The plaster columns, vinyl cabinets, and aged walls have been torn down, peeled off, and repainted. The filing cabinets, desks, and detail items stored away. The last traces of the recreated Eugenics Record Office that filled our gallery space here at the A/P/A Institute these past months are on their way out. The good news? The project is far from over.
Here’s what will be going on with Haunted Files in the coming months:
Before the exhibit came down, we commissioned detailed professional documentation of the space. In the coming months, we’ll be working with Tisch ITP students Ziv Schneider and Ken Amarit to develop an immersive digital representation of our Eugenics Record Office, complete with an accessible archive of the files contained in the exhibit. Want to revisit a lecture, field report, or correspondence you saw during your trip? You’ll be able to search tags and themes to pull up each and every document from the exhibit!
We’re hard at work planning our conference America and its “Unfit”: Eugenics and Now, which takes a broad historical lens to examine the history of American eugenics, and the evolving impact of its legacy in our present moment of meritocracy, exclusion, and so-called security. It’s set to take place on Friday, September 25 and Saturday, September 26. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for further details!
We can’t thank you all enough for your support of this project. From those who planned or participated in class visits, to walk-in visitors and public program attendees, to all those who worked with us in the development of the exhibits — the critical conversations about science, history, race, ability, and identity that you’ve made space for have allowed Haunted Files to thrive. We look forward to tapping into the same energy in the coming months!
Katherine Quarmby offers a critical framing of the stigma attached to sexuality and people with disabilities, both historically and today. The article draws on the work of Dr. Tom Shakespeare, author of the seminal The Sexual Politics of Disability. Eugenics’ hereditary ideas of “fit” and “unfit” bodies was crucial in creating the pervasive trope of “contamination” that Shakespeare identifies as one of four tropes surrounding sexuality and people with disabilities.
“Asexual, hypersexual, perverse and contaminated: these four damaging tropes from history combine to form a bitter legacy for disabled people.”
See also: Sins Invalid, a national performance project that uses performance art as a platform to reframe conversations about sexuality and disability through an intersectional LGBTQ and people of color lens.
We’re happy to share professional documentation of “The Normal”: Images from the Haunted Files of Eugenics, a public installation that was on view at the NYU Kimmel Windows Gallery from October 31, 2014 through January , 2015. The installation drew from public displays and propaganda of the American eugenics movement, which distilled the “objective” research of institutions like the Eugenics Record Office into visceral imagery and familiar racial, gendered, and ableist stereotypes.
Click the image below to see images from the installation. Image credits: GION Studio.
The State of Virginia has passed legislation that would offer financial compensation to victims of the state’s eugenic sterilization program, which forcibly sterilized over 8,000 Virginians deemed “unfit” to reproduce from the 1920s through 1970s. Reports indicate that only 11 surviving victims have been identified, and will each receive a $25,000 compensation. This makes Virginia the second state to address the crimes of forced sterilization through compensation. In 2012, North Carolina announced similar plans to compensate surviving victims of forced sterilization. Payments began in 2014, though the process has been riddled with red tape and loopholes that some say are preventing sterilization victims from receiving their proper compensation.
Virginia passed its Eugenic Sterilization Act in 1924, alongside a “Racial Integrity Act” which made it “unlawful for any white person in [Virginia] to marry any [person] save a white person.” Battles over the legality of the state’s sterilization law culminated in 1927, when the Supreme Court ruled eugenic sterilization constitutional in the infamous ruling in the case Buck v. Bell. Eugenics sterilization laws proliferated after the ruling. Eventually over 30 states adopted compulsory sterilization bills motivated by eugenics.
Though the eugenics movement fell out of popular favor with the onset of World War II, Virginia’s sterilization act remained on the books until 1979. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the law was increasingly used to target Black women within the welfare system.