Eugenics and photography in Britain, the USA and Australia 1870–1940 

AHP readers will be interested in a new piece in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science by Anne Maxwell: “Eugenics and photography in Britain, the USA and Australia 1870–1940”. Abstract:

This essay traces the main ways in which photography was taken up and used by supporters of the eugenics movement, from the time that Darwin’s cousin, the British polymath Francis Galton, first used it to demonstrate the role played by heredity in human intelligence, to the early 1940s, when the eugenics movement lost much of its appeal. It is argued that Galton’s composite photographs of the socially “fit” and “unfit” members of British society only broadly determined the pattern for how American and Australian eugenicists deployed photography, and that each country’s differing social tensions caused them to evolve their own diverse set of photographic practices aimed at promulgating the eugenic cause. Using photographic examples drawn from Britain, the USA and Australia, the essay identifies the leading persons and eugenics organisations that deployed photography, the different kinds of photographic genres they used and the different ideological and statist ends to which their images were put. It concludes that compared to Britain where class differences were highlighted, the USA and Australia’s strong respective histories of slavery and colonisation led to a more robust emphasis on race and in particular the preserving of racial purity and expansion of the white population.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.