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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


The Unbelievable Truth about Sir Francis Galton

By Subhadra Das, on 5 November 2015

I have a motto: If at a loss, take inspiration from a tried and tested Radio 4 format.

This week it’s The Unbelievable Truth, the panel show built on truth and lies. Each panellist presents a short lecture on a chosen subject and scores points for how many truths they can smuggle past the other players. Panellists win points for spotting truths, and lose points if they mistake a lie for a truth. Seeing as I’m the only one presenting, the lecture is longer than normal and contains 15 truths rather than the usual 5. In the interest of investing in a civilised society, I will be trusting you to keep your own score.

This week, my subject is Sir Francis Galton, the Victorian scientist and statistician who propounded the term eugenics.

I've been doing my homework...

I’ve been doing my homework…


Francis Galton and the History of Eugenics at UCL

By Subhadra Das, on 22 October 2015

The shadow of Sir Francis Galton looms large over UCL.

Francis Galton is the most famous and influential Victorian scientist you’ve never heard of. He coined the term eugenics and endowed UCL with his personal collection and archive, along with a bequest which funded the country’s first professorial Chair of Eugenics. Mahmoud Arif, a UCL student who attended “Why isn’t my Professor black?” questioned why, by holding this material and naming a lecture theatre after him, UCL appears to celebrate a known racist . Another student, Adam Elliot-Cooper, began his speech at a student protest in the summer by pointing to the Galton Lecture Theatre, which itself was the venue for the first ‘UCL Faces Race’ event last year where Galton and his work featured prominently.

Sir Francis Galton

Francis Galton (1822 – 1911) British scientist, statistician and eugenicist.

As Curator of the Galton Collection, I’ll admit that when I first heard that Galton had been name-checked in these discussions, my first response was “Oh, God, they’re going to want to burn the collection.” (Some Museum Studies degrees can include up to a whole module on ‘Curatorial Paranoia’.)


Borrowing Galton

By ucwenlm, on 8 February 2011

Although my main role is Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology, one of my responsibilities is to act as Curator for the Galton Collection. Francis Galton (1822-1911) is best known today for being a pioneer of modern eugenics, a fingerprint enthusiast and a cousin of Charles Darwin. The collection consists of over 500 objects, largely made up of Galton’s personal belongings and scientific instruments. Although small, the Galton Collection provokes a great deal of interest from both researchers and artists, partly due to the relevance of many of the themes and questions it raises in terms of identify, race and human rights.

As the Galton is a small research collection that is available for viewing only by appointment, one of my main remits is to promote and facilitate loans to exhibitions taking place in other museums. In this way, as many people as possible get to access this material in a way that they wouldn’t do ordinarily. This is quite a time-consuming process, but the rewards are great – for example, the Wellcome Collection dedicated a large section of their excellent exhibition The Identity Project to Galton, meaning that nearly 80,000 people accessed a large chunk of the UCL Galton material in just a few months. It also means that the items can be seen by an international audience – I have just had loan of seven objects returned from the Hygiene Museum in Dresden.

Who is ‘the Man from Mitanni’?

By Debbie J Challis, on 1 February 2011

Museum research can be like detective work – like Sherlock Holmes in a filing cabinet. (If there are any Benedict Cumberbatch fans reading this, don’t get distracted by that image). A vital part of clue finding is not to trust what you are told by museum databases.

At the moment I am working on an exhibition and events programme around a series of photographs that the archaeologist Flinders Petrie took for ‘The Committee appointed for the purposes of procuring, with the help of Mr Flinders Petrie, Racial Photographs from the ancient Egyptian Pictures and Sculptures’. In actual fact, Petrie only received £20 from them. The scientist Sir Francis Galton gave almost £300 from ‘his own pocket’ towards the expedition in 1886-87. (More on Galton in future posts. . .). (more…)