(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.
Galton and Pearson’s work was embedded in the development of Victorian laboratory science, and as such, in the development of methods that could record and delineate differences between what were perceived to be inferior and superior human qualities and “types”.
Alongside attempts to encourage so-called “superior” qualities in human populations, eugenicists targeted specific groups and human qualities for deliberate hereditary extinction. A hierarchical conception of race, understood as a fundamental biological category, was central to eugenicist beliefs, but in addition to its scientific racism, eugenicists also targeted other “kinds” of people and behaviours for breeding out of what were framed as white, northern European "Saxon" populations, notably homosexuality, disability, illness (particularly mental illness), and poverty/low socio-economic class. The concept of eugenics was also closely linked to systemic antisemitism, to policies of racial segregation, forced removals of “half-caste” indigenous children in Australia and other European colonies, and to the genocides perpetuated in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.
Galton and Pearson’s work was embedded in the development of Victorian laboratory science, and as such, in the development of methods that could record and delineate differences between what were perceived to be inferior and superior human qualities and “types.” In 1884, Galton established an “Anthropometric Laboratory” at the International Health Exhibition in London, where he invited members of the public to subject themselves to and add to the record a series of quantitative physical measurements and to provide pedigree data. A number of instruments were built or improvised to collect quantitative data relating to human features which were considered to be indicators of human ability or behaviour.
The history of eugenics at UCL involves the establishment and merging of a number of different physical spaces, academic departments and centres for research with varying and sometimes overlapping staff. Much of the initial work was done under the stewardship of Professor Karl Pearson. A Eugenics Records Office was established at the University of London in 1904, with funding from Galton. In 1906, with the promise of further funding from Galton, Pearson became Director of the newly established Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics. When Galton died in 1911, he left provision in his will to fund the Galton Laboratory permanently, along with establishing a professorial chair of Eugenics at UCL. Karl Pearson was the first of a long line of celebrated biologists, statisticians and geneticists to hold the post. As Professor of Eugenics, Pearson incorporated the Galton Laboratory, in combination with his Biometric Laboratory in the newly formed Department of Applied Statistics, all in the South Wing of UCL, where it remained in operation until 1920. The laboratory carried on under various changes of name and departmental affiliation until it was incorporated into the Department of Biology in 1996. Today, this department is known as UCL Genetics, Evolution and Environment.
Flinders Petrie, who was the first Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at UCL from 1892-1933 (and the first university professor of Egyptian Archaeology in Britain), also played a significant role in perpetuating eugenicist ideas, grounding them in the study of the deep past. In 1887, Galton commissioned Petrie to undertake a project collecting anthropometric photographs of “racial types” in Egypt. Petrie also excavated, measured and returned significant numbers of skulls and other skeletal remains from his excavations to UCL to support the work being undertaken by Pearson and Galton (Challis 2016). Petrie’s hierarchical views of race and civilisation, combined with his beliefs in the superiority of Northern European people and cultures, strongly influenced his interpretation of archaeological evidence. For example, he argued that the cultures of Ancient Egypt derived from superior invading lighter-skinned cultures who effectively exterminated and “bred out” the inferior indigenous darker-skinned Egyptians. Despite his contemporaries disproving these theories, Petrie persisted with these ideas on account of his eugenicist beliefs (see further discussion in Challis 2013).
The objects below illustrate places, instruments and forms of material evidence which relate to the ordering and differencing practices of eugenics.
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....
LDUGC-365ACCESSION 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.
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)....
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's 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....
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.
Pot from Greater Zimbabwe, 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....