Strategic Initiatives


Science, Race and Reform in the ‘Social Laboratory of the World’


What was distinctive about the New Zealand eugenics experience? This project is an historical investigation of eugenics, a social scientific movement that flourished during the early twentieth aimed at human racial improvement by selective breeding. Eugenics was championed by many leading scientists of the times in the UK, Europe and the US.

Little is known at present about how eugenic theory was received and acted on in New Zealand by scientists, and society in general. This project investigates the movement from not only medical, social and political perspectives but also those of Māori leaders, feminists, working people, clergy and religious groups. AWC Director, Professor Hamish Spencer is co-ordinating this project with collaborators Professor Diane Paul (Harvard University) and Associate Professor John Stenhouse (University of Otago), to deliver a comprehensive history of the eugenic movement in New Zealand that will make a major contribution to our scientific, social and political history.

 Key Benefits

  • Make a major contribution to understanding New Zealand’s scientific, social and political history 
  • Improve scientific understanding in historical research and vice versa

Hamish Spencer discusses the history of the eugenics movement in New Zealand in an interview with Kathryn Ryan, on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon programme (12 September 2012).