Book on race biologist Herman Lundborg

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In 1922 physician and professor Herman Lundborg was appointed head of the Swedish state Institute for Racial Biology in Uppsala. It was the world’s first state institute for racial biology. For a while, in the early 20s, Sweden was world leader in the subject and racial-biological notions became generally accepted. Researcher colleagues in Germany, who would later become influential racial experts and hand out death sentences in the Third Reich, peered enviously out across the Baltic Sea towards Sweden.

This is the first book ever written about Herman Lundborg. Maja Hagerman describes the research mysteries that Lundborg believed he had solved; she also describes the people he met during his field studies, not least the women. We follow his progress from June 1913 when he travels north on the first of his many journeys to Lapland. He takes measurements, he takes photographs and collects and compares physiognomies; he ranks each individual according to higher or lower class. He speaks in threatening terms of the degenerative effect of racial mixing, yet has a child, in secret, with a woman of the “wrong sort”.

From the book

“A few important words help to clarify what is happening in the village when the racial biologist arrives. Among the astonished people there he creates ‘races’, establishes differences and hierarchies, and pronounces words that eat their way into people’s thinking. Despite the fact that several languages are spoken – Sámi, Meänkiele or Finnish – and that people dress in different ways and have different names, some Swedish- and some non-Swedish sounding, and that part of a family has a permanent home and part does not, and that their identity as ‘Finn’ or ‘Lapp’ or ‘Swede’ is in point of fact diffuse, an echo of the way of thinking lingers on. Racial biology draws lines, and underlines differences, and creates aliens.”

 

General background

The account of Herman Lundborg has three elements:

– His racial investigations in Lapland.

– His private love life and his family.

– His contacts with Germany and his significance in the racial hygiene movement in Germany.

The presentation is based on a considerable quantity of letters in the Uppsala University Library archives. They include a couple of thousand German letters that have not previously been paid any attention; many of them are correspondence between leading figures within the racial hygiene movement in Germany. In German public libraries no similar correspondence has been preserved – letters to and from those radical, racist researchers, physicians and university professors, who lent scientific legitimacy, during the 1920s, to the emerging Nazism.