenbach 1795, pp.XXII-XXIV). However, the coining of the term “eugenics” gave a name to these beliefs and practices and aimed to turn them into a “science,” which, over the course of the next hundred years, would be widely studied and adhered to. Using ideals based in eugenics, there have been many attempts to mobilize the created differences and perceived hierarchy between different groups of people to inflict societal change. An example of this was the state-sponsored eugenics programs and Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany, in which the believed racial superiority of Aryan Germans and the perceived inferiority of- and pseudoscientific beliefs surrounding- other races was codified into law (Heideman, 2017, p.5). The Haarfarbentafel itself, and its creator, were directly involved in the creation of the Nuremberg laws and, as such, influenced eugenics practices and beliefs in Nazi Germany. Since Fischer believed that racial differences were among some of the most important factors in “determining the course” of a nation, his place as an inspiration for Hitler’s plans is unsurprising (Glass, 1981, p.357). Fischer’s influence on Nazi ideology was so strong that his ideas even began to be taken on by Hitler before the writing of Mein Kampf (Samaan, 2013, p.539).
Prior to influencing Nazi ideology and legislation, in 1908, Dr. Fischer used his Haarfarbentafel in the field, conducting research in German South West Africa on the Baster people living in what is now central Namibia (Maxwell et al. 2012, p.26). The Basters, descendants of the offspring of white Europeans and native African women, drew Fischer’s attention due to their mixed race and the idea that they existed as an “intermediary” culture between Europe and Africa due to their mixed heritage (Maxwell et al. 2012, p.28). For his research Fischer photographed and measured twenty-three Baster families, using the Haarfarbentafel to identify each individual’s hair color (Maxwell et al. 2012, p.30). Using these measurements, in conjunction with his own views on race, Fischer created a three-tiered racial hierarchy of the Basters (Maxwell et al. 2012, 31). From his findings, including data collected using his Haarfarbentafel, Fischer came to the conclusion that when Europeans “adopted the blood of inferior races” it inevitably leads to “their mental and cultural downfall” (Maxwell et al. 2012, 35). Fischer’s study of the Basters and his subsequently published findings were extremely well received in Europe and years later he was labeled an “expert” by the Gestapo and worked with them to help carry out racially motivated crimes (Maxwell et al. 2012, p.36).
The Haarfarbentafel was developed by Fischer with racist usage in mind. As opposed to simply the belief that white Europeans are a “master race,” the Haarfarbentafel represents the application of eugenics beliefs in practice. From the perspective of a modern-day Jew residing in Europe, the modern impact of the Haarfarbentafel is hard to quantify. A Metropolitan Policeman is not going to take one out of his breast pocket and tell me my hair is Jewish or not, but the racial stereotyping embedded in the Haarfarbentafel continues to exist to this very day. From even some of my earliest school days I can remember being told that I don’t “look Jewish” because I am blonde. While I cannot say that the continued existence of Jewish stereotypes was kept alive by the Haarfarbentafel directly, it is certainly a notable example of an attempt to give reason to racist beliefs/ stereotypes via mobilised application.
By Jakob Garfinkle
Blumenbach, Frid. 1795. De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa. Editio Tertia. Gottingae: Vandenhoek et Ruprecht. Available at: http://www.archive.org/stream/degenerishumaniv00blum#page/n25/mode/2up
Galton, Francis. 1904. Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope, and Aims. American Journal of Sociology 10(1): 1–25.
Glass, Bentley. 1981. A Hidden Chapter of German Eugenics between the Two World Wars. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
Heideman, Richard D. 2015. Legalizing Hate: The Significance of the Nuremberg Laws and the Post-War Nuremberg Trials. Special edition: the Nuremberg Laws and the Nuremberg Trials 39 (1):5-24.
Maxwell, Lucy May., Musson, Suzannah., Stewart, Sarah., Talarico, Jessica., and Taylor, Emily. 2012. Haarfarbentafel GALT040. Internal UCL Report [Unpublished].
Samaan, A E. 2013. From a "Race of Masters" to a "Master Race": 1948 to 1848. Charleston: CreateSpace.
LDUGC-095ACCESSION NUMBER: A unique identifier assigned to, and achieving initial control of, each acquisition. Assignment of accession numbers typically occurs at the point of accessioning or cataloging.
Sweet Pea Measuring Device, UCL Science Collections (Galton Collection), c.1870s.
Heredity refers to the genetic processes by which certain characteristics are transmitted from parent to offspring....
LDUCPC-SOHO P.6ACCESSION NUMBER: A unique identifier assigned to, and achieving initial control of, each acquisition. Assignment of accession numbers typically occurs at the point of accessioning or cataloging.
Gold IUD and Uterus, UCL Pathology Collections, 1945-1988.
This gold-plated stem pessary is an early version of an intrauterine device (IUD). This contraceptive device would....
LDUAC-UCL1319ACCESSION NUMBER: A unique identifier assigned to, and achieving initial control of, each acquisition. Assignment of accession numbers typically occurs at the point of accessioning or cataloging.
Ceramic head, “Ceramic caricature male head, tongue sticking out”, Institute of Archaeology Collections, date of manufacture unknown, collected early 20th Century.
Perhaps in an attempt to comprehend our exceptionalism in a universe of unknowns, our attempts to reflect ourselves....
LDUCE-UC33278ACCESSION NUMBER: A unique identifier assigned to, and achieving initial control of, each acquisition. Assignment of accession numbers typically occurs at the point of accessioning or cataloging.
Racial ‘type’ head from Memphis, Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology, date of manufacture unknown, purchased or excavated early 20th century.
In the Petrie Museum at UCL, there is a painted terracotta sculpture of a head, which was either....