"Innumerable varieties of mankind run into one another by insensible degrees....[N]o variety exists, whether of colour, countenance, or stature,...as not to be connected with others of the same kind by such an imperceptible transition, that it is very clear they are all related, or only differ from each other in degree."
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, 1795.

"With me, race or hereditary descent is everything; it stamps the man."
Robert Knox, 1850.


This course examines the history of race as a biological concept. Using the framework of physical/biological anthropology, the field whose birth is synonymous with the study of human variation, students will examine the complex relationship between the scientific study of biological differences, real, imagined, or invented and the historical and cultural factors involved in the development and expression of "racial ideas".

Exposure to and immersion in primary source material is a central aspect of this course. At each step students will delve into the writings of the time to examine the views of the scientific community, and in turn, to see how these views were integrated into the beliefs of the larger population. Concomitantly, students will also read broader synthetic and analytic works on the subject.

Aristotle is the starting point for this analysis of Western European scientific thought. The introductory sessions set a groundwork for understanding both scientific and prevailing cultural attitudes prior to the rebirth of science in the Renaissance. Thereafter, the course charts its way through the early development of racial typologies and their integration into the social ideologies of the day. As the course moves along the historical trajectory, the importance of the scientific validation of racial ideologies is examined as it comes to the fore at several key junctures, notably in pre and post Civil War America, the growth of eugenics world wide, and ultimately reaching its pinnacle in the horrors of Nazi Germany. The last phase of the course explores the aftermath of WWII as physical anthropology takes a dramatically different role during the second half of this century. The course concludes with the new challenges posed by what some call the "tyranny of genetics" and the future role of this field as its input become ever more critical.

During the second part of the term we will screen a series of films relevant to this topic. A convenient time outside of the normal class session will be arranged and students who are unable to attend those screenings can arrange to view the films at the Butler Library Media Center. These films include: Slaying the Dragon, The Eternal Jew, Healing by Killing, Know Your Enemy: Japan, and Blood in the Face.

Note: All interested undergraduates (sophmores-seniors) and graduate students are welcome. A scientific background is not required and there are no prerequisites for the course.


Course Outline


Classification, Taxonomy, and Beginning Attempts at Definitions

The History of "Race" from Ancient Greece to Linnaeus

Science, Anthropology and Race: Early Considerations
Part I: The Rebirth of Science, the Classification of Man and Race

Science, Anthropology and Race: Early Considerations
Part II: Science, Race and the Common Man

The 1800s--Refining Views and the Impact of the Darwinian Revolution

A Glimpse to Another Shore

Popular Belief and Race at the Dawn of the New Century

Eugenics in the Early Decades of the 20th Century and the Anthropological Response

The Pinnacle of Scientific Racism: Hitler's Germany

Postwar Revisions, the New Anthropology and Smoldering Embers

Modern Currents: Directions for the 21st Century