This grant will allow the Principal Investigator to complete research and writing on a history of the nature-nurture debate as it unfolded in Russia, from pre-revolutionary times to the present day.

The work will chronicle the creation of eugenics in the 1 920s by several groups of experimental biologists, psychiatrists, anthropologists, and physicians; analyze the research they conducted as part of the Russian Eugenics Society; chronicle the "demise" of eugenics in 1930 and its rapid transformation and rebirth as "medical genetics" in 1934; show how personal and professional networks were able to maintain the field's traditions "underground" during decades of Stalinism and Lysenkoism; and demonstrate the way these networks and institutions reemerged in the 1960s and 1970s to help shape the "new" Soviet biology of the Brezhnev era.

Based on some twenty years of research, archival work, and interviews, as well as preliminary publications focusing on particular people, topics, and periods, the work will also include much information that has only recently become available, including data collected by the Eugenics Bureau on the Petersburg intelligentsia; archival documentation of Ivanov's attempt to hybridize humans and chimpanzees using artificial insemination, information on H.J. Muller's activities in Russia; recorded interviews with principals; and primary and secondary materials on the abiding connections between eugenics and Soviet psychology and psychiatry.

By carefully tracking the field of human heredity, the institutions where it was studied, and the professional and personal networks that created and sustained them, I hope this work will help to revise and broaden our understanding of eugenics by providing a new national case study, illuminate the complex role of networks in sustaining Russian science under totalitarianism, and focus the attention of historians of science, technology, and medicine on the role of networks in the events they study, as well as affording a new and somewhat less culture-bound perspective on current bioethical issues and concerns. Given the topic and the rather startling character of much I will discuss, the work should be of interest not only to scientists, science historians, Russian historians, physicians, and bioethicists, but also to the broader public.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Michael M. Sokal
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Pennsylvania
United States
Zip Code