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!
Haunted Files: The Eugenics Record Office is featured on this weeks AudioFiles, a podcast produced by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Producers Frank Green and Julia Alsop take listeners on an in-depth tour of the exhibit.
Last year one of the most prolific forces in American compulsory sterilization passed a law paying out compensation to those still living with the tragic legacy of the practice. North Carolina sterilized some 7,000 people between 1929 and 1976, with an estimated 3,000 individuals still alive and able to claim $20,000 in reparations offered by the legislation.
Debra Blackmon (left) was sterilized by court order in 1972, at age 14. With help from her niece, Latoya Adams (right), she’s fighting to be included in the state’s compensation program. Eric Mennel/WUNC
This week NPR is reporting that hundreds of people who were forced to undergo the procedure in the state may not ever be compensated because of a technicality. According to the law the sterilization had to have been officially approved by the state’s Eugenics Board. However, many individuals were targeted at the local level by judges or social workers who cited state law but didn’t get official approval for their decisions.
A spokesman for the state when asked if NC is responsible for these individuals responded, “That’s kind of hard to say. Again, it’s just an unfortunate part of our history. It’s just something that was done. So it’s kind of hard to say that the state would be responsible when it was just kind of an accepted practice.”
To say that the state isn’t responsible for creating a legal framework in which individuals in power were able to sterilize those they saw as “unfit” is deeply misguided. This kind of obfuscation is doubly offensive because of the way in which eugenic sterilizations were often done without the knowledge of the victim, and thus eliminated the ability to appeal the decision to the Eugenics Board. If NC and its elected officials were truly committed to justice they would take full responsibility and make sure no victim of compulsory sterilization was manipulated out of their deserved compensation by the very bureaucracy that once so callously abused them.
University College of London is grappling with the legacy of UCL professor Francis Galton, best remembered as the founder of eugenics. Across the pond, Haunted Files at NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute is confronting New York’s historical role as an epicenter of international eugenics in the 1910s-1930s. In light of these projects, the Center for Genetics and Society reflects on the importance of teaching eugenics history, especially within the context of higher education:
“Many educational institutions still avoid discussing the history of eugenics, and many are reluctant to confront their own complicity in the abuses it facilitated. But studying eugenics in the twentieth century is important not just as a matter of learning history, but as part of what we need to know in order to thoughtfully consider the responsible uses of genetic technologies today.”
Haunted Files: The Eugenics Record Office was featured in today’s Science Times in an article that explores the troubled history of the infamous Long Island institution. Author Joshua A. Krisch writes:
“At the N.Y.U. exhibit, the ethical line between genetics and eugenics is blurred in every cabinet; legitimate science and blatant racism vie for space on every page. The reconstructed eugenics office can force viewers to think about the ethical implications of today’s genetic research.”