14. History of Race and Eugenics (HRE) seminar series Feb-May 2017

Between February and May at Oxford Brookes University, I ran History of Race and Eugenics (HRE): Series 1. Featuring 7 different talks on Friday evenings at 5, this involved a 15-minute presentation, followed by 45 minutes of discussion. It is a fantastic format, which helped attendees expand their understanding of the history of race and eugenics in a relatively informal setting. Each week offered a welcome chance to build working relationships and meet and socialise with new people. The talks, listed as follows, emphasised the contemporary relevance of HRE, be it a new research idea, book launch or potential funding app:

  • Patrick Merricks: “Trump and Immigration in Historical Perspective”
  • David Redvaldsen: “British Eugenics and Utopia”
  • Marius Turda: “The History of Eugenics in East-Central Europe, 1900-1945 (book launch)”
  • Ross Brooks: “Julian Huxley on the Biology of Sex”
  • Simon Wilson: “Eugenics and Culture in Interwar Britain”
  • Aisling Shalvey: “Theories of Mental Degeneration in British Eugenics, 1900-1950”
  • Tudor Georgescu: “Eugenics: The history of breeding better people in 100 objects (funding app)”

Those who attended were from a range of backgrounds, including students (undergraduate and postgraduate), as well as teaching and administrative staff, which certainly enriched the conversation with energetic debates that ensued after each paper.

trump

First paper: the shared opinions of modern politicians and American eugenicists in the 1900s

A clear impact was the quality of work produced by the students working on related topics, many of whom actively took part. Elsewhere, I implemented some of the conclusions into my own teaching in the second-year lecture ‘Case Studies in Eugenics’ for the Crisis of the West module.

As well as an average attendance of 10 people, the seminars had great exposure on twitter and was retweeted by Brookes staff and students and respected academics and public figures outside of the university. Building on this success, Series 2 will start in October during Week 1 of the 2017-2018 academic year. We begin with the launch of my book, Religion and Racial Progress in Twentieth-Century Britain: Bishop Barnes of Birmingham. If you’d like to present a paper at HRE please get in touch.

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13. REVIEW: Aman, Michael and Balis, Andrea (2013) “The race race: assimilation in America”, Teaching in Higher Education Vol. 18, No. 6, 587-595.

This fascinating article is written by two New York Professors of apparently different disciplines – Law and General Education. The authors document their transdisciplinary approach to teaching students in a “large public urban college in New York City with a diverse population” about ‘race’.

race-mixing

1961, University of Georgia anti-integration protest

I chose the article because the historical concept of ‘race’ in its various manifestations plays an important role in most aspects of my teaching – modern history of ideas – and my area of expertise in research – the British eugenics movement.  

It is emphasised from the beginning that any attempts to define ‘race’ – a historically malleable social construct – end in ambivalence and more questions than answers. This is not a bad thing, and leads to fascinating and engaging debates between students, many of whom by the end of the course admit that it “changed the way I think”. Moreover, detailed study of how race has been defined in the past and how this can change depending on the society, cultural background, religion, time period, external events can lead to the individual student identifying and confronting their own often unconscious racial prejudices.

The main strategy used was primary document analysis, reflection and discussion – here referred to as “materials” from popular culture – using sources where race plays an important role. These include novels, plays, laws, music. One interesting method involved the students acting out the plays in the class. In one instance the class was shocked that a late-nineteenth century cartoon depicted an Irishman (rather than a Black American) as a monkey revealing that at the time rather than ‘white’, the Irish were seen as a different race and inferior (much like Italians, Chinese, albeit racially categorised in a variety of ways that also changed over time and depending on the particular society/state). Also like the 1961 picture above demonstrates, the way ‘race’ is understood can change depending on the national political conversations at the time (then McCarthyism portrayed Communism as the incarnation of evil, which influenced the language used by anti-integration protesters).

Although ‘race’ plays a far more prominent role in American society than in Britain, I found the article very useful. For my own specific subject area, I think it is important to engage directly with ‘race’ historically and (I have tried to emphasise in my own research!) highlight the importance to the development of modern society in the broad sense and its impact on individual cultures within this. Using a variety of sources that the class interact with and debate about made each week different and helped nurture graduate attributes beyond simply writing good assignments.