CFP: “Breeding the Nation: Eugenics, Culture, and Science in the United States, 1900-1940”

Call for Papers

“Breeding the Nation: Eugenics, Culture, and Science in the United States, 1900-1940”

Workshop 13 of the 2012 Biennial EAAS Conference
The Health of the Nation
26–29 March, Izmir, Turkey

for more information about the conference, see the EAAS site at

Chair Bob Rydell, Montana State University, and Jaap Verheul, Utrecht University

The Eugenics Movement that flourished in the United States between 1900 and 1940 was a meeting ground between science, society, and public policy. Animated by concerns over the welfare and health of the nation, eugenicists proffered solutions to perceived social ills by preventing “undesirable” genes from spreading and by stimulating the “fit” to produce offspring. Eugenics as an attempt to improve the genetic quality of human beings was informed and vitalized by revolutionary developments in biology, genetics and medicine. These scientific insights seemed to promise a new cure for a wide range of diseases that were believed to have a hereditary origin. But just as in Britain and Germany, American eugenics was also motivated by concerns over the racial composition of the nation. Through research, propaganda, and the active promotion of legislation for sterilization, segregation and selective immigration, American eugenicists endeavored to show themselves as being on the cutting edge of breeding a better nation.
The rise and fall of the American Eugenics Movement has been explained by the various “internal” and “external” forces within the sciences involved, while scholars have also looked at the political background of its proponents and traced its various international connections. But eugenics has also raised pertinent questions about the relation between individual wellbeing and national interest, privacy and state control, and, most pertinently, the body and the body politic. The social applications of science have initiated debates about social differentiation, scientific responsibility, medical ethics, reproductive autonomy and human rights that resonate until the present day. This workshop will focus on this complex interaction between eugenics and American society. What explains the popularity of the gospel of eugenics during the first half of the twentieth century? What do the various definitions of “fit” and “undesirable” tell us about the social ideals and nightmares of the age? How was eugenics used to construct categories of differentiation such as race, ethnicity and gender? To what extent was eugenics informed by the contemporary interrogation of American civilization in a time of mass politics and popular culture? What was the relationship between the rise of eugenics and mass immigration? How was eugenics related to the changing ideas about the role of the state in the amelioration of social hardships? How can we explain the differences between eugenics in the United States and that of countries such as Britain and Germany? By exploring an interdisciplinary approach to the cultural aspects of eugenics, this workshop aims to place this popular movement at the crossroads of the fundamental debates about the identity of American society during the first decades of the twentieth century.

Please send proposals for papers, together with abstracts (150–200 words) and a brief CV to the workshop chairs, Chair Bob Rydell, Montana State University, and Jaap Verheul, Utrecht University The deadline is September 1, 2011.


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