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04-06-2004

Clarkson University Professor Receives $79,000 National Science Foundation Grant To Write Book About Genetics Research In Nazi Germany

Sheila F. Weiss of Potsdam, professor of history in the School of Arts and Sciences at Clarkson University, has been awarded a $79,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to research and write a collection of essays on human heredity and politics under the Third Reich.

Weiss, an expert on Nazi Germany and eugenics, is collaborating on the project with Clarkson mechanical engineering senior and history minor Thomas Berez (Holland Patent, N.Y.). Berez collaborated last year with Weiss on a book review that was published in Isis, the premier scholarly journal in the history of science.

The research project, Human Genetics and Politics During the Third Reich, will include six original essays that use case studies to illustrate various facets of the problematic relationship between human genetics and politics under the Nazis.  The book is intended for use in upper level undergraduate courses, although it will also be of interest to scholars and the lay public.  Weiss will write five of the essays and collaborate with Berez on the sixth. Berez will also write the student introduction and ensure the articles are accessible for their target audience.

“As a teacher, it has become increasingly apparent to me over the last few years that there are really no books on the topic suitable for the undergraduate classroom,” said Weiss. “Either the material is too specialized or focused too exclusively on biomedical crimes, notably medical experiments.”

In June, Weiss and Berez will visit archives in Germany, including the Archive of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, where they will investigate the work of human geneticists at the former Kaiser Wilhelm Society for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, including the infamous SS doctor Joseph Mengele. Weiss and Berez will also visit archives at the University of Heidelberg, the University of Freiburg, and the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry. When they return from Germany at the end of the summer, they plan to examine relevant documents housed in archives in the United States.

“Given the concern today over the social and ethical policy issues surrounding current biotechnological practices, this collection of essays may well serve an even wider function,” added Weiss. “If lay people and students can be made to understand the historically specific conditions that structured human heredity under the Nazis, it may help them to develop a more informed opinion on current debates surrounding contemporary genetic technologies.”

Sheila Weiss is the author of the book Race Hygiene and National Efficiency: The Eugenics of Wilhelm Schallmayer as well as dozens of research articles and book reviews published in scholarly journals. She is the recipient of several fellowships, including two from the Max Planck Society in Germany, and two Fulbright awards for teaching and research in Germany.

Weiss has also been invited to deliver papers at national and international conferences. In May, Weiss will travel to Beijing to present “A Deadly Symbiosis: The Relationship Between Politics and Human Genetics at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, 1927-1945.” Her presentation is part of the History of Natural Science Section of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Weiss joined the faculty of Clarkson in 1981. She holds a doctoral degree in history of science from Johns Hopkins University. She is on the Academic Advisory Committee for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibit on “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” that will open this month.

Thomas Berez maintains a 4.0 average at Clarkson and plans to attend graduate school to study the history of science and technology in 2005. He has also been invited to participate in the Beijing Conference hosted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Clarkson’s Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering will fund his trip.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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