Bricks + Mortals, A history of eugenics told through buildings
Hear the story of UCL's pioneering eugenicists through the landmark buildings and spaces named after them.

Bricks + Mortals turns the buildings of UCL Bloomsbury Campus into an exhibition, uncovering a history hidden in plain sight. Walk this self-directed route to discover the pivotal role UCL played in establishing the science of eugenics.

As at many universities, the buildings on the main campus of UCL, in the heart of London's Bloomsbury district, are named for famous historical figures. In most cases, these building names commemorate the notable contributions of academics at the University.

Amongst these are the Galton Lecture Theatre, the Pearson Building and the Petrie Museum. The contributions Francis Galton, Karl Pearson and Flinders Petrie made to biometrics, genetics, statistics and archaeology are well known in those fields and beyond. What is less well known is their contribution to developing, establishing and legitimising the science of eugenics. Eugenics – the science of improving human populations through selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain. It had its roots at UCL. The story of these origins is seldom told.

Bricks and Mortals sets out to tell that story. By incorporating the characters that UCL buildings are named after and exploring their relationships and research, the exhibition uncovers a history hidden in plain sight. The exhibition and podcast – which takes the form of a walking tour – describe how eugenics developed from its origins in Victorian Britain through to the progressive political movements of the 20th Century, and examines the impact of these ideas on our lives in the 21st.



BRICKS + MORTALS uncovers a history hidden in plain sight. UCL Culture Curator Subhadra Das tells the story of the pivotal role UCL played in establishing the science of eugenics and considers how we have chosen to remember it through building names.

You can download the full podcast, including directions with will take you around the Bloomsbury campus to look at buildings named after famous eugenicists and sites relating to the history of eugenics at UCL. The walk begins at Warren Street Tube Station and takes in:

Alternatively, you can listen to individual chapters from the podcast:

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: Introduction – The science of eugenics

Eugenics – the science of improving human populations by selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain.

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: Marie stopes, and How Eugenics Was Going to Make the World a Better Place (Warren Street to Ramsay Hall, for Marie Stopes House)

Stopes is celebrated as a feminist icon and champion for birth control. Her eugenic motivations, however, are less well known.

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: Francis Galton and the Birth of Eugenics (Ramsay Hall to 1 - 19 Torrington Place)

In 1883, Galton coined the term ‘eugenics’, the study of human characteristics passed on through the generations with a view to improving the human species.

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: The Eugenics Records Office at University College (1 - 19 Torrington Place to 50 Gower Street)

Galton’s Anthropometric Laboratory was re-established at the Eugenics Records Office at University College in 1904.

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: Revising Charles Darwin, and the Galton Laboratory for National Eugenics at UCL (50 Gower Street to the Darwin Building)

Charles Darwin and Francis Galton were cousins, and had more in common than is usually assumed, particularly when it comes to their views on eugenics.

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: Flinders Petrie and the archaeology of ‘race’ (The Darwin Building to the Petrie Museum)

Called ‘The Father of Modern Archaeology,’ Petrie worked closely with Karl Pearson and Francis Galton at UCL to establish eugenics as a science.

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: Alice Lee and Cicely D. Fawcett – The Making of a Science (The Petrie Museum to the Haldane Room)

Alice Lee and Cicely D. Fawcett were two women ‘computers’ at UCL and both played key roles in establishing eugenics as a scientific discipline.

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: Karl Pearson and Eugenics at UCL (The Haldane Room to the Pearson Building)

When telling the story of eugenics at UCL, it is safe to say that Karl Pearson – the statistician and first Professor of Eugenics – brought it here.

  1. BRICKS + MORTALS: Conclusion – What we choose to remember

Moving forward from the legacy of eugenics at UCL by looking beyond the bricks and mortar.


Launch Event

Another brick in the wall?

Sometimes, if you don't laugh you'll cry. UCL Collections Curator Subhadra Das has managed to find the funny in UCL’s history of eugenics and scientific racism. She thinks that if we learn about and laugh about it together, we can change the legacy of that challenging history for the better.

Join her, and UCL students and staff Amanda Moorghen, Oz Ismail, Asma Ashraf and Mike Sulu as they share their experiences of working in academia at the point where science and society collide.

Amanda Moorghen studies Social Policy and Social Research at UCL. She’ll be talking about the influence Nazis (both in the sense of literal Nazis, and in the sense of people who wish they were literal Nazis) have had on modern debates about education, intelligence and schooling.  

Michael Sulu is a Biochemical Engineer, who will be talking about the black experience within HE  in ‘The Minority Monologues’

Oz Ismail is a biologist who will be pondering the infamy of famous Eugenicists that named life changing diseases or had important buildings named after them, and wondering why they follow him around in his field.

Asma Ashraf is "Not the marrying kind or is she...!". A nurse and researcher she has made it her goal to talk to as many people as she can about forced marriage.

Hosted by iconoclastic comedian Sophie Duker.

Stand-up comedy at the Bloomsbury Studio.

£6, concessions £5

7.30 – 9.30pm, 14 November 2017


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