Eugenics, 'Aristogenics', Photography : Picturing Privilege book cover
1st Edition

Eugenics, 'Aristogenics', Photography
Picturing Privilege

ISBN 9781003085355
Published June 8, 2020 by Routledge
256 Pages 51 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This is the first study to explore the connections between late-19th-century university/college composite class portraits and the field of eugenics – which first took hold in the United States at Harvard University. Eugenics, "Aristogenics," Photography takes a closer look at how composite portraiture documented an idealized “reality” of the New England social-caste experience and explains how, when positioned in relation to the individual stories and portraits of members of the class, the portraits reveal points of non-conformity and rebellion with their own rhetoric.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction  2. Harvard’s ‘Class’ Portraits: Composite Pictures and a New England ‘Aristogenic’ Agenda  3. A ‘Dandy’ Masculinity?: Establishing and Respecting Cisgender Norms, Using Photography  4. Social Poise, Demure Confidence: Swaying College Women to be the Essential Players in Positive Eugenics  5. Biometrics, Posture Pictures: ‘We Did What We Were Told’  6. Conclusions

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Kris Belden-Adams is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Mississippi, USA.


"Clearly argued, thoroughly documented book. Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals; general readers."


"Belden-Adams shows us the importance of reflecting today on photography’s construction of social privilege and investment in American nativism. Ascribing such work to college portraiture from the turn of the twentieth century, she reminds us that our photographic practices have always been political."

Tanya Sheehan, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Art, Colby College, USA

"Belden-Adams’s exceedingly well-researched book dives deep into the problematic waters of nineteenth-century eugenics photography and related uses of the medium. What she finds is that defining racial, criminal, and honorific types through photography held far more purchase in the US than previously known. But her study also shows that the instability of eugenics logic led to spectacular failures of the resulting pictures, particularly as compared to counter efforts at the subtle queering of photography at the same time among similar constituencies."

Andrés Mario Zervigón, Professor of the History of Photography, Rutgers University, USA