Teaching & Learning


UCL and its eugenics legacy

Learn about UCL’s historical role in the teaching and study of the history of eugenics.

What is eugenics?

Eugenics is the scientifically inaccurate theory that humans can be improved through selective breeding. The term was coined by Sir Francis Galton in 1883. It is derived from the Greek word “eugenes”, meaning “good in birth” or “good in stock”. 

UCL’s official apology for its role in the development of eugenics as a scientific endeavour explains: 

“This dangerous ideology cemented the spurious idea that varieties of human life could be assigned different value. It provided justification for some of the most appalling crimes in human history: genocide, forced euthanasia, colonialism and other forms of mass murder and oppression based on racial and ableist hierarchy. The legacies and consequences of eugenics still cause direct harm through the racism, antisemitism, ableism and other harmful stereotyping that they feed. These continue to impact on people's lives directly, driving discrimination and denying opportunity, access and representation.” 

How is UCL involved in its inception?  

Francis Galton left UCL a financial legacy to establish a professorship and a research centre into the study of eugenics. Many UCL researchers contributed to the academic work behind the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century. There is a section on UCL’s links with eugenics in their online Introductory Programme for all new students. 

Dr Adam Rutherford explains further in the videos below. 

Find out about the Inquiry into the History of Eugenics at UCL, comissioned in 2018. 

Hear more from UCL’s Dr Adam Rutherford 

Eugenics: UCL’s unique legacy 

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/g6A2ddE4Watch the video on MediaCentral

Eugenics: Know the past, protect the future 

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/985hC0bAWatch the video on MediaCentral

Eugenics: Bigotry disguised as biology 

MediaCentral Widget Placeholderhttps://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Player/AgFFi2f4Watch the video on MediaCentral



UCL’s former collections curator, Subhadra Das, created an eight-part series telling the story of the pivotal role UCL played in establishing the ‘science’ of eugenics. It also considers how UCL has/had chosen to remember this history through building names. 

Bad Blood: The Story of Eugenics 

Dr Adam Rutherford’s six-part series for BBC Radio 4, looks at the movement to breed ‘better’ people: its dark history and troubling present. 

What does eugenics mean to us?

Working with research colleagues and the Sarah Parker Reymond Centre, Subhadra Das created a five-part series discussing, examining, critiquing and exploding eugenic thinking, what does eugenics mean to us?.

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