Johann Friedrich Blumenbach : Race and Natural History, 1750–1850 book cover
1st Edition

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
Race and Natural History, 1750–1850

ISBN 9780367588823
Published June 30, 2020 by Routledge
280 Pages

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Book Description

The major significance of the German naturalist-physician Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) as a topic of historical study is the fact that he was one of the first anthropologists to investigate humankind as part of natural history. Moreover, Blumenbach was, and continues to be, a central figure in debates about race and racism.

How exactly did Blumenbach define race and races? What were his scientific criteria? And which cultural values did he bring to bear on his scheme? Little historical work has been done on Blumenbach’s fundamental, influential race work. From his own time till today, several different pronouncements have been made by either followers or opponents, some accusing Blumenbach of being the fountainhead of scientific racism. By contrast, across early nineteenth-century Europe, not least in France, Blumenbach was lionized as an anti-racist whose work supported the unity of humankind and the abolition of slavery.

This collection of essays considers how, with Blumenbach and those around him, the study of natural history and, by extension, that of science came to dominate the Western discourse of race.

Table of Contents

List of figures and tables;

Notes on Contributors;



Part I: Blumenbach Studies

1. A Brief history of Blumenbach representation  (Nicolaas Rupke and Gerhard Lauer)

2. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach-online (Gerhard Lauer, Wolfgang Böker and Heiko Weber);

Part II: Defining Human Races

3. Buffon, Blumenbach, Herder, Lichtenberg, and the origins of modern anthropology (Carl Niekerk)

4. Climate change and creolization in French natural history, 1750–1795. (Emma Spary).

5. Blumenbach’s collection of human skulls (Wolfgang Böker)

6. Blumenbach’s theory of human races and the natural unity of humankind (Thomas Junker)

7. A defence of human rights: Blumenbach on albinism (Renato Mazzolini);

Part III: Racism, anti-racism, and Eurocentricity

8. Blumenbach’s race science in the light of Christian supersessionism (Terence Keel)

9. The beautiful skulls of Schiller and the Georgian girl: quantitative and aesthetic scaling of the races, 1750–1850 (Robert J. Richards)

10. Ethnographic exploration in the Blumenbachian tradition (Peter Hanns Reill)

11. The rise of paleontology and the historicization of nature: Blumenbach and Deluc (John H. Zammito)

12. The origins of scientific racism and Huxley’s Rule (Nicolaas Rupke); 

Appendix: Biographical sketch;



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Nicolaas Rupke is Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and Rupert H. Johnson Jr. Professor at Washington and Lee University, USA.

Gerhard Lauer is Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and the current director of the Blumenbach – Online project.