From its founding in 1927 until its dissolution in 1945, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics (KWI-A) in Berlin-Dahlem transgressed many a boundary; indeed, the transgression of boundaries was in a sense its raison d’être from the outset. Initially this applied to the boundaries within the disciplinary canon of the human sciences. Even from its basic conception, the institute, centered around the person of its founding director Eugen Fischer (1874–1967), was to unify anthropology, genetics, and eugenics under one roof. In keeping with the understanding predominant in Germany between the wars, anthropology went beyond the scope of the framework of the ascendant “race theory” to cover not only physical anthropology, including paleoanthropology, but also elements of what we today would call cultural and social anthropology. Thus, this anthropology extended far into the fields of archeology, paleontology, prehistory and early history, history and sociology, and especially into ethnology and folklore. Human genetics, in turn, was more than the attempt to apply to humans the genetics developed by Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866–1945) and his school in the USA on the model of drosophila. In Germany, Morgan’s genetics, which concentrated on investigating the dissemination of genetic traits on the chromosomes and their morphological structure, was received with skepticism for two reasons. The first criticism was that this special orientation of the genetics neglected the problem of how genetic traits are manifested, so that the labyrinthine path from the genotype to the phenotype and the forces involved other than genes remained in the dark. Second, German geneticists — probably a consequence of the holistic style of thinking in the sciences predominant in Germany — found it unsatisfying that Morgan’s genetics studied, so to speak, development without evolution. German genetics, in contrast, attempted to link together genetics and evolutionary biology. Eugenics, finally, was located from its very establishment in the boundary area between many human sciences: biology, genetics, medicine, psychiatry, hygiene, anthropology, demography, political economy, and sociology. What was undertaken in Dahlem was thus nothing less than the attempt to develop a new, transdisciplinary key science of humans.
KeywordsNational Socialist State Race Theory Genetic Health Weimar Republic Race Policy
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