Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Population in Historical Perspective

This event has now finished. Please see our events website for details of upcoming events at Brookes.

Population in Historical Perspective

Who this event is for

  • Everyone

Location

7, Willow, Headington Campus, Headington Hill site

Details

The world’s population is approaching 8 billion. In recent years, the contemporary relevance of historical events and ideas have been regrettably overlooked by many; this is especially alarming with the return of right-wing populism to the Western political mainstream. Moreover, the lessons learnt from the chequered history of race and eugenics are in danger of being forgotten as modern population problems develop in complexity and scope. The first annual History of Race and Eugenics Workshop: Population in Historical Perspective aims to help rectify this.

Agenda
12:30-13:00 Lunch
13:00-14.30 Panel 1: Britain
Patrick Merricks – Biosocial Science: Crypto-Eugenics in 1960s Britain
Gavin Schaffer – Population and the Postwar Jewish Community: How to Futureproof a People
Q&A
14:30-15:00 Tea/coffee
15:00-17:00 Panel 2: Europe
Cosmin Koszor-Codrea – ‘The terrible children of Darwin’: Race classifications and social Darwinism within the Romanian science popularization journals (1860 to 1870)
Marius Turda – “Population policies in Hungary during the 1930s and 1940s”
Alexandra Barmpouti – Population Policies and the impact of the Birth Control Movement in Greece (1950-1980)
Q&A
18:00 Dinner at Pan Pan Restaurant, St Celements St, Oxford

Abstracts

Panel 1: Britain

Patrick Merricks – Biosocial Science: Crypto-Eugenics in 1960s Britain

In this paper, I look at the British Eugenics Society’s attempt to prevent itself drifting into obscurity in the 1960s. Towards the end of the 1950s, the Society’s membership was in decline and had been since WW2. To address this and the lack of a positive policy to improve the population, eugenicists were sent underground to establish crypto-eugenics. This prompted two important changes: the evolution to a registered charity, which would focus on funding research and public outreach projects, and a move away from the term ‘eugenics’ to ‘biosocial science’. In short, the main activity of the Society, as of 1963, was devoted to expanding knowledge and promoting the mutual exchange of ideas in “the common ground between the biological and social sciences.”

Gavin Schaffer – Population and the Postwar Jewish Community: How to Futureproof a People

In a climate of secularisation and assimilation, amid broader social concerns about population decline, leaders and scholars of Britain’s Jewish community invested considerable thought and time in strategies to preserve and develop the community in the postwar period. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, British-Jewry, previously something of a backwater of European Jewish life, suddenly became the centre point, and pressures to protect and nurture its development grew as a result. Complicated by the desire to support the State of Israel (which had its own designs on Jewish Britons as migrants) and challenged by the end of significant Jewish immigration, leaders of British Jewry embarked on an extensive programme of education and advocacy in an attempt to stem what it perceived as a tide of intermarriage and secularism. This paper will give consideration to these community endeavours and their impacts, attempting in the process to draw conclusions about the meanings of Jewishness in postwar Europe, and the evolving nature of diasporic Jewish subjectivities more broadly.

Panel 2: Europe

Cosmin Koszor-Codrea – ‘The terrible children of Darwin’: Race classifications and social Darwinism within the Romanian science popularization journals (1860 to 1870)

The aim of this paper is to discuss how Romanian naturalists portrayed a taxonomic worldview of racial differences between human populations within the context of science popularization journals from 1860 to 1870. It begins by focusing on the proliferation and objectives of science popularization journals and their relation to disseminating Darwinism and communicating various concepts of race. In doing so, the paper argues that the top-down communication practice, from naturalists and intellectuals to the wider audience, controlled the creation of a popular and public opinion of race. In short, their general aim is identified as positioning the Romanian state within the globalized evolutionary ladder of ‘civilized’ nations.

Marius Turda – “Population policies in Hungary during the 1930s and 1940s”

In this paper I discus various population policies which emerged in Hungary during the late 1930s and the early 1940s. At the time, Hungarian demographers adopted and championed projects of ethnic engineering and population transfers. At the same time, successive Hungarian governments promoted a population science (népesedéspolitika) designed both to ensure scientific remedies to the alleged decline of population, and to provide a defensive biological strategy for the nation/race. 

Prompted by the need to generate a powerful sense of cohesion and shared identity in the wake of profound socio-political changes, population experts used a wide range of arguments in order to justify their vision of national development. The nation’s identity was determined by biological, social and cultural boundaries separating those who belonged to the community from those who did not, who were viewed as ‘foreigners’ or as potential enemies. This, in turn, created a system of ‘internal cleansing’ according to which those members of society deemed “unhealthy,” “diseased” and “anti-social”, alongside the ethnic minorities were separated from the majority. These individuals and groups were often segregated, and, in some cases, like with the ethnic minorities, subjected to radical measures, including physical displacement and, the case of the Jews and the Roma, elimination.

Alexandra Barmpouti – Population Policies and the impact of the Birth Control Movement in Greece (1950-1980)

During the post-war period, there was a twofold approach in facing issues on demography and reproductive choices in Greece. On the one hand, there were supporters of population growth in order to fill the population gap made by the losses of the wars and the low birth rate. To this end, the Greek state’s biopolitics inhibited the ‘reproductive freedom’ of the individual to a considerable extent. According to the

Greek legal framework, the advertising and dissemination of (female) contraceptive methods were forbidden. On the other hand, many Greek eugenicists who embraced contraception and birth control sought external support, such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). The IPPF’s manifold influence during the period from the 1950s to the 1980s was decisive in shaping the reproductive choices of the Greek women due to its collaboration with clinics and institutions dealing with maternal and child welfare. In the 1980s, however, some significant changes occurred in the Greek family law reflecting the international trend of the passing of more liberal laws on abortion and family planning. The global issues of eugenics, family planning, and biopolitics were echoed in these changes and the implementation of new population policies.