As part of the Legacies of Eugenics project, funded by UCL’s Office of the President and Provost, we’ve developed the Legacies Digital Library. This digital library aims to provide a central hub for quickly accessing research publications published under the imprints of the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics (aka the “Eugenics Laboratory”) and the Biometric Laboratory. We also have included material from the first and second international congresses of eugenics. All documents in the Legacies Digital Library are open access. Work is underway to improve the quality of all scanned items and to ensure distribution to other digital repositories. Availability now represents an early step on a long walk.
In addition to these monograph series, Pearson founded two academic research journals. Annals of Eugenics launched in 1925. Biometrika launched in 1901 and included eugenics research and analysis, though this was not the journal’s main focus and after Pearson stepped down as editor the journal focused largely on statistical theory. Both journals carried a substantial amount of material from the research groups under Pearson’s direction.
Together with two additional series published through the Biometric Laboratory, Pearson directed the creation of nine serials in total with significant eugenics research. Books and other materials supplement this output. In sum, the scale of his role as a publisher has yet to be fully appreciated. I talk about the overall pattern of his role as publisher in the 2021 paper cited below.
Researching Legacies of Eugenics
With the Legacies Digital Library, for the first time, there also is easy access to bibliographies for both research groups. The Legacies Digital Library brings these together so researchers today can research the projects and methods, investigate underlying agendas, and research related activities.
Two of the main findings of our research focused Pearson’s extensive activities as a publisher. On the one hand, Pearson showed considerable enterprise as a hopeful discipline builder. He created two journals and seven series in which to publish research in biometry and eugenics. The Biometric Laboratory and Eugenics Laboratory became publishing imprints.
On the other hand, these publications became a major route for Pearson to promote his eugenics agenda. Pearson tightly controlled these publications, serving as editor and gatekeeper. He became the single most frequent author in these publications. He determined the agenda and standards. He created new publications to lash out at critics. He worked without an advisory panel or peer engagement. In effect, these imprints gave Pearson uninterrupted communication routes to use without oversight, not only so he could develop new research ideas and methods but also so he could attack others, avoid accountability, and simply do things his way. The imprints of laboratory, academic department, and university leant Pearson institutional credibility and validation.
The scale of the enterprise is clear only when bibliographies like these are compiled. They make possible us seeing the woods rather than the trees. The Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics (GLNE) began in 1907 at University of London, University College, under the directorship of Professor Karl Pearson (1857-1936). Pearson’s intent was the creation of an independent research centre to shift eugenics away from a topic of anecdote and towards a quantitative and rigorous science capable of producing strong policy advice built upon rigorous research. (Farrall discusses the creation of GLNE.)
These publishing imprints were made financially possible through Pearson’s unrestricted control over two major donations. The Biometric Laboratory was supported by a gift from the Worshipful Company of Drapers. The Eugenics Laboratory was supported by a gift from Francis Galton.
Having this library in one place also allows for comparative studies of academic research and publishing in the first half of the twentieth century in British academic science.
Publishing about UCL Legacies of Eugenics
The Legacies Digital Library is supported by peer-reviewed academic research into activities underway in these groups under the direction of Professor Karl Pearson. Publications are in development and currently submitted for publication. For instance, I published the first comprehensive list of publications associated with the Eugenics Laboratory:
- Cain, J. (2021). Publications produced by the Francis Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics. The Library, 22(4), 523-548. https://doi.org/10.1093/library/22.4.523
Prior to the work of this project, the only way to assess the whole of these efforts was to devote considerable time in specialist libraries and archives. While some of these publications were previously easy to find, others are now rare and obscure. Without the full catalogue, it’s exceedingly difficult to interpret the scope of effort underway within University of London in support of eugenics and ethno-nationalist agendas.
Publication of materials in the Legacies Digital Library is done strictly for historical and academic reasons. The work of eugenicists was pervaded by racial, ethnic, gender, and ableist prejudice. Readers must be alert to these biases in this material.
Reproduction of this work here is not an endorsement or promotion of the views expressed or eugenics in general. Quite the reverse. All articles are published in full, except where necessary to protect individual privacy. We believe there is a clear academic interest in making this historical material more widely available.