This course examines the history of eugenics in the United States. Eugenics was a scientific and political movement prominent in the first four decades of the twentieth century. It sought to perfect humanity by applying the insights of biology to the social world. Eugenic ideas led to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of Americans (particularly disabled people, poor Americans and people of color), immigration restriction in the US, and Nazi genocide in pursuit of national biological purity.
This course will consider a range of questions: how did science shape the moral and political imaginations of Progressive-era Americans? What did the Nazis learn from the United States—and how should contemporary Americans judge that history? What was the fate of eugenics after the movement became discredited? How should contemporary society reckon with our eugenic past? Students will conduct independent research at the Small Special Collections library culminating in a 20-30-page paper.