Part 4: A Beard & a Cloak, but Not a Philosopher

(You can read the complete pdf of the Part 1 Introduction here: Blumenbach Part4_Intro_vW. The first few paragraphs of this section, without the footnotes, is presented below.)

In the previous three sections of this book, I have discussed the anthropological research of men who lived in an age when there was no clear distinction between philosophy and what we would now call hard science. These were scholars who mostly received their training in medicine and human anatomy, and only then branched off into studying animals, plants, and geology. The term that was sometimes used to describe these researchers was natural philosophers. Like other philosophers, they spent a lot of time thinking; coming up arguments (which are organized thoughts) and theories to explain why the natural world looked and operated the way it does. Like Newton and Einstein, these natural philosophers sought to come up with a unified theory to explain all aspects of the natural world from conception, birth, and aging to the various types of living organisms found through the globe. Not too long after Samuel George Morton died, a unified biological theory was finally developed by Charles Darwin. This theory was called Natural Selection, not evolution. As we shall see in the next few chapters, the concept of evolution was developed long before Darwin. However, he described a type of evolution that was so effective at explaining the natural world that everyone forgot all the other ideas about evolution. As a result, Darwin’s theory of Evolution through Natural Selection is now simply known as evolution.

During the late 19th century, the theory of Natural Selection along with the discovery of things like dinosaur bones, Neanderthal skulls, and previously unseen life forms only visible through microscopes, changed the way that nature was studied. While it used to be that medical men would make their fortune and then study biology on the side, a new generation of full-time biologists (some even women) began to teach and do research at universities. Anthropology was studied by actual anthropologists, rather than just anatomists. But this change did not occur overnight. In the late 19th century, many of the most influential books regarding anthropology and human racial variation were still written by men who were not even trained in anatomy. Furthermore, many of these men came from Europe, not America. Indeed, following the death of Morton and the demise of Squire, Gliddon, and Nott, the study of race in the United States went into a kind of hibernation. Morton would retain some admirers in Europe, but even they viewed his ideas as antiquated. After all, Morton did not account for humankind’s evolution from pre-human ancestors like Neanderthals. Decades would pass before American anthropology would awake from its dormancy. It was not until the early 20th century that European-trained researchers like the German-born Franz Boas (1858-1942) and the Czech-born Ales Hrdlicka revived anthropology in the United States. Even the early American-born anthropologists of the modern era, like Earnest Hooten (1887-1954), were educated in Europe. As a result, 21st century college students who currently take anthropology classes are being taught by professors whose intellectual genealogy traces back to late 19th century Europeans, more so than to Morton and his long-extinct American School.

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