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Catalog Archive / Spring 2020

Unlearning Eugenics
Sexuality, Reproduction, and Disability in Post-Nazi Europe

George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History
Edited by Steven E. Aschheim, Skye Doney, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin

“A brilliant thinker and beautiful writer, Dagmar Herzog traces a century of debate and legislation on abortion and disability that has been dominated by eugenic ideas. The breathtaking combination of erudition, passion, and mastery of original material makes this a must-read for anyone interested in the history of human rights.”
—Wendy Lower, author of Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields

Since the defeat of the Nazi Third Reich and the end of its horrific eugenics policies, battles over the politics of life, sex, and death have continued and evolved. Dagmar Herzog documents how reproductive rights and disability rights, both latecomers to the postwar human rights canon, came to be seen as competing—with unexpected consequences. Herzog restores to the historical record a revelatory array of activists: from Catholic and Protestant theologians who defended abortion rights to historians who uncovered the long-suppressed connections between the mass murder of the disabled and the Holocaust of European Jewry. Unlearning Eugenics shows how central the controversies over sexuality, reproduction, and disability have been to broader processes of secularization and religious renewal.


Dagmar Herzog Dagmar Herzog is a Distinguished Professor of History and Daniel Rose Faculty Scholar at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her many books include Cold War Freud: Psychoanalysis in an Age of Catastrophes and Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History.




“[Herzog] skillfully leads her reader through the myriad complexities...aimed at supplanting this history, not simply in Germany but throughout a culture pervaded by eugenic instincts.”

“Herzog's essays on the contrapuntal character of history show how historical moments ricochet into one another, with unexpected and sometimes pernicious effects. Unlearning eugenics creates conditions that enable those who live otherwise to flourish, in a world with room for different desires, bodies, and minds. A brilliant, unsettling, indispensable book.”
—Danilyn Rutherford, author of Living in the Stone Age: Reflections on the Origins of a Colonial Fantasy

“A must-read for scholars and activists wishing to understand why and how the current political impasse emerged in Europe, though her insights are applicable to other regional contexts, especially North America. The book pulsates with a sense of political purpose and urgency.”
H-Diplo Roundtable Review

“An inspiring book about the entanglement of sexuality, reproduction, and disability in Europe after the Second World War. . . . Well written and offers many meaningful insights in the debates about sexuality and disability in Europe. Reading it is time well spent.”


Additional Resources

Audio recording of Unlearning Eugenics book discussion hosted by The New York Consortium for Intellectual History. Recording courtsey of the George L. Mosse Program in History at UW–Madison.



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James R. Dow

Unlearning Eugenics

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April 2020

LC: 2018011401 HQ
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