The Eugenics of H. J. Muller: A Look at Scientific Optimism in the 1950s

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Title: The Eugenics of H. J. Muller: A Look at Scientific Optimism in the 1950s
Author: Crowe, Nathan Paul
Advisors: Edith Sylla, Committee Member
Steven Vincent, Committee Member
William Kimler, Committee Chair
Abstract: My thesis focuses on post-World War II eugenics, specifically revolving around the well-known geneticist and eugenicist, Hermann J. Muller. By the 1950s, academic support for eugenics had faded. Refinements in genetics, new sociological and anthropological theories, and reaction to eugenic atrocities significantly undermined the feasibility or acceptability of eugenic programs, particularly in the United States. However, during the 1950s and into the mid-1960s, Hermann J. Muller and other prominent geneticists continued to promote eugenic principles. I posit that previous histories of post-World War II eugenics have inadequately explained the significance of H. J. Muller's eugenics. The rapid progress during the first half of the twentieth century and advances such as the discovery of DNA caused scientific optimism to flourish during the 1950s. Rather than racism or bigotry, scientific optimism motivated H. J. Muller and others to offer eugenics as a viable option for human betterment. Muller and his supporters maintained a strong belief in the power of the gene. Their crucial role in defining the gene, its heredity capacity, and its very conceptual nature, reinforced the belief that the gene was the basis of all life, and at some level, represented the root of all biological and psychological expressions. To Muller and his supporters, the deterministic nature of the gene allowed them to believe that ultimately, if one could manipulate the gene, then one could alter the direction of human evolution, while remaining true to progressive ideals.
Date: 2006-07-13
Degree: MA
Discipline: History

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