"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
In the early days of researching what would become Exterminating Poverty: The true story of the eugenic plan to get rid of the poor and the Scottish doctor who fought against it, progress was often slow, haphazard and time-consuming. Many hours were spent investigating dead ends. When I reached an impasse, there were many incentives to give up.
In those times, an image came to mind of rugby game in which the speed and skill of the attack is met by the anticipation and tackling of the defence. The only way through was for the forwards to wear down the other side by battering their way through the opposing pack. The movements were frenetic, the collisions brutal and progress is measured in fractions of inches. For those taking part it is bruising and energy-draining. The game becomes a test of desire, fitness, speed, strength, toughness and resilience. The winner is the team that wants it more.
One such moment occurred when I had finished reading Eugenics and Politics in Britain 1900-1914 by G.R. Searle and there were no obvious leads. While I understood the “nature v nurture” debate as it related to tuberculosis, I did not fully understand Dr. Sutherland’s position and had nothing to link him to the current events of his era. It was at this point that I decided to batter my way through. This decision was not taken in a strategic, thoughful way, so much as it was preferable to giving up.
I made a list of the prominent eugenicists mentioned in Searle’s book. Galton, Pearson, Barr, (the aptly-named) Slaughter, Saleeby and so on, and did online searches of each one, including a search of their work on archive.org. To cut a long story short, progress came when I went to archive.org, entered the search term “Caleb Saleeby,” found The Progress of Eugenics (screen shot from archive.org above) and, searching for “Sutherland” was taken to this page:
I was the small breakthrough I needed: Dr. Sutherland’s had taken a position in the nature v nuture debate. It led me to The Soil and the Seed in Tuberculosis, published in the British Medical Journal in November 1912 and, subsequently to Sir James Barr’s presidential speech to the British Medical Association in July of that year.
If you are not familiar with archive.org, congratulations! – you have just found one of the great libraries of the world. Its stated mission is “to provide universal access to all knowledge” and it maintains a collection of 28 million books in this regard as well as many other resources (film, audio, etc.) as well. One of these is the Wayback Machine which takes snapshots of websites and which enabled you to see a website at a particular time in the past. Like all great libraries, archive.org is free to use and is funded by voluntary donations.
I think it is fair to say that, without the resources of archive.org, I would not have been able to write Exterminating Poverty. Below are some of the resources I viewed:
Having grown up in the pre-Internet age, a search of the records of libraries and visiting them to view the books would have taken far longer – a prohibitive cost in terms of time. The list above includes some of those that were cited in Exterminating Poverty and there were many others that were useful, but which were not cited in the book (including Saleeby’s The Progress of Eugenics).
As a way to say “thank you” to those who run archive.org I have donated funds and have recently uploaded some key resources onto their website to make it available to researchers, namely the annual reports of the St Marylebone Dispensary for the Prevention of Consumption for 1911 and 1914.
I would urge you to support their work.