Bricks + Mortals: A history of eugenics told through buildings
Subhadra Das (University College London)
Hear the story of UCL's pioneering eugenicists through the landmark buildings and spaces named after them.
Bricks + Mortals turns the buildings of UCL Bloomsbury Campus into an exhibition, uncovering a history hidden in plain sight. Walk this self-directed route to discover the pivotal role UCL played in establishing the science of eugenics.
As at many universities, the buildings on the main campus of UCL, in the heart of London's Bloomsbury district, are named for famous historical figures. In most cases, these building names commemorate the notable contributions of academics at the University.
Amongst these are the Galton Lecture Theatre, the Pearson Building and the Petrie Museum. The contributions Francis Galton, Karl Pearson and Flinders Petrie made to biometrics, genetics, statistics and archaeology are well known in those fields and beyond. What is less well known is their contribution to developing, establishing and legitimising the science of eugenics. Eugenics – the science of improving human populations through selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain. It had its roots at UCL. The story of these origins is seldom told.
Bricks and Mortals sets out to tell that story. By incorporating the characters that UCL buildings are named after and exploring their relationships and research, the exhibition uncovers a history hidden in plain sight. The exhibition and podcast – which takes the form of a walking tour – describe how eugenics developed from its origins in Victorian Britain through to the progressive political movements of the 20th Century, and examines the impact of these ideas on our lives in the 21st.
University College London Culture Department