Database Update: Eugenics in College Textbooks

Well, I just spent a fair portion of Thanksgiving morning updating the Textbook History database of Eugenics in College Biology Textbooks. In addition to correcting more than a few embarrassing misspellings and broken links, I’ve added commentary on two later editions of Biology by Claude A. Villee (1967 and 1972), the second edition of General Biology by Gairdner B. Moment (1950), and the first edition of Biology: A Full Spectrum (1973) by Gairdner B. Moment and Helen M. Habermann.

It remains striking how unwilling Harvard professor Villee was to give up on eugenics. Moment too, but Villee far more so. In the 1972 edition of Biology the author comes off as downright cranky about having to abandon the term. But though Villee finally dropped eugenics from the index and text, he didn’t abandon the idea entirely. Where the discussion of eugenics had been in his 1967 text, at the close of the chapter titled “Inheritance in Man,” the author simply substituted two modern sounding but not really so modern sub-sections – “Factors Changing Gene Frequencies: Differential Reproduction” and “Evolution: The Failure to Maintain Genetic Equilibrium” (718). Forget isolation or drift, for Villee, evolution, for better or for worse, was driven by that boogeyman of eugenics, “differential reproduction.” His citing of Earnest. A. Hooton, Carleton. S. Coon (786) and Franz Weidenreich (789) betrayed a continued affection for the concept of “racial development.”

For additional discussion on Villee, see The Eugenic Zombie in a Graveyard of Textbooks, specifically the article’s last section.

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