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Week Five: Anatomists and the Nature of Human Variation, 1760-1840

Lecture and tutorial

In this week's lecture I will explore how late eighteenth century anatomists construed the nature and origins of variation in humanity.

In doing so, I will focus on the three most influential late Enlightenment anatomists to investigate human variation: John Hunter, Peter Camper and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach.

The period between 1760 and 1830 saw growing interest amongst European naturalists and anatomists in observable variations in bodily form and possibly mental attributes amongst the different peoples of the earth. This week we will consider how variation within humanity was investigated by several leading naturalists and anatomists, and how they explained the phenomenon.

Among the questions we will address in our tutorial session (in the week following the lecture) are:

  • How did late eighteenth century naturalists and anatomists explain variation?
  • What wider implications did they see variation having?

Recommended readings

I do need expect you to read all of the recommended primary readings. However you should try to read one or two chapters of each of the works listed below:

Blumenbach, Johann F. 1865 The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, ed. and trans. Thomas Bendyshe. London (English editions of the key versions of De generis humani varietate nativa. Contained in above linked file.

Available via UQ Library

Camper, Petrus. The works of the late Professor Camper, on the connexion between the science of anatomy and the arts of drawing, painting, statuary, &c. &c. in two books. Containing A Treatise on the Natural Difference of Features in Persons of Different Countries and Periods of Life; and on Beauty, as Exhibited in Ancient Sculpture; with a New Method of Sketching Heads, National Features, and Portraits of Individuals, with Accuracy, &c. &c. Illustrated with seventeen plates, Explanatory of the Professor's leading Principles. Translated from the Dutch by T. Cogan, M.D. London, 1794. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. University of Queensland. 3 June 2010

Recommended scholarship

Lenoir, Timothy. 1980. Kant, Blumenbach, and vital materialism in German biology. ISIS: Journal of the History of Science in Society 71, (1) (03): 77-108.

Schiebinger, Londa. 1990. The anatomy of difference: Race and sex in eighteenth-century science. Eighteenth-Century Studies 23, (4) (Spring 1990): 387-405.

Strack, Thomas. 1996. Philosophical anthropology on the eve of biological racism Central European History 29, (3) (09): 285.

Wheeler, Roxann. 1999. The complexion of desire: Racial ideology and mid-eighteenth-century British novels. Eighteenth-Century Studies 32, (3) (Spring 99): 309.

Wilkie, J. S. 1956. The idea of evolution in the writings of Buffon. Annals of Science 12, (1) (01): 48-62.

Williams, Glyndwr. 1978. Savages noble and ignoble": European attitudes towards the wider world before 1800. Journal of Imperial & Commonwealth History 6, (3) (05): 300-13.

Lecture notes

On the following pages you will find notes on these three men that I will use as the basis for this week's lecture.

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