Technological Transformations

We continue this week with our exploration of the moral and ethical dilemmas that scientific advances can pose. We begin with Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, and then move to the distortion of Darwin’s ideas into Social Darwinism and Eugenics. Our readings end this week with the dark days of forced sterilization, racial hygiene, and the Holocaust.

Remember: outside sources can be used but they should supplement, not replace, the assigned texts. Do not use encyclopedias, Wikipedia,,,,, or other similar sites. If using supplemental outside sources, use academic or scholarly sources wherever possible. Support all answers with citations and references.

Please respond to this thread by writing an essay of at least 300 words that addresses each item in one of the following question sets. Note which question you are answering in your post:

1. Humans may have always collected or organized/categorized specimens from the natural world? But, after 1500, how did this human effort to codify plants and animals (and control nature) work? Explain, citing examples. Did it eventually lead to eugenics? Think about this. Explain, noting specific people, ideas, and events to support or oppose the argument. Can we describe these eugenics views as either optimistic or pessimistic (or both) about the future? Explain.

2. Historians and scientists alike are admonished not to set out in their research to prove something. Why? When we set out to prove what we think, a cognitive bias called confirmation bias causes problems in thinking, judgment, and in evidence selection and rejection. Rather, they should set out to answer questions and accept when the data disconfirm their ideas. How do the Holocaust and compulsory sterilization in the U.S. serve as a warning to researchers to follow this advice?

3. Historian of science James Burke wrote that “[t]he self-confidence of modern society is rooted in a belief in progress which came to us in relatively recent times. What advances from the readings support this belief and how does it compare to beliefs or views of society before the 19th century? What events or ideas (e.g., Darwin) contributed to this idea of progress in that same century? Explain citing examples.

4. Who is Charles Darwin and why is he important in the history of science? What are natural selection and the theory of evolution? How does this play out in the development of animals and plants? Who is Alfred Russell Wallace and why does he push Darwin to publish On the Origin of Species in 1859?

5. Historians created the term “Social Darwinism” to describe the application of Darwinian ideas to human societies. Describe Social Darwinism. Does it mean the same thing for all of its advocates? What thinkers play roles in its development? Who is Herbert Spencer, how does he relate to Charles Darwin (if at all), and how do Spencer’s ideas influence views of society, economics, politics, and other areas in the 19th and 20th centuries?

6. What is eugenics and who contributed the development of this idea? Is this a new idea? Why or why not? Is eugenics related to Social Darwinism? How? Explain the impact of eugenics (and Social Darwinism, if applicable) in America and elsewhere in the 19th and 20th centuries. Note specific developments and movements. Are parts of the eugenics movement manifestations of the darker impulses of progress in this time frame? Discuss, noting examples.

7. Who is Linnaeus and what system of scientific classification does he create? Was there any system in place prior to the 18th century and Linnaeus? Explain. Is this part of the effort to understand and possibly control nature? How? Explain, citing other examples.

8. What “scientific” views of racism and racialism emerge in the late 19th century? How do these views of race and a racial hierarchy lead to social and political movements in that century and the 20th? Explain the ultimate result of racism in the mid-20th century.

9. What is the Holocaust? How do industrialization, Darwin’s ideas including Social Darwinism, and eugenics, plus historic anti-Semitism, create conditions for the horrors of the Holocaust? Explain and note specific issues related to political, social, economic and military history in the 20th century.

10. Using the reading linked below in conjunction with the other readings, how do you see the particular interests of women doctors in the areas of contagious diseases and birth control relating to other theories alive at the time, such as eugenics or Spencer’s philosophy or sterilization?

Doing History: Networks and Women Doctors

11. After answering one of the questions noted above, are there any other issues or questions you have? Please post for your colleagues to consider.

Your Initial Post is expected to be a 300-word prose essay, with a thesis statement and 2-5 paragraphs supporting and explaining the thesis. Remember to base your response on information and analysis from the readings. Cite the information and analysis you provide. Explain what you learned in your own words, and do your best to synthesize the authors’ analyses into your own original analysis; do not rely exclusively on quotations from the readings to make your points. Please change the title of your post to something unique. Note which question you have chosen to answer.

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