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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Joanne D Woiak
HIST 290
Seattle Campus

Topics in History

Examines special topics in history.

Class description

History of Eugenics. The American eugenics movement of the early 20th century proposed and implemented a variety of policies for "improving the biological quality of the human race." These ranged from educational efforts such as "fitter family" contests to oppressive measures such as immigration restriction and compulsory sterilization of those deemed genetically unfit. The history of eugenics serves as an important case study of the influence of social values and interests on the direction of scientific research, as well as the social construction of human differences defined by race, gender, class, and disability. The course will focus especially on local variations in eugenics ideas and practices in the US, including Washington State which implemented one of the world's first sterilization laws in 1909. We will examine the science and scientists behind eugenics, legislation and other proposed policies, public support and opposition, connections between American and Nazi eugenics, and intersections between people with disabilities and other targeted categories of "socially undesirable" people. We will address the persistence of eugenic ideas and activities after WWII, including the continuities and discontinuities between eugenics and modern-day genomics and genetic testing. This course has no prerequisites and is suitable for students in humanities and sciences.

Student learning goals

Understand the history of eugenics as a science and social reform movement, especially using the science studies approach that emphasizes social contexts.

Introduce the academic field of disability studies, which analyzes disability as a social phenomena and a human rights issue similar to gender studies and critical race theory.

Explore and critique various bioethical perspectives and debates about current human genetics.

Learn research skills and gain knowledge about the history of eugenics at the local level.

General method of instruction

Lectures, discussion, and films.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

Reading responses, short essays, and a research project.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Joanne D Woiak
Date: 08/27/2008