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Origins of Eugenics

Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s half-cousin, applied statistical methods and family genealogy to understand and develop ways of improving societies, classes, and individuals. Galton coined the word “eugenics” to define the concept of human improvement through biology.

These concepts influenced such fields as philanthropy, sociology, and criminology; hereditarian concepts of criminality and its control were systematized by Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso.

Physiognomy and phrenology, the idea that human biological and social worth can be deduced from physical appearance has roots in the Renaissance and the early modern period. In the mid-nineteenth century, following the articulation of natural selection and evolution of organisms by Charles Darwin, many natural philosophers and scientists saw understanding and manipulation of the mechanism of inheritance as key to better humans, races, and societies.

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Origins of Eugenics