Nihad M. Farooq. Undisciplined: Science, Ethnography, and Personhood in the Americas, 1830­­–1940. 280 pp., 9 halftones, notes, index. New York: New York University Press, 2016. $30 (paper)

In four chapters, Farooq analyzes a multitude of scientific and artistic “border-crossers,” beginning with Charles Darwin in the 1830s and concluding with African American artist-ethnographers who traveled to Haiti in the mid-twentieth century. Chapter 1 considers Charles Darwin’s journey alongside Captain Robert FitzRoy aboard the HMS Beagle in 1834, and his interactions with three returned captives in Tierra del Fuego. These interactions led Darwin to question ideas about fixed biological difference among humans, thus influencing his subsequent theories of evolution. The most fascinating and novel intervention of this chapter is the link Farooq draws between Darwin’s fieldwork and ideas of cultural relativism embraced by later anthropologists like Franz Boas and Zora Neale Hurston. Farooq convincingly argues that while Darwin himself was not an anthropologist nor an ethnographer, his evolutionary theory shaped the field by showing that “social and biological taxonomies are […] contingent, always shifting, never stable” (48). Darwin’s theory of evolution implied that humanity was in a constant state of “becoming,” and this led to a conviction that differences among human races were “neither fundamental nor fixed” (55). What’s more, Darwinian theories of a shared human kinship and common ancestry were eventually appropriated by socially and politically marginalized intellectuals like Boas and Hurston. In these ways, Farooq shows how Darwin’s evolutionary theories—frequently associated with subsequent scientific racism and eugenicist theories—also opened up new avenues for thinking about racial fluidity and connections among humanity.

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