Eugenics: Toward the "Perfect" Human

Spring 2016 quarter

Taught by


Students should have a background of at least one year of high school biology. 

In what ways can the human being "improve"? Can improvements be made before birth as well as after birth? In seeking improvement, what is the proper balance between what we can do and what we should do?

In this program, we consider the history of eugenics—the application of genetic principles to "improving" the human species—from its inception in the late 19th century to its most recent manifestation in contemporary medicine. We will study concepts in genetics, molecular biology, and reproductive biology to help us understand what is scientifically possible for altering human development.  We will turn to anthropological studies to consider the social and political context within which such research is conducted.  In particular, we will focus on what is cultural about the scientific practices and aims underlying genetic research.  Additionally, we will read philosophy and literature to help us investigate what might be desirable and perhaps dangerous in this quest for "improvement."

Program activities will include a laboratory component with experimental work in genetics and molecular biology. Regular writing assignments will be used to strengthen and deepen communication and analytical thinking skills. We anticipate reading such authors as Plato, Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Shelley, Francis Galton, Daniel Kevles, Michel Foucault, and Richard Powers.

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

biology, philosophy, and medicine.

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


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Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning

More information about online learning.

Required Fees

$20 for museum entrance fees.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Freshmen ONLY ; 100% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 54


Course Reference Number

Fr (16 credits): 30114

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