HPSC0070 Eugenics in Science and Culture (Teaching)

HPSC0070 Eugenics in Science and Culture | UCL Science and Technology Studies | ProfJoeCain

Eugenics combined science and politics to create social policies intent on “improving the stock” of some human groups at the expense of others. This module investigates eugenics as a history of science and technology operating in cultures around the world. It considers eugenics as a history of people creating, interpreting, rejecting, and suffering from decisions grounded in scientific (and pseudo-scientific – this boundary is important) practices supported by eugenics campaigners. Importantly, this module presents eugenics through the intersection of categories such as gender, race/ethnicity, ableism, class, nationalism, and political philosophy. Eugenics is a subject with strong local (UCL) connections, and it is a subject with diverse global involvements and impacts. Ultimately, this module explores the history of eugenics to better answer far-reaching questions about the role of science in policy development, about the power of science in public understanding, and about rival approaches to expertise in the knowledge economy.

Professor Joe Cain teaches this module at UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS). This module code was previously used for “Zoos in Science and Culture“.


  • one 3,500 project
  • no examination


  • this module was last offered in the 2021-22 session


  • 2021-22 syllabus (see below)


HPSC0070 aims include:

  • equip students to critically question and analyze the social, political and ethical aspects of ongoing science and technology
  • integrate key themes in history and philosophy of science, science communication, and science policy
  • develop analytical and interpretative skills using relatively commonplace elements of science and technology
  • think more about zoos and develop mature views as to their place in culture and their value for the purposes claimed by advocates and critics alike


By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • describe key elements in the history and philosophy of science as they relate to eugenics
  • describe key elements of science communication found in the activities of eugenics advocates, organisations, and critics
  • describe key elements of science policy as they relate internationally to eugenics campaigning
  • critically analyze the social, political and ethical aspects of eugenics
  • relate key insights from HPS and STS to research about eugenics, with particular attention to intersectionality and the importance of alternative voices in history
  • demonstrate an ability to research HPS and STS questions, producing substantial packages of information, well organized and clearly focused
  • effectively communicate their views

The course will improve:

  1. ability to interpret events
  2. ability to work in an interdisciplinary fashion
  3. ability to apply abstract models to particular instances
  4. ability to integrate social, cultural, political, industrial and economic contexts of science
  5. ability to communicate ideas clearly in ways appropriate to the context
  6. ability to communicate ideas effectively

For students in other degree programmes, the course will increase:

  1. awareness of the evolving and complex role of STM in public policy, past and present; likewise, the relations between STM and the State more generally, and STM and values
  2. awareness of the influence of culture on scientific ideas, practices, resources and opportunities; that STM sometimes shows distinct differences when undertaken by different people in different cultures
  3. awareness that the understanding and use of STM information and knowledge changes in different settings and can vary between different groups

Improving writing skills – prose that is clear, deliberate, and to the point – is an ancillary objective of essay assignment.

Module plan

This module has three activities: class time, coursework, and additional spaces for discussion and engagement.

Class time

This module has a 1×1-hour class time structure. These sessions will mix traditional lecture, seminar discussion, small group projects, and peer debates. The goals are to present new content, introduce students to alternative perspectives, engage key source materials, and identify possible answers to core issues. Sessions are constructed around specific themes and questions, preparatory readings are provided. Students are expected to have read and reflected upon the core reading prior to the scheduled session. Where prepared lecture materials are made available prior to class sessions, students will be expected to have engaged that material before the relevant session.


One 3,500-word project will be assigned. This will be in the form of an advocacy paper. Details are below, as are the general criteria for assessment. There is no examination. The essay contributes 100% to the module mark.

Because this is an advanced, third-year module, students are expected to use advanced research and analytical skills in their work. Their work should reflect substantial independent learning. It also should reflect substantial effort condensed into a compact product. Students may bring to bear whatever resources they think may be applicable to their arguments; however, all submissions must be solely and exclusively their own work. Support sessions will be provided for the essay throughout the term, with additional information provided in class sessions.

Additional opportunities for discussion and engagement

Class time will be focused on specific learning objectives. Experience shows the subject of this module provokes far more attention, and far more diverse attention, than can be encompassed within the strictly managed confines of the formal timetable. To expand capacity and to foster independent learning, additional opportunities for engagement will be provided. Additional scheduled tutorial time will be provided on specific topics. Optional site visits and self-directed learning opportunities also will be identified. Attendance expectations will be made clear well in advance.

Students also will have opportunities to contribute to the Legacies of Eugenics project.

2021-22 Syllabus


HPSC0070 Eugenics in Science and Culture