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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Racism, eugenics and the domestication of humans

By Subhadra Das, on 25 October 2017

The Grant Museum’s current exhibition – The Museum of Ordinary Animals: The Boring Beasts that Changed the World ­­- explores the mundane creatures in our everyday lives. Here on the blog, we will be delving into some of the stories featured in the exhibition with the UCL researchers who helped put it together.

In December 1863, the scientist Francis Galton presented a paper to the Ethnological Society entitled ‘The Domestication of Animals’. In it, he outlined six characteristics necessary for an animal to be domesticated

  1. Hardiness: the ability to survive despite human neglect.
  2. Fondness for Man…notwithstanding occasional hard usage and frequent neglect.
  3. Desire of comfort…a motive which strongly attached certain animals to human habitation.
  4. Usefulness to Man.
  5. Breeding freely.
  6. Easy to tend…by which large numbers of them can be controlled by a few herdsmen…Gregariousness is such a quality.

It is worth noting that this paper was presented not to an audience of scientists who study animal behaviour but to ethnologists –  that is, scientists who study the difference between different groups of people – and that Galton’s main objective in outlining these traits was to demonstrate that domestication happened because certain species of animals were, by their inherent nature, domesticable.

Francis Galton and his albino Pekingese dog Wee-Ling, whose skull features in the exhibition. Wee Ling was the product of research into pedigree breeding by fellow eugenicist Karl Pearson.

Francis Galton and his albino Pekingese dog Wee-Ling, whose skull features in the exhibition. Wee Ling was the product of research into pedigree breeding by fellow eugenicist Karl Pearson.

Where a particular species does not have the traits to be brought under human control, he said, less civilised human societies, such as the reindeer herders of Lapland, are forced to live their lives to accommodate the animals in order to benefit from them. Galton gives examples from all over the world of how what he called the “rude races” had successfully brought animals under their control as pets, sacred animals and in zoos. In other words, it is easy to domesticate animals — even ‘savages’ can do it. (more…)

Race, Starkey and Remembering

By Debbie J Challis, on 16 August 2011

David Starkey’s comments that ‘whites have become black’ on the BBC2 programme Newsnight on Friday 12 August 2011 have been condemned in most of the media and by many politicians. There are a few who make the valid argument for freedom to say what we like, while others contend that Starkey was referring to a particular form of ‘black’ gangsta culture. The BBC has had over 700 complaints. The black MP for Tottenham David Lammy, whom Starkey described as sounding ‘white’, implied that Starkey should stick to Tudor history. The classicist Mary Beard has pointed out that any historian worth their salt should be able to apply their tools of critique to any period.  In this I concur.

David Starkey on Newsnight

Here I speak personally for myself and not for UCL or for any of my colleagues.

Starkey’s generalisations uncomfortably reminded me of Francis Galton’s letter to The Times on 5 June 1873 advocating that the Chinese move into Africa and take over from the ‘inferior negro’. Galton wrote: (more…)

The Grave of Francis Galton

By Debbie J Challis, on 7 July 2011

Occasionally I leave the museum bunker to give talks about the museum, exhibitions and my research. A few weeks ago I went out to the lovely village of Claverdon in Warwickshire to give a talk on Francis Galton.

2011 is the centenary of the death of the scientist Sir Francis Galton. Francis Galton's Grave in Claverdon GraveyardLast year the churchwarden Jonathan Evans got in touch with UCL Museums and Collections as they had received funding from the Galton Institute to clean up and conserve Galton’s grave in Claverdon church’s graveyard. (more…)