To Conserve Man

Bison from Civic BiologyTo our Rachel Carson-tuned ears, the word conservation means allowing nature to hold sway, to designate areas as wetlands, protected habitats and forever wild, to be humble and accept that nature is usually smarter than we are. But to biology textbook authors in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, influenced by the eugenic ideas of Henry Fairfield Osborn, Madison Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and others, conservation meant something else entirely. It meant first, preserving select symbols of American virility, like the redwood tree, the bison, and most importantly, their own “great race,” and second, managing the rest of nature – forests, water resources, wildlife, and soil – so that it could be exploited maximally without collapse.

Biology’s Bomb: Graphing “Explosive” Population Growth in Cold War Textbooks

January 29, 2011 Prior to World War II, America’s protectors thought the country’s innocence could be guarded at its gates. Citizen biologists saw the nation’s border as kind of cartographic diaphragm, not entirely reliable in individual instances, but adequate to the task of containing the pool of potential breeders. But conflict had led to contact,…

Index

How Are We Going to Control These Kids? Biology Textbooks in the 1940s By 1940, biology’s core eugenics-based narrative had been dramatically weakened. Yet the demand for a curriculum that could control adolescent sexuality, had, if anything, only increased since the 1920s. Worries about what their sons and daughters were getting up to in the…

Race, Art and Evolution

June 22, 2010 These reconstructions of Java Man (Pithecanthropus), Neanderthal Man and Cro-Magnon Man were created around 1915 by Columbia University physical anthropologist J. H. McGregor for the American Museum of Natural History. They were designed not just to impress visitors with the wonders of science, but also to promote the eugenic theories of the…

About Textbook History

Textbook History is the personal journal of Ronald Ladouceur, an independent scholar interested in the intersection of history, science and visual rhetoric. Articles published here are (mostly) inspired by the author’s collection of 135+ high school and college biology textbooks published between 1907 and the early 1970s. (See the author’s database.) Biology textbooks, it turns…