Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement

Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement

This is a digital repository from several different libraries chronicling the eugenics movement which was very prominent in at the turn of the the twentieth century and played a big part in the American culture going so far to even define some of our most unfair and outrageous anti-immigration and racist laws.

To reiterate, eugenics is the scientific field of controlled breeding of humans as the attempt to achieve the most desirable traits for future generations. Darwin had published Origin of the Species and DNA had not really been discovered as the cause of genetic heredity. In a way, eugenics is the wrong-headed stepping stone to today's genetic research. There was a lot of talk about how the American "germ plasm" must be saved from degeneration by careful family planning (not in the modern sense of the word, by the way...) and clearly racially driven psuedoscience research that pits minorities against Western white European immigrants. The eugenics movement gave politics and other influential people a "scientific" scaffolding to frame their anti-immigration laws and also gave the justification for forced sterilization of "degenerates," (aka as people who displayed behavioral traits or characteristics that were seen as harmful for the ideal American race, the mentally ill, the blind, the deaf, the depressive, the criminal, the list goes on). These laws and forced sterilizations went on until the early 1970s. Also, to make things even more intense, the Nazis took the eugenics research and used it as justification to perform forced sterilization on thousands of people. It's a shocking and rather sobering chapter in early twentieth century history.

The Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement is a project done by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Dolan DNA Learning Center funded by a grant from the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications Research Program from the National Human Genome Project. The Image Archive is a repository that exhibits material from eleven different libraries and archives. I was unable to find any kind of collection policy other than the implied emphasis on eugenics as subject material. From my own observations, the resulting collection is heavy on pictures and short articles. The intent is to exhibit and educate rather than produce documents with lots of text for scholars that might be studying this subject for a thesis, so the collection is built with that in mind.

As for metadata on the collection; it's about average. The user is able to access the collection through various search techniques: browsing by object type, topics, time period, and archive. Or you can search by using a keyword or ID #. When accessed, the metadata produced is standard: image number, the date of creation, and the source (or archive the material came from), with a "related search" feature and an explanation of the image from the curator/project leader. The user can zoom into the image closely and at the very bottom, out of the perimeter of the image is a single copyright statement.

This collection is pretty fascinating, to say the least. It is certainly not the best digital collection, but it presents history and information in an arresting way by using the archival materials. The majority of the collection is paper-based with newspaper/scientific articles, photographs, posters, and charts and graphs. The Web site is also constructed in an appealing and professional way with animation and graphics that pleases eye and encourages browsing of the collection.

No comments:

Post a Comment