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Unit information: Eugenics: The First Fifty Years (1883-1932) in 2021/22

Unit name Eugenics: The First Fifty Years (1883-1932)
Unit code HIST30108
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. John Lyons
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

News items about the augmentation/alteration of the human body through technology, medical procedures, and gene therapy abound in a twenty-first century culture in which the idea of ‘Posthumanity’ has now come to the fore. Interventions in human development are not new, of course, and in this unit students will encounter in detail a period in which such views were being put forward with great vigour, the first fifty years of the Eugenics ‘project’ (1883-1932). Significantly for historians, between then and now lies the mass implementation of Eugenic procedures by the Nazis, both before and during WWII. How then should we read, interpret, describe, and evaluate the early proponents of Eugenics as they developed and implemented their ideas during the first third of the twentieth century? From Francis Galton who coined the term and the pivotal pre-WWI years through to the three major International Congresses on Eugenics (1912, 1921, & 1932), this was a period in which their views of humanity and its future were being expressed with a forthrightness which often shocks today and yet which also finds its own echoes in the assumptions expressed within the contemporary discussions of the Posthuman. How might the historian evaluate the former and speak to the latter when the future of humanity and its diversity is on the line?

Aims: The unit aims to introduce students to the study of the early years of Eugenics (1883-1932) in historical perspective. Multiple primary sources and more recent secondary sources form the bedrock for each student’s critical reflection upon the interaction between the modern historian and a complex and troubling historical phenomenon in which human definition was placed at the centre of philosophical, scientific and social thought, often with horrifying results. Their own practices will form a significant element of the unit as we consider how our own lenses affect our take on the past.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a deep knowledge of the early years of the Eugenics ‘project’ and a number of its practical applications.
  2. Demonstrate the ability to critically evaluate the views of others, and to develop their own interpretations which they can substantiate appropriately;
  3. Reflect critically and sensitively upon a variety of theoretical and ideological perspectives related to an understanding of the historical development of eugenics;
  4. Critically assess and interpret primary sources and select pertinent evidence in order to illustrate specific and more general historical points
  5. Present their research and judgements in written forms and styles appropriate to the discipline and to level H/6

Teaching Information

Classes will involve a combination of class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Information

1 x 3500-word Essay (50%) [ILOs 1-5]; 1 x Timed Assessment (50%) [ILOs 1-5]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

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How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.