Retrospection: Agassiz’s Expeditions in Brazil

Posted in Articles, Biography, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2021-09-23 02:12Z by Steven

Retrospection: Agassiz’s Expeditions in Brazil

The Harvard Crimson

Michelle Y. Raji

Louis Rodolphe Agassiz

But for Agassiz, the trip to Brazil was about more than science. Not only was evolution—a process not immediately observable to the human eye—deeply antithetical to Agassiz’s staunch empiricism, evolution was profoundly at odds with his perceived world order.

Three decades after the then-obscure scientist Charles Darwin quietly sketched his now-famous finches aboard the HMS Beagle in the Galapagos, influential Harvard professor Louis Rodolphe Agassiz set out with much greater fanfare on a lesser-known expedition. In 1865, Agassiz and his wife, accompanied by a small group of Harvard scientists and students, set sail from New York to Rio de Janeiro on The Colorado.

In a lecture en route to Brazil, Agassiz challenged Darwin’s revolutionary theory of evolution on the grounds that the theory relied too much on argument and too little on fact. Agassiz posited that evolution was not plausible according to the geologic record. The trip to Brazil was an attempt to disprove Darwin once and for all. Agassiz saw in the unique biodiversity of Brazil a perfect laboratory to test his counter-theories of phylogenetic embryology and glacial catastrophe in the tropics.

But for Agassiz, the trip to Brazil was about more than science. Not only was evolution—a process not immediately observable to the human eye—deeply antithetical to Agassiz’s staunch empiricism, evolution was profoundly at odds with his perceived world order. Though only moderately religious, Agassiz believed in the existence of a creator in all his work. Fortunately for Agassiz, this belief fit well with comparative zoology, which at the time focused heavily on hierarchal classification…

Read the entire article here.

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Scientific Racism and the Emergence of the Homosexual Body

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2013-10-20 21:44Z by Steven

Scientific Racism and the Emergence of the Homosexual Body

Journal of the History of Sexuality
Volume 5, Number 2 (October, 1994)
pages 243-266

Siobhan Somerville, Associate Professor
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

One of the most important insights developed in the fields of lesbian and gay history and the history of sexuality has been the notion that homosexuality and, by extension, heterosexuality are relatively recent inventions in Western culture, rather than transhistorical or “natural” categories of human beings. As Michel Foucault and other historians of sexuality have argued, although sexual acts between two people of the same sex had been punishable through legal and religious sanctions well before the late nineteenth century, they did not necessarily define individuals as homosexual per se. Only recently, in the late nineteenth century, did a new understanding of sexuality emerge, in which sexual acts and desires became constitutive of identity. Homosexuality as the condition, and therefore identity, of particular bodies is thus a production of that historical moment.

Medical literature, broadly defined to include the writings of physicians, sexologists, and psychiatrists, has been integral to this historical argument. Although medical discourse was by no means the only—nor necessarily the most powerful—site of the emergence of new sexual identities, it does nevertheless offer rich sources for at least partially understanding the complex development of these categories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Medical and sexological literature not only became one of the few sites of explicit engagement with questions of sexuality during this period but also held substantial definitional power within a culture that sanctioned science to discover and tell the truth about bodies.

As historians and theorists of sexuality have refined a notion of the late nineteenth-century “invention” of the homosexual, their discussions have drawn primarily upon theories and histories of gender. George Chauncey, in particular, has provided an invaluable discussion of the ways in which paradigms of sexuality shifted according to changing ideologies of gender during this period. He notes a gradual change in medical models of sexual deviance, from a notion of sexual inversion, understood as a reversal of one’s sex role, to a model of homosexuality, defined as deviant sexual object choice. These categories and their transformations, argues Chauncey, reflected concurrent shifts in the cultural organization of sex/gender roles and participated in prescribing acceptable behavior, especially within a context of white middle-class gender ideologies.

While gender insubordination offers a powerful explanatory model for the “invention” of homosexuality, ideologies of gender also, of course, shaped and were shaped by dominant constructions of race. Indeed, although it has received little acknowledgment, it is striking that the “invention” of the homosexual occurred at roughly the same time that racial questions were being reformulated, particularly in the United States. This was the moment, for instance, of Plessy v. Ferguson the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that insisted that “black” and “white” races were “separate but equal.” Both a product of and a stimulus to a nationwide and brutal era of racial segregation, this ruling had profound and lasting effects in legitimating an apartheid structure that remained legally sanctioned for over half of the twentieth century. The Plessy case distilled in legal form many widespread contemporary fears about race and racial difference at the time. A deluge of “Jim Crow” and antimiscegenation laws, combined with unprecedented levels of racial violence, most visibly manifested in widespread lynching, reflected an aggressive attempt to classify and separate bodies as either “black” or “white.”

Is it merely a historical coincidence that the classification of bodies as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” emerged at the same time that the United States was aggressively policing the imaginary boundary between “black” and “white” bodies? Although some historians of sexuality have included brief acknowledgment of nineteenth-century discourses of racial difference, the particular relationship and potentially mutual effects of discourses of homosexuality and race remain unexplored. This silence around race may be due in part to the relative lack of explicit attention to race in medical and sexological literature of the period. These writers did not self-consciously interrogate race, nor were those whose gender insubordination and sexual transgression brought them under the medical gaze generally identified by race in these accounts. Yet the lack of explicit attention to race in these texts does not mean that it was irrelevant to sexologists’ endeavors. Given the upheavals surrounding racial definition during this period, it is reasonable to imagine that these texts were as embedded within contemporary racial ideologies as they were within ideologies of gender.

Take, for instance, the words of Havelock Ellis, whose massive Studies in the Psychology of Sex was one of the most important texts of the late nineteenth-century medical and scientific discourse on sexuality. “I regard sex as the central problem of life,” began the general preface to the first volume. Justifying such unprecedented boldness toward the study of sex, Ellis explained, “And now that the problem of religion has practically been settled, and that the problem of labour has at least been placed on a practical foundation, the question of sex—with the racial questions that rest on it—stands before the coming generations as the chief problem for solution.” Despite Ellis’s oddly breezy dismissal of the problems of labor and religion, which were far from settled at the time, this passage points suggestively to a link between sexual and racial anxieties. Yet what exactly did Ellis mean by “racial questions”? More significantly, what was his sense of the relationship between racial questions and the question of “sex”? Although Ellis himself left these issues unresolved, his elliptical declaration nevertheless suggested that a discourse of race—however elusively—somehow hovered around or within the study of sexuality.

In this article, I offer speculations on how late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century discourses of race and sexuality might be not merely juxtaposed, but brought together in ways that illuminate both. I suggest that the concurrent bifurcations of categories of race and sexuality were not only historically coincident but in fact structurally interdependent and perhaps mutually productive. My goal, however, is not to garner and display unequivocal evidence of the direct influence of racial categories on those who were developing scientific models of homosexuality. Nor am I interested in identifying individual writers and thinkers as racist or not. Rather, my focus here is on racial ideologies, the cultural assumptions and systems of representation about race through which individuals understood their relationships within the world. My emphasis lies in understanding the relationships between the medical/scientific discourse around sexuality and the dominant scientific discourse around race during this period, that is, scientific racism.

My approach combines literary and historical methods of reading, particularly those that have been so crucial to lesbian and gay studies—the technique of reading to hear “the inexplicable presence of the thing not named,” of being attuned to the queer presences and implications in texts that do not otherwise name them. Without this collective project to see, hear, and confirm queer inflections where others would deny their existence, it is arguable that gay and lesbian studies itself, and particularly our knowledge and understanding of the histories, writing, and cultures of lesbians and gay men, would be impoverished, if not impossible. In a similar way, I propose to use the techniques of queer reading, but to modulate my analysis from a focus on sexuality and gender to one alert to racial resonances as well.

My attention, then, is focused on the racial pressure points in exemplary texts from the late nineteenth-century discourse on sexuality, including those written by Ellis and other writers of the period who made explicit references to homosexuality. I suggest that the structures and methodologies that drove dominant ideologies of race also fueled the pursuit of scientific knowledge about the homosexual body: both sympathetic and hostile accounts of homosexuality were steeped in assumptions that had driven previous scientific studies of race. My aim is not to replace a focus on gender and sexuality with that of race but, rather, to understand how discourses of race and gender buttressed one another, often competing, often overlapping, in shaping emerging models of homosexuality.

I suggest three broadly defined ways in which discourses of sexuality seem to have been particularly engaged, sometimes overtly, but largely implicitly, with the discourse of scientific racism. All of these models pathologized both the nonwhite body and the nonheterosexual body to greater or lesser extents. Although I discuss these models in separate sections here, they often coexisted, despite their contradictions. These models are speculative and are intended as a first step toward understanding the myriad and historically specific ways that racial and sexual discourses shaped each other at the moment that homosexuality entered scientific discourse…

…The Mixed Body

The emergence of evolutionary theory in the late nineteenth century foregrounded a view of continuity between the “savage” and “civilized” races, in contrast to earlier scientific thinking about race, which had focused on debates about the origins of different racial groups. Proponents of monogeny, on the one hand, argued that all races derived from a single origin. Those who argued for polygeny, on the other hand, argued that different races descended from separate biological and geographical sources, a view, not coincidentally, that supported segregationist impulses. With Darwin’s publication of Origin of the Species in 1859, the debate between polygeny and monogeny was replaced by evolutionary theory, which was appropriated as a powerful scientific model for understanding race. Its controversial innovation was its emphasis on the continuity between animals and human beings. Evolutionary theory held out the possibility that the physical, mental, and moral characteristics of human beings had evolved gradually over time from apelike ancestors. Although the idea of continuity depended logically on the blurring of boundaries within hierarchies, it did not necessarily invalidate the methods or assumptions of comparative anatomy. On the contrary, the notion of visible differences and racial hierarchies were deployed to corroborate Darwinian theory.

The concept of continuity was harnessed to growing attention to miscegenation, or “amalgamation,” in social science writing in the first decades of the twentieth century. Edward Byron Reuter’s The Mulatto in the United States, for instance, pursued an exhaustive quantitative and comparative study of the mulatto population and its achievements in relation to those of “pure” white or African ancestry. Reuter traced the presence of a distinct group of mixed-race people back to early American history: “Their physical appearance, though markedly different from that of the pure blooded race, was sufficiently marked to set them off as a peculiar people.” Reuter, of course, was willing to admit the viability of “mulattoes” only within a framework that emphasized the separation of races. Far from using the notion of the biracial body to refute the belief in discrete markers of racial difference, Reuter perpetuated the notion by focusing on the distinctiveness of this “peculiar people.”

Miscegenation was, of course, not only a question of race but also one of sex and sexuality. Ellis recognized this intersection implicitly, if not explicitly. His sense of the “racial questions” implicit in sex was surely informed by his involvement with eugenics, the movement in Britain, Europe, and the United States that, to greater or lesser degrees, advocated selective reproduction and “race hygiene.” In the United States, eugenics was both a political and scientific response to the growth of a population beginning to challenge the dominance of white political interests. The widespread scientific and social interest in eugenics was fueled by anxieties expressed through the popularized notion of (white) “race suicide.” This phrase, invoked most famously by Theodore Roosevelt, summed up nativist fears about a perceived decline in reproduction among white Americans. The new field of eugenics worked hand in hand with growing antimiscegenation sentiment and policy, provoked not only by attempts for political representation among African-Americans but also by the influx of large populations of immigrants. As Mark Haller has pointed out, “Racists and [immigration] restrictionists . . . found in eugenics the scientific reassurances they needed that heredity shaped man’s personality and that their assumptions rested on biological facts.” Ellis saw himself as an advocate for eugenics policies. As an active member of the British National Council for Public Morals, Ellis wrote several publications concerning eugenics, including The Problem of Race Regeneration, a pamphlet advocating “voluntary” sterilization of the unfit as a policy in the best interest of “the race.” In a letter to Francis Galton in 1907, Ellis wrote, “In the concluding volume of my Sex ‘Studies’ I shall do what I can to insinuate the eugenic attitude.”

The beginnings of sexology, then, were related to and perhaps even dependent on a pervasive climate of eugenicist and antimiscegenation sentiment and legislation. Even at the level of nomenclature, anxieties about miscegenation shaped sexologists’ attempts to find an appropriate and scientific name for the newly visible object of their study Introduced in 1892 through the English translation of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, the term “homosexuality” itself stimulated a great deal of uneasiness. In 1915, Ellis reported that “most investigators have been much puzzled in coming to a conclusion as to the best, most exact, and at the same time most colorless names [for same-sex desire].” Giving an account of the various names proposed, such as Ulrichs’s “Uranian” and Westphal’s “contrary sexual feeling,” Ellis admitted that “homosexuality” was the most widespread term used. Far from the ideal “colorless” term, however, “homosexuality” evoked Ellis’s distaste for its mixed origins: in a regretful aside, he noted that “it has, philologically, the awkward disadvantage of being a bastard term compounded of Greek and Latin elements” (p. 2). In the first edition of Sexual Inversion, Ellis had stated his alarm more directly: “‘Homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word.” A similar view was expressed by Edward Carpenter, an important socialist organizer in England and an outspoken advocate of homosexual and women’s emancipation at this time. Like Ellis, Carpenter winced at the connotations of illegitimacy in the word: “‘homosexual,’ generally used in scientific works, is of course a bastard word. ‘Homogenic’ has been suggested, as being from two roots, both Greek, i.e., ‘homos,’ same, and ‘genos,’ sex.” Carpenter’s suggestion, “homogenic,” of course, resonated both against and within the vocabularies of eugenics and miscegenation. Performing these etymological gyrations with almost comic literalism, Ellis and Carpenter expressed pervasive cultural sensitivities around questions of racial origins and purity. Concerned above with legitimacy, they attempted to remove and rewrite the mixed origins of “homosexuality.” Ironically, despite their suggestions for alternatives, the “bastard” term took hold among sexologists, thus yoking together, at least rhetorically, two kinds of mixed bodies—the racial “hybrid” and the invert.

Although Ellis exhibited anxieties about biracial bodies, for others who sought to naturalize and recuperate homosexuality, the evolutionary emphasis on continuity offered potentially useful analogies. Xavier Mayne, for example, one of the earliest American advocates of homosexual rights, wrote, “Between whitest of men and the blackest negro stretches out a vast line of intermediary races as to their colours: brown, olive, red tawny, yellow.” He then invoked this model of race to envision a continuous spectrum of gender and sexuality: “Nature abhors the absolute, delights in the fractional. . . . Intersexes express the half-steps, the between-beings ” In this analogy, Mayne reversed dominant cultural hierarchies that privileged purity over mixture. Drawing upon irrefutable evidence of the “natural” existence of biracial people, Mayne posited a direct analogy to a similarly mixed body, the intersex, which he positioned as a necessary presence within the natural order.

Despite Carpenter’s complaint about “bastard” terminology, he, like Mayne, also occasionally appropriated the scientific language of racial mixing in order to resist the association between homosexuality and degeneration. In The Intermediate Sex, he attempted to theorize homosexuality outside of the discourse of pathology or abnormality; he too suggested a continuum of genders, with “intermediate types” occupying a place between the poles of exclusively heterosexual male and female. In an appendix to The Intermediate Sex, Carpenter offered a series of quotations supporting his ideas, some of which drew upon racial analogies: “Anatomically and mentally we find all shades existing from the pure genus man to the pure genus woman. Thus there has been constituted what is well named by an illustrious exponent of the science ‘The Third Sex.’ … As we are continually meeting in cities women who are one-quarter, or one-eighth, or so on, male … so there are in the Inner Self similar half-breeds, all adapting themselves to circumstances with perfect ease.” Through notions of “shades” of gender and sexual “half-breeds,” Carpenter appropriated dominant scientific models of race to construct and embody what he called the intermediate sex. These racial paradigms, in addition to models of gender, offered a Carpenter a coherent vocabulary for understanding and expressing a new vision of sexual bodies…

Read the entire article here.

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The Victorian Reinvention of Race: New Racisms and the Problem of Grouping in the Human Sciences

Posted in Books, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United Kingdom on 2012-09-23 18:04Z by Steven

The Victorian Reinvention of Race: New Racisms and the Problem of Grouping in the Human Sciences

248 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-415-65278-0
Hardback ISBN: 978-0-415-88125-8
eBook ISBN: 978-0-203-84498-4

Edward Beasley, Associate Professor of History
San Diego State University

In mid-Victorian England there were new racial categories based upon skin colour. The ‘races’ familiar to those in the modern west were invented and elaborated after the decline of faith in Biblical monogenesis in the early nineteenth century, and before the maturity of modern genetics in the middle of the twentieth. Not until the early nineteenth century would polygenetic and racialist theories win many adherents. But by the middle of the nineteenth century in England, racial categories were imposed upon humanity. How the idea of ‘race’ gained popularity in England at that time is the central focus of The Victorian Reinvention of Race: New Racisms and the Problem of Grouping in the Human Sciences.

Scholars have linked this new racism to some very dodgy thinkers. The Victorian Reinvention of Race examines a more influential set of the era’s writers and colonial officials, some French but most of them British. Attempting to do serious social analysis, these men oversimplified humanity into biologically-heritable, mentally and morally unequal, colour-based ‘races’. Thinkers giving in to this racist temptation included Alexis de Tocqueville when he was writing on Algeria; Arthur de Gobineau (who influenced the Nazis); Walter Bagehot of The Economist; and Charles Darwin (whose Descent of Man was influenced by Bagehot). Victorians on Race also examines officials and thinkers (such as Tocqueville in Democracy in America, the Duke of Argyll, and Governor Gordon of Fiji) who exercised methodological care, doing the hard work of testing their categories against the evidence. They analyzed human groups without slipping into racial categorization. Author Edward Beasley examines the extent to which the Gobineau-Bagehot-Darwin way of thinking about race penetrated the minds of certain key colonial governors. He further explores the hardening of the rhetoric of race-prejudice in some quarters in England in the nineteenth century – the processes by which racism was first formed.


  1. Introduction – Reinventing Racism
  2. Tocqueville and Race
  3. Gobineau, Bagehot’s Precursor
  4. The Common Sense of Walter Bagehot
  5. Bagehot Rewrites Gobineau
  6. Darwin and Race
  7. Argyll, Race, and Degeneration
  8. Frederick Weld and the Unnamed Neighbours
  9. By Way of a Conclusion – Arthur Gordon
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Until Darwin, Science, Human Variety and the Origins of Race

Posted in Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery on 2012-01-04 04:03Z by Steven

Until Darwin, Science, Human Variety and the Origins of Race

Pickering & Chatto Publishers
224 pages
234 x 156 mm
Hardback ISBN: 978 1 84893 100 8
E-book ISBN: 978 1 84893 101 5

B. Ricardo Brown, Associate Professor of Cultural Studies
Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York

Until the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the prevailing theory on ‘the species question’ was that humans were made up of five separate species, created at different times and in different places. This view—known as the ‘polygenic theory’—was particularly favoured by naturalists of the early nineteenth-century ‘American School’ as it provided a scientific justification for slavery. Darwin’s Origin demolished this view.
This work fills a gap in recent studies on the history of race and science. Focusing on both the classification systems of human variety and the development of science as the arbiter of truth, Brown looks at the rise of the emerging sciences of life and society—biology and sociology—as well as the debate surrounding slavery and abolition.

Table of Contents

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From the Curse of Ham to the Curse of Nature

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Slavery on 2011-05-20 03:42Z by Steven

From the Curse of Ham to the Curse of Nature

The British Journal for the History of Science
Volume 40, Issue 3 (2007)
pages 367-388
DOI: 10.1017/S0007087407009788

Robert Kenny, ARC Research Fellow
The Australian Centre, School of Historical Studies
La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

This paper examines the debate engendered in ethnological and anthropological circles by Darwin’s Origin of Species and its effects. The debate was more about the nature of human diversity than about transmutation. By 1859 many polygenists thought monogenism had been clearly shown to be an antiquated and essentially religious concept. Yet the doctrine of natural selection gave rise to a ‘new monogenism‘. Proponents of polygenism such as James Hunt claimed natural selection had finally excluded monogenism, but Thomas Huxley, the most prominent exponent of the new monogenism, claimed it amalgamated the ‘best’ of both polygenism and monogenism. What it did provide was an explanation for the irreversible inequality of races, while it maintained that all humans were of one species. This bolstered belief in the innate superiority of the Caucasians over other peoples. The effect was finally to sever British ethnology from its evangelical monogenist roots. More subtly and surprisingly, it provided support in Church circles for a move away from the ideal of the ‘Native Church’.

It is well known that Darwin’s Origin of Species avoided applying the mechanism of natural selection to the development of the human species. Darwin waited twelve years before publishing his Descent of Man in 1871. Others were not so reticent. Natural selection provoked debate in British ethnological and anthropological circles through the 1860s, debates enacted in the shadow of the American war over slavery and British colonial expansion. Just as much as they were prompted by the transmutation theory, the debates had their antecedents in competing views of human diversity: did the variety of human races represent a single species descended from a common ancestor, or did the variety indicate separate species of humans descended from uncommon ancestors? Before 1859 the monogenist camp was seen, particularly by its opponents, as having based its arguments on religious conviction as much as on science, while many polygenists also saw their position as at least as much in harmony with Christian Scripture. But, to the surprise of many polygenists, after 1859 many of the most famous Darwinians, who had little truck with religion as a source of scientific knowledge, proclaimed themselves monogenists.

In the standard historiography, particularly in the writings of George Stocking, these debates are characterized as involving a conflict between a ‘Darwinian’ camp, ensconced in the Ethnological Society of London, and the ‘Anti-Darwinians’ of the Anthropological Society of London.1 Such histories, aiming to elucidate the progress of the ‘Darwinian revolution’ within anthropology, have underplayed the fundamental shift that occurred in the predominant attitude of the Ethnological Society under the influence of the Darwinians. This shift turned a monogenism of practical equality of races into a monogenism that accepted an irrevocable inequality of races and was politically little different from the polygenism advocated by the leaders of the Anthropological Society. Such histories have also overplayed polygenists’ antagonism to Darwin’s theory—for many polygenists transmutation was a means to understand the plurality of races as a plurality of species. The aim here is to examine the mechanics of the shift in monogenism and to show that natural selection, at least as then perceived by many, challenged and fatally undermined both polygenism and orthodox monogenism at their foundations. In so doing it established a new ‘scientific’ argument for human inequality that was to have far-reaching and surprising effects…


Despite his monogenism, Hodgkin was a long-time friend of the most vocal polygenists of the time, Robert Knox and the American Samuel Morton. They were all Edinburgh students together. Notoriously implicated in the Edinburgh scandals of Burke and Hare, Knox enthusiastically argued that the mulatto offspring of a European-native coupling were non-productive in the same way as a mule. He held that even in Ireland there had been ‘no amalgamation of the Celtic and Saxon blood’. This was not a novel position, as the term implies—’mulatto’ is from the Spanish for young mule. It was commonly held by settlers in Australia that Aboriginal women who had once borne a child to a European were thenceforward unable to conceive with an Aboriginal man. This supposed fact was used by Samuel Morton to support his polygenist doctrines in America, where polygenism had a greater following because it could so easily be used to support slavery. It had enough currency that Darwin felt the need to mention its disproof as late as 1871 in his Descent of Man.

Morton was famous for collecting and measuring skulls to demonstrate the moral and intellectual differences between races. His work was well known on both sides of the Atlantic. As Stephen Jay Gould demonstrated in his Mismeasure of Man, Morton fudged the measurements to ‘prove’ the Caucasian brain was bigger. This proof became a commonplace—in the decades that followed many writers used the term ‘ larger-brained European’. Friendship notwithstanding, Hodgkin was unimpressed by this science of skulls. In 1849 he wrote, ‘Having myself paid some attention to the ethnological grouping of skulls, I must confess that I have found considerable difficulty in adopting points of characteristic difference; and in this difficulty I find an argument in favour of the unity of species. ‘ He found greater variety of cranial capacity, Morton’s measure of cognitive ability, between individuals within a local group than between distant groups…

Read the entire article here.

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A tale of two scholars: The Darwin debate at Harvard

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2010-12-06 22:26Z by Steven

A tale of two scholars: The Darwin debate at Harvard

Harvard Gazette

Louis Agassiz was a scientist with a blind spot—he rejected the theory of evolution

Few people have left a more indelible imprint on Harvard than Louis Agassiz.

An ambitious institution-builder and fundraiser as well as one of the most renowned scientists of his generation, he founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) and trained a generation of naturalists in the precise methods of observation and categorization developed in Europe. His wife Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, the other half of this Harvard power couple, was co-founder and first president of the Society for the Collegiate Instruction of Women, the precursor of Radcliffe.

Unfortunately, Agassiz chose the wrong side in what turned out to be the 19th century’s greatest scientific controversy, and as a result ended his career as something of an anachronism. The controversy was over Charles Darwin’sOn the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” which was published in 1859 and soon won over the younger generation of scientists and intellectuals, including most of Agassiz’s students…

…Agassiz’s idea of nature was an essentially static one: God had placed the various species of plants and animals in specific places around the globe, and there they had remained, in the same forms and quantities as when they were first created. There was a hierarchy to organisms, but not an evolutionary one. Some were more complicated and advanced, but he did not believe as Darwin did that more complicated organisms evolved out of simpler ones.

Agassiz had similar ideas about humans. The five races of man were indigenous to specific sections of the earth. Highest in development were white Europeans. Lowest were black Africans. Agassiz took a very dim view of racial mixing.

In 1863, in a letter to Samuel Gridley Howe, appointed by Lincoln to head the American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, Agassiz expressed his views on the matter: “Conceive for a moment the difference it would make in future ages for the prospect of republican institutions and our civilization generally, if instead of the manly population descended from cognate nations, the United States should hereafter be inhabited by the effeminate progeny of mixed races, half indian, half negro, sprinkled with white blood. In whatever proportion the amalgamation may take place, I shudder at the consequences.”…

Read the entire article here.

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The Idea Of Race

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Brazil, History, Media Archive, Philosophy, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2009-12-04 00:08Z by Steven

The Idea Of Race

Hackett Publishing Company
256 pages
Cloth ISBN: 0-87220-459-6, ISBN-13: 978-0-87220-459-1
Paper ISBN: 0-87220-458-8, ISBN-13: 978-0-87220-458-4

Edited by

Robert Bernasconi, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy
Pennsylvania State University

Tommy L. Lott, Professor of Philosophy
San José State University

A survey of the historical development of the idea of race, this anthology offers pre-twentieth century theories about the concept of race, classic twentieth century sources reiterating and contesting ideas of race as scientific, and several philosophically relevant essays that discuss the issues presented. A general Introduction gives an overview of the readings. Headnotes introduce each selection. Includes suggested further readings.

Table of Contents

The Classification of Races

  1. Francois Bernier, “A new division of earth, according to the different species or races of men who inhabit it”
  2. Francois-Marie Voltaire, “Of the Different Races of Men,” from The Philosophy of History
  3. Immanuel Kant, “Of the Different Human Races”
  4. Johann Gottfried von Herder, Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Humankind
  5. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, On the Natural Variety of Mankind
  6. G. W. F. Hegel, “Anthropology,” from The Encyclopedia of Philosophical Science

Science and Eugenics

  1. Arthur de Gobineau, The Inequality of Human Races
  2. Charles Darwin, “On the Races of Man,” from The Descent of Man
  3. Francis Galton, “Eugenics: Its Definition, Scope and Aims”

Heredity and Culture

  1. Franz Boas, “Instability of Human Types”
  2. Alain Locke, “The Concept of Race as applied to Social Culture”
  3. Ashley Montagu, “The Concept of Race in the Human Species in the Light of Genetics”

Race and Political Ideology

  1. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Conservation of Races
  2. Anthony Appiah, “The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race”
  3. Leopold Senghor, “What is Negritude?”

Racial Identity

  1. Linda Alcoff, “Mestizo Identity”
  2. Michael Hanchard, “Black Cinderella? Race and the Public Sphere in Brazil”
  3. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States.
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