Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Eugenics, Art and Darwinisms: The Case of the Darwin Museum Moscow
Pat Simpson will be giving a paper with the above title at the conference The Study of Eugenics - Past Present and Future, Uppsala University Sweden, November 10-11, 2011.
My current research is located at an intersection of two significant developments in the study of eugenics during the past decade. One of these is the increased scholarly scrutiny of eugenics discourse within central and eastern Europe including the USSR, evidenced, for example, in the work of Marius Turda and his colleagues in the disciplines of history of medicine/science. The other development is the growth of a new trajectory of scholarship concerned with the interrelationships of eugenics discourse and visual culture within histories of art and visual culture, exemplified by the recent anthologies Art, Sex and Eugenics: Corpus Delecti ( Brauer & Callen, eds, 2008), and The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms and Visual Culture (Larson & Brauer, eds, 2009).
This paper takes a critical look at an exhibition about eugenics, entitled The Younger Sister of Genetics that was staged in December 2010 at the Darwin Museum Moscow, additionally taking account of the museum’s current, small, permanent display on the topic. The function of the case study is to outline aspects of recent and ongoing research into the apparent mycelium of links with eugenical thought underlying certain artworks that were arguably used to represent or imply nuanced interpretations of Darwin, projected by the museum both within the Soviet Union and abroad, before and after 1945. The paper’s aim is not just to showcase my research, but also to suggest two related avenues of potentially fruitful interdisciplinary investigation.
Firstly, given the close interconnection between eugenics and a wide range of visual imagery, there is evident potential for international collaborative projects between art historians and historians of medicine, science and ideas. More narrowly, the research indicates that one focus for such work might lie in considering the impact of eugenics on educational exhibition displays and policies in natural history museums pre- and post-1945.