(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.
Eye colour gauge, UCL Science Collections (Galton Collection), 1903-1907.
In early 20th century Switzerland, anthropologist Rudolf Martin (1864-1925) produced the Augenfarbentafel (eye colour chart or gauge), with the intention of categorising people according to their physical differences. The eye colour gauge, along with the hair colour gauge and skin colour table were important objects in the endeavour by both anthropologists and eugenicists to classify people in racial groups according to physical characteristics – in short, a project to make difference and separation. Not only do many of the racial categories and perceptions of difference established from the late 19th century remain with us today, but eye colour in particular continues to be strongly associated with race.
The branch of anthropology that fostered the creation of devices like the eye colour gauge, and sought to measure physical features is known as anthropometrics. It was developed in the late 19th century and focused on using "scientific" methods and tools to link physical differences to social difference (Mak and Bultman, 2019, pp.84-86). Martin’s work as an anthropologist centred on ideas of heredity, anthropometry, and racial difference (Hendry et al. 2021, p.9). Martin created a number of anthropometric tools, aiming to create a system of universal measurements (Germann, 2015, p.54). This included his eye colour gauge, which was most likely manufactured between 1903 and 1907 (Hendry et al. 2021, p.7). His work had a significant impact on the development of racial science and eugenics in Switzerland.
Anthropometry is linked to eugenics, with measurements being used to establish “scientific reasoning” behind social differences such as race, sexuality, and disability (Cowan, 1972, p.511). Francis Galton used the data collected from anthropometry to back up his idea that statistics aided in understanding heredity, the understanding of which could be used to resolve political and social conflicts (Cowan, 1972, p.510).
Eugenicists Karl Pearson and Margret Moul used Martin’s eye colour gauge in their study of Eastern European Jewish children at what was then known as “the Jew’s Free School” (later “the Jewish Free School” and then simply "JFS”) in North London (Pearson and Moul, 1925, pp.21-22). The study argued that Jewish “aliens” should not be allowed to indiscriminately immigrate to Britain (Pearson and Moul, 1925, p.7). The study suggested that “alien” Jews statistically had darker eyes on the gauge, using eye colour as one means of Jewish identification (Pearson and Moul, 1925, pp.21-22). Beyond the anti-Semitic ramifications of the study, the eye examinations were said to be painful for the children (Delzell and Poliak, 2013, p.1061).
Martin, despite creating a number of anthropometric tools, is not seen as a eugenicist. He is often discussed as someone who promoted tolerance, and unfortunately had his work appropriated by the Nazi regime (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 2021). While Martin did not work in eugenics, the framing of Martin as unprejudiced is inaccurate. Martin did not believe in the use of anthropometrics to justify racial supremacy (only racial difference); however, he used his work to rationalise colonialism (Germann, 2015, pp.56-57). Due to the fact that a number of his devices were invasive and sometimes painful, Martin was unable to get volunteers in Switzerland (Germann, 2015, pp.56-57). Instead, he conducted his work in colonies, including in British Malaya (now Malaysia), where he tested his invasive tools (Germann, 2015, pp.56-57). By testing his tools in this context, Martin was in a position of power in the colonies, meaning that he could coerce the participation of local people (Germann, 2015, pp.56-57). In addition to using colonial rule to advance his work, he also believed that anthropologists and colonial authorities could benefit one another, and that physical anthropology was of benefit to colonial administrations (Germann, 2015, pp.56-57).
Although Martin was not a eugenicist, he was a racist anthropologist, profiting from his proximity to colonial power, and creating tools to identify and study racial difference. Therefore, the image of Martin as a person whose inventions were misappropriated ignores his connection to racism.
While Martin designed the eye colour gauge to determine racial difference, it was soon taken up by eugenicists in their endeavours for racial supremacy, who were backed by the anthropometric "science” of racial difference. If Martin helped to make difference, the eugenicists mobilised it.
The use of the eye colour gauge to make and define Jewish difference continued into the Holocaust. There is evidence that Bruno Schultz’s adaptation of Martin’s eye colour gauge, known as the Martin-Schultz scale, was used to conduct experiments in the Tarnów Ghetto in Poland (Schafft, 2004, p.20). Scores on the scale were taken from Jewish families in the Ghetto and mobilised to define other people as Jewish in Nazi Germany (Schafft, 2004, p.20).
The impact of Martin’s eye colour gauge and the research done around eye colour did not end with the Holocaust. As a Jewish person with blue eyes, the stereotype of Jews having brown eyes has been prevalent in my life, often being told that I do not look Jewish due to my blue eyes. It was not until researching this object that I realised that these beliefs are rooted in eugenics, Pearson and Moul’s research, and the tool used to measure eye colour in that study, Martin’s eye colour gauge.
It is not only in anti-Semitic stereotypes that Martin’s tools and study of eye colour lives on, in 2007 an article by Ben Clerkin titled “Why blue-eyed boys (and girls) are so brilliant” was published in the Daily Mail. This article references a study claiming that people with blue eyes were more likely to achieve academically, while people with brown eyes were better at contact sports (Clerkin, 2007). The existence of this article and study suggest that Martin’s desire to categorise differences in eye colour lives on, and that these are still used to classify people according to intellectual ability, with racist undertones.
It is clear that Martin’s work in anthropometry enabled racist systems of classification, even if Martin himself was not a eugenicist. The link of the eye colour gauge to eugenics, genocide, anti-Semitism, racism, and even recent attempts to link eye colour to intelligence, shows the repercussions of making difference. We continue to make difference based on eye colour today, often unconsciously, showing how Martin’s tool to measure and make difference has a continued impact.
By Vix Appelbaum
Clerkin, Ben. 2007. Why blue-eyed boys (and girls) are so brilliant. Daily Mail. 20 August. Available at:Why blue-eyed boys (and girls) are so brilliant | Daily Mail Online
Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. 1972. Francis Galton’s Statistical Ideas: The Influence of Eugenics. Isis 63 (219): 509–528.
Delzell, Darcie., and Poliak, Cathy. 2013. Karl Pearson and Eugenics: Personal Opinions and Scientific Rigor. Science and Engineering Ethics 19 (3): 1057–1070.
Germann, Pascal. 2015. Race in the Making: Colonial Encounters, Body Measurements and the Global Dimensions of Swiss Racial Science, 1900-1950, in Purtschert, Patricia., and Fischer-Tiné, Harald. (eds.) Colonial Switzerland: Rethinking Colonialism from the Margins. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 50–72.
Hendry, Alisa., McKean, Emma., Pekala, Karolina., and Smith-Parucker, Helena. 2021. LDUGC-365: Augenfarben-Tafel. Internal UCL report [Unpublished].
Mak, Geertje., and Bultman, Saskia. 2019. Identity in Forms: Paper Technologies in Dutch Anthropometric Practices Around 1900. International Journal for History, Culture and Modernity 7: 64-109.
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. 2021. Glass eyes in a tin box by Rudolf Martin. Available at: https://collection/maas.museum/object/38774
Pearson, Karl., and Moul, Margaret. 1925. The Problem of Alien Immigration into Great Britain, Illustrated by an Examination of Russian and Polish Jewish Children. Annals of Eugenics 1 (1): 5–54.
Schafft, Gretchen E. 2004. From Racism to Genocide: Anthropology in the Third Reich. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 15–36.
LDUCZ-Z1201 / LDUCZ-Z1206-8ACCESSION 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.
Pearson Dog Skeletons, Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, late 19th/early 20th century.
The Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL holds a number of dog skeletons, skins and a mounted dog specimen which relate to Karl Pearson's dog breeding programme at UCL....
LDUAC-2008/32ACCESSION 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.
Greater Zimbabwe Pot, Institute of Archaeology Collections, late 20th century.
This ceramic bowl was purchased for Margaret Drower in a village near Great Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe in the late 20th Century....
LDUGC-145ACCESSION 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.
First Anthropometric Laboratory Photograph, UCL Science Collections (Galton Collection), 1884.
This photograph depicts the first Anthropometric Laboratory, established by Francis Galton, at the 1884 International Health Exhibition....