Killing Machines and Designer Babies: Science and the Nation after WWI

Tutor: Sabine Clarke

Module type: Period Topic

Module Code: HIS00042C

After the horrors of the First World War many people questioned the benefits of modern science and technology. Was science a major force for progress in Britain, that could help to create new industry or cure disease, or was it mainly something to be feared as it provided the means for one nation to annihilate another? The increasing pace of developments in science and technology caused some people to wonder if the modern world was one without morality. Science offered the means to maintain Britain’s status as a world power by providing the tools for economic prosperity and for breeding a fitter race. Did the unchecked rise of science mean, however, that Britain was becoming a nation which only valued efficiency and productivity? The period between 1914 and 1965 saw much public debate about the place of science in national life in Britain. Scientists, politicians, novelists and religious figures produced a wealth of material, including speeches, articles, surveys, fiction and non-fiction books and radio broadcasts.

This course will examine these sources and consider how the arguments they contain relate to wider anxieties about British society, politics, the economy and international affairs during this period. It will also examine the ways in which the political commitments of individual scientists informed their visions of the way in which science could help form a new society.

Seminar topics may include:

  • The neglect of science debate
  • Science and war
  • Eugenics in Britain
  • Science and politics
  • Science, the Future and Fiction
  • Scientific internationalism
  • ‘Two cultures’
  • ‘White heat’


To find out more

You might like to look at the following:

  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London, Chatto & Windus, 1932.
  • Kevles, Daniel J. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995.