HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article (in English) on the “inventor” of the race concept, German anthropologist J. F. Blumenbach.

Marino, Mario, 2022. “At the Roots of Racial Classification: Theory and Iconography in the Work and Legacy of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840) was undoubtedly the most influential German anthropologist of his time. Blumenbach’s name is linked to physical and racial anthropology, due, among other reasons, to his division of mankind into five principal racial groups, which is regarded as the first modern racial classification. In this lavishly illustrated article, Marino intertwines Blumenbach’s work and racial iconography, with a special focus on the establishment of the term “Caucasian” for the type including Europeans. The article discusses the development of Blumenbach’s anthropology and racial classification by exploring the connections he made between natural and cultural factors in explaining human variation. Through a close analysis of different editions of Blumenbach’s most influential works, Marino shows the theoretical shifts as well as the ambiguities behind Blumenbach’s classification. According to Marino, Blumenbach did not resolve some theoretical shortfalls of his doctrine, such as the inclusion of the category of beauty as a defining trait of the “Caucasian” race, but nineteenth-century racism cleared these contradictions by developing a unilateral, radically racist interpretation of Blumenbach’s anthropology. A doctor of medicine, professor at the University of Göttingen and curator of the university museum, Blumenbach carried out a long-term research program connecting teaching and scientific collections, including his famous private collection of more than 200 skulls, which by the end of his life was probably the largest worldwide, and is now conserved at the University of Göttingen. At the time, the Kingdom of Hanover was under the British Crown, which meant enjoying easier contact with the international scientific community, and above all direct and privileged access to the naturalist and ethnological materials coming from the British colonies and from James Cook’s travels. Blumenbach led an increasingly revered existence as a scholar at the center of a great network of international exchanges, but his place in the history of science remains controversial.

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