Posts tagged: eugenics

Four New Online Exhibits from the Center

By , July 17, 2013

Twelve Boston physicians and their composite portrait by Henry Pickering Bowditch, from the Galton’s Children exhibit.

Four new exhibits from the Center for the History of Medicine are now available online. The Center regularly offers exhibits in the Countway Library, displaying unique and exciting items from the Warren Anatomical Museum and the Center’s holdings of rare books, photographs, and manuscript collections. Now some of the Center’s most popular exhibits on Oliver Wendell Holmes, phrenology, homeopathy, and eugenics can be experienced virtually in OnView.

Three of these exhibits had no previous online presence, and the fourth was an online heritage exhibit that has been given a much-needed facelift. Using the original labels and exhibit text, Center staff worked to reconstruct the physical exhibit in a digital space. In the process, hundreds of items from the Center’s rich collection were scanned or imaged to recreate the full visual experience.

OnView allows the user to view the exhibits as he or she would in the physical space, moving from item to item within the framework of the narrative. Individual items, collections, and exhibits can also be browsed and searched using subject terms and tags.

So, check out the new exhibits below, and look forward to more exhibits coming soon!

Galton’s Children: the Rise and Fall of the Eugenics Movement
Is it possible to improve the human race through scientific means, or, more specifically, can we breed a better human? Galton’s Children: the Rise and Fall of the Eugenics Movement examines the social phenomenon of eugenics from its origins and period of greatest influence in the early 20th century, to discredit in the 1930s and its associations with the racial hygiene policies of Nazi Germany, and the persistence of eugenic ideas today.

Grand Delusion?
To support and develop homeopathy in the face of opposition from its detractors, the adherents of the movement created an entire medical establishment—books, journals, schools, hospitals, asylums, sanitariums, dispensaries, professional societies, national and international organizations, pharmaceutical manufacturers, publishing firms, and even life insurance companies—in parallel with that of regular practitioners. Grand Delusion? traces the developments of the history of homeopathy in Boston and Massachusetts and the contributions and experiences of its practitioners, in both conflict and concert with their regular medical colleagues.

Talking Heads
Why do we act the way we do? What determines the patterns of our behavior and personality? These are questions to which every generation seeks answers. Today, psychology and, increasingly, genetics are being explored to understand and explain the vicissitudes of human nature, but these are only just the latest in a long string of explanations. During the 19th century, phrenology—the study of human cranial structures and their application to personality, character, and behavior—provided another, and popular, explanation. At its peak, phrenology excited intense interest among both scientists and the public in Boston and throughout the world. Although its heyday has long passed, the movement endured into the 20th century, and some of its vestiges can still be found today. Talking Heads explores the basis for phrenological study, some of the major figures associated with it, and Boston’s own unique place in the history of this peculiar and popular movement.

The Scalpel and the Pen
Physician, lecturer, novelist, inventor, historian, anatomist, humorist—and poet, professor, and autocrat of the breakfast-table—Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) has been called “the most successful combination which the world has ever seen of the physician and man of letters.” This exhibit, The Scalpel and the Pen, takes its name from that idea and explores all the different sides of the personal and professional career, in both literature and medicine, of this true Boston original.



Center’s Director interviewed on WBUR’s Radio Boston

By , April 27, 2011

Exhibit Highlights The Holocaust’s ‘Deadly Medicine’

By Meghna Chakrabarti
Apr 26, 2011, 3:51 PM  UPDATED 4:36 PM

From the article:

“Deadly Medicine,” the exhibit at the Holocaust Museum that features Hizme’s story, is an exploration of the lengths to which a group will go to pursue genetic purity. The museum was inspired to create the display not by history, but by the present pace of genomics research. Research that is sure to transform human health for the better, but not without rigorous ethical oversight.

Remembering what happens in the absence of such oversight is the reason why Scott Podolsky, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the Countway Medical Library, wanted to bring the “Deadly Medicine” exhibit to Harvard Medical School.

“The technologies that we have and will have will outrace the implications of what we can do with those technologies and we have to be very critical,” Podolsky said.

For more information:

Listen to whole podcast

Watch video of Holocaust Survivor Irene Hizme who was featured in the exhibit.

About Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, a traveling exhibition from the The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Staff Finds: Racial Profiling by Skull Measurement

sketches of two skulls

Sketches of skulls from A Collection of Crania.

While working on a Boston Medical Library-funded preservation project, Countway staff discovered a bound manuscript titled A Collection of Crania, copied from Pritchards [sic] Natural History of Man Illustrative of Campers [sic] Theory. The copyist was William Thornton Parker and the volume appears to have been constructed in 1847.

The bulk of the book is made up of copies of illustrations of skulls from various ethnicities, commentary on the drawings, and a single long excerpt at the beginning from Prichard’s The Natural History of Man (1843). Prichard’s book was intended as a popular history of the development of humans and the differences between humans living in different places. Petrus Camper’s theory, referred to in the title of Parker’s collection, was a mathematical method of describing human skulls by determining the angle of the front of the skull, roughly from the peak of the forehead to the jaw.

The skulls Parker has carefully copied into his miniature collection come mainly from Africa, Europe, and Asia, including Caucasian, African, Chinese, and Mongolian examples. Almost every skull is accompanied by a description of the racial characteristics that some author – it isn’t clear if it was Parker, Prichard, or Camper – thought were important.

By modern standards, the commentary is deeply racist with each skull described in terms of its similarity to “civilized” men, considered in this case to be Western Europeans. Women simply don’t enter into the argument at all. By contemporary standards, however, Parker was engaging with an ongoing and very modern scientific debate about the biological structure of humanity, the links between races and ethnic groups, and the development of humans as a species on Earth.

Echoes of this scientific debate can be seen in eugenics policies like those imposed by the Nazi regime in Germany, illustrated in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race exhibition  on display at the Countway Library through July 17, 2011.

Galton’s Children: the Rise and Fall of the Eugenics Movement

By , March 12, 2011

Twelve Boston Physicians and Their Composite Portrait, 1892.

Twelve Boston Physicians and Their Composite Portrait, 1892. Physcian Henry Pickering Bowditch merged photographic negatives to find common characteristics of a typical physician. M-CL02, Series 00094, Image 94.016. Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

Starting in April 2011, in conjunction with the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s travelling exhibit, Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race, the Center for the History of Medicine will mount a display of holdings from the library and archival collections tracing the history of eugenics in concept and practice.  Galton’s Children: the Rise and Fall of the Eugenics Movement examines the social phenomenon of eugenics from its origins and period of greatest influence in the early twentieth century, to discredit in the 1930s and its associations with the racial hygiene policies of Nazi Germany, and the persistence of eugenic ideas today.

Notable items on display include first editions of Sir Francis Galton’s Hereditary Genius (1869), the beginning of eugenic thought, and also Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (1883), where the term “eugenics” is coined; a signed copy of Alexander Graham Bell’s report on hereditary deafness and the intermarriage of deaf-mutes; Loring Moody’s Heredity (1882), published by his Institute of Heredity, a school and library in Boston formed to address social ills through eugenic ideas; composite photographs made by Henry Pickering Bowditch to identify racial and ethnic traits, along with a letter from Galton to Bowditch expressing his admiration for the composites; copies of R. L. Dugdale’s The Jukes (1877) and Henry Herbert Goddard’s The Kallikak Family (1912), two of the most famous family studies demonstrating hereditary influence; a 1909 broadside bill of the Connecticut General Assembly to legalize the sterilization of prisoners and the insane; publications of Charles Benedict Davenport and the field workers from his Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor; and an unusual photograph of the brain of a criminal, exhibited by Myrtelle May Canavan at the Second International Congress of Eugenics in 1921.  A number of the Countway’s titles on eugenics have also been digitized and are now available through the Medical Heritage Library project (

The Countway Library is on the campus of the Harvard Medical School, at 10 Shattuck Street, in Boston, and Galton’s Children will be on display on the first floor exhibit area of the Library from April 2011 through December 2011.  For additional information, contact Jack Eckert, Public Services Librarian, at 617-432-6207 or

“Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” at the Countway, April 14 – July 17

By , January 2, 2011

Nazi officials at the “The Miracle of Life” exhibition, German Hygiene Museum, Dresden, 1935. The new Nazi museum leadership asserted that societies resembled organisms that followed the lead of their brains. The most logical social structure was one that saw society as a collective unit, literally a body guided by a strong leader. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Center for the History of Medicine is pleased to announce that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race travelling exhibition will visit the Countway Library April 14 through July 17, 2011.

From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany carried out a campaign to “cleanse” German society of individuals viewed as biological threats to the nation’s “health.” Enlisting the help of physicians and medically trained geneticists, psychiatrists, and anthropologists, the Nazis developed racial health policies that began with the mass sterilization of “genetically diseased” persons and ended with the near annihilation of European Jewry.

Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race inspires reflection on the continuing attraction of biological utopias that promote the possibility of human perfection. From the early twentieth-century international eugenics movements to present-day dreams of eliminating inherited disabilities through genetic manipulation, the issues remain timely. (For more information about the exhibit, see the Museum’s website.) Deadly Medicine has been made possible by The Lerner Foundation and Eric F. and Lore Ross.

The Center for the History of Medicine’s companion exhibit, Galton’s Children: the Rise and Fall of the Eugenics Movement, examines the social phenomenon of eugenics from its origins and period of greatest influence in the early twentieth century, to discredit in the 1930s and its associations with the racial hygiene policies of Nazi Germany, and the persistence of eugenic ideas today.

Visitors are welcome to tour the exhibits Monday through Friday from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. and on Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 5 P.M.

Groups larger than 12 people must make a reservation. Group visit information and and registration forms are available here: Planning_a_Visit and Group Visit Form. Questions about group visits can be directed to Francesca Holinko (

Public lectures relating to the exhibit will be held on on the Harvard Medical School campus:

Thursday, April 14, 7 pm: Why Deadly Medicine Matters Today: Medical Ethics in the Shadow of the Holocaust

Wednesday, April 27, 4 pm: Genetic Determinism Then and Now: Confronting the Legacy of Eugenics

Thursday, May 12, 7 pm: When the State Makes Demands: Medical Professionalism, Dual Loyalty, and Human Rights

Directions to the Countway Library and the Harvard Medical School campus can be found on the school website.

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