Human Genetics with(out) Eugenic Knowledge? Towards a History of Knowledge about Human Heredity in West Germany

Since 1945, no German book on eugenics has been published. However, during two decades of reconstruction of the science of human genetics, which is fundamental to eugenics, the problems of eugenics repeatedly came to the fore and were discussed lively in wide circles.1

In the preface to his monograph Eugenik. Kommende Generationen in der Sicht der Genetik (1966, Eugenics: Coming Generations in the View of Genetics), the West German human geneticist Otmar von Verschuer (1896–1969), presenting himself as an expert in eugenics, emphasized that it was necessary for “this complex of topics” to be presented in a way that was “generally understandable.” His academic accomplishments might have proven his expertise as his career was largely intertwined with the academic boom in eugenics, or “racial hygiene,” as it was called in Germany before 1945. With the help of hereditary knowledge, the eugenics movement aimed to improve the genetic health of human populations. In addition to their intention to solve social problems by biological means, eugenicists also desired to be perceived as a scientific community. In the Weimar Republic, representatives of racial hygiene not only gained access to political decision-makers but also began an intensive process of professionalization.2

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Glimpses into a History of Knowledge on the Antimalarial Lariam® in Zambia

You may have heard of the antimalarial agent mefloquine during the Covid-19 pandemic, as scientists suggested repurposing the drug to combat the novel coronavirus. Most drugs are developed for the body of a 27-year-old male Caucasian, and so was this antimalarial. Mefloquine was discovered in the Antimalaria Drug Discovery Program—the biggest program of its kind—launched by the American Army in 1963. Over a period of fifteen years 250,000 antimalarial agents were tested at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in Washington DC. In 1969, researchers discovered WR 142,490, which became known as mefloquine in 1975. While the clinical trials were conducted in malaria-endemic areas, the drug was later marketed by the Basel-based Swiss pharmaceutical company F. Hofmann-La Roche (Roche) as Lariam®.

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Organizing Impulses: Reframing Adventure as Global Knowledge for Young Readers in Precolonial Germany (1841–1862)

“The role of the educator is to rhythmize the soul to [moral] virtue.”1 This conclusion to his 1841 faculty address to the Königliche Realschule zu Berlin captures the spirit of Theodor Dielitz’s educational philosophy. As a teacher, Dielitz advocated systematic instruction about the real world to prepare students for a harmonious, moral life within the Prussian state.2 Beyond his classroom activities, he produced both Realschule textbooks and commercial youth-literary publications, works that he saw as complementary parts of his unified pedagogical vision. The connection between these production spheres is easy to overlook when traveling the well-worn paths of his reception as a mass-production author. Dielitz’s history and geography textbooks have long since been forgotten, but his nineteen-volume series of adventure anthologies—Images of Land and Sea (1841–1862)—enjoyed immediate and sustained success throughout the nineteenth century. It was through the Images of Land and Sea that I first encountered Theodor Dielitz.

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‘Will They Become Human?’ Romanies and Re-education Knowledge in Postwar Czechoslovakia

Romani children in a classroom with Czech children.

“We are building a socialist order for the happy present and future of today's and future generations.” This is what Václav Nosek, the Minister of the Interior, told his fellow party members at the beginning of the Ninth Congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in May 1949.1 His words exemplify how the formation of communist rule in Czechoslovakia (and elsewhere) was accompanied by the promise of a just order for all. And since, as it was said, “all people are equal in socialist society, whatever the color of their skin,”2 the situation of local Romanies was supposed to improve as well.

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Blogging Migrant Knowledge – Part II

Migrant knowledge is not so much a concept as it is a research agenda.1 It can foster work on what migrants know about their world, and it challenges us to think more about what societies, including states, know about migrants. In Part I of my reflections on our sister blog, Migrant Knowledge, I highlighted posts that focused on the knowledge of and about migrant children and youth. Here I turn to a rich set of posts that treat societal knowledge about migrants from the perspective of two elite groups, so to speak, the state and its agents, on the one hand, and scholars, here primarily historians, on the other hand. Two additional perspectives appear in these accounts: the entanglement of state knowledge about migrants with the knowledge that migrants develop about the state and its expectations, a big theme here, and the influence that scholarship can have on migration policy and outcomes.

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Indigenous Value Systems as Vessels for Knowledge: An Example from the Pacific Northwest

Wood sculpture of a salmon, whereby the lower half is a human child.

“It may safely be said,” wrote naturalist and U.S. Commissioner for Fisheries Spencer Fullerton Baird in 1878, “that wherever the white man plants his foot and the so-called civilization of a country is begun, inhabitants of the air, land, and the water, begin to disappear.” Particularly salmon at the heart of the thriving Pacific Northwest fishing industry were subject to this “fatal influence.” Baird’s warnings regarding overfishing and habitat destruction were among the earliest written accounts to caution against overexploiting the region’s resources. In other parts of the world, like northern Europe and Japan, it had long been “evident to every one how important it is to carry on the fisheries in accordance with certain well-defined rules based on a thorough knowledge of the nature and mode of life of the fish,” as Baird phrased it. He concluded that such knowledge was crucial for Americans, too, “if the future of the fisheries is not to be seriously endangered.”1 Today, salmon are at five percent of the abundance recorded at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest is perhaps irreparably damaged.2

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Blogging Migrant Knowledge – Part I

A lot of interesting material has been published over at Migrant Knowledge since its inception nearly three years ago. If the material could just as easily have found a home here, it was produced for our sister website as part of a specific research program linked to a broad network of scholars, on the one hand, and related research activities coordinated by the GHI’s Pacific Regional Office, on the other. The site’s conceptualization is different from ours, but its contributions deserve to be read by all who are interested in histories of knowledge. Indeed, we have occasionally crossposted on both blogs in order to point out this overlap.

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Provenance Research and Attribution Knowledge of Ancient Middle Eastern Art

Until the 1990s, provenance research, or the history of ownership, was mainly conducted to determine the attribution and authenticity of an artwork. Provenance research grew significantly after the Washington Principles of 1998 and the accompanying increased awareness of the issues surrounding Holocaust-era art theft in Europe. Museums are also committed to documenting transfers of ownership of an object to avoid cultural patrimony issues related to questionably exported antiquities and colonial-era acquisitions.

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The Environmental Turn in Postwar Sweden: A New History of Knowledge

In the summer of 1971, an eleven-year-old boy in Gothenburg, Sweden, wrote a letter to the pioneering environmentalist Hans Palmstierna. The boy had recently read a report on the environment in a youth magazine and was shocked. “Is our little Tellus really in such bad shape?,” he asked, adding that it was terrible that there were people who destroyed the environment just to make money. “They should be given a real lesson” for everything they had done to “people newly born.” Now it was his generation, those born in the 1950s and 1960s, that would be forced to “fight against humanity’s possible downfall.”

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What the History of Astronomy Can Teach Us about the Unknown

Humanity has long wished to know the universe. This desire has been present in nearly every civilization, culture, or community of human beings. Knowing the universe has always been extremely challenging, notwithstanding diverse approaches to the task—scientific reasoning, ancestral respect, the identification and worship of divinities, to name but a few. Nevertheless, there is a common gesture when we connect to the universe. No matter in what time or place, humans look up to the stars and wonder. We exhibit a common attitude as well, overwhelmed by how much we do not know about our own universe.

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