How did the idea of race begin in America? The answer can be found in the long and complex history of western Europe and the United States. It is that history—influenced by science, government and culture—that has shaped our ideas about race.
When European colonists first arrived on North American shores beginning in the 1500s, the land was already inhabited by Native Americans. The Spanish, French and English encountered frequent conflicts with indigenous people in trying to establish settlements in Florida, the Northeast area bordering Canada, the Virginia colony, and the Southwest.
By the 1600s, English colonists had established a system of indentured servitude that included both Europeans and Africans.
But by the time of Bacon’s Rebellion in the mid-1670s—an insurrection involving white and black servants against wealthy Virginia planters—the status of Africans began to change. They were no longer servants who had an opportunity for freedom following servitude, but instead were relegated to a life of permanent slavery in the colonies.
In the 1770s, English colonists in the U.S. became involved in a rebellion of their own—this time the opposition was the British Crown.
But while the colonists battled the British for independence, they continued to deny Africans their freedom and withhold rights to Native Americans. Ironically, one of the first casualties of the Revolutionary War was Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave of African and Indian parentage.
Before the idea of race emerged in the U.S. European scientist Carolus Linneaus published a classification system in System Naturale in 1758 that was applied to humans. Thomas Jefferson, was among those who married the idea of race with a biological and social hierarchy. Jefferson, a Virginia slave owner who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and later became President, was influential in promoting the idea of race that recognized whites as superior and Africans as inferior. Jefferson wrote in 1776 in Notes on the State of Virginia, "…blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind." Scientists were among those who were influenced by these ideas, and began to develop their own theories about race.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, scientists, influenced by Enlightenment philosophers, developed a system of categorizing things in nature, including humans.
Although Carolus Linnaeus was the first to develop a biological classification system, it was German scientist Johann Blumenbach who first introduced a race-based classification of humans, which established a framework for analyzing race and racial differences for the next hundred years.
By the 19th century the debate over race centered around two theories: one theory was that different races represented different species; the other was that humans were one species and that race represented variation in the human species—a view that was compatible with the teachings of the Bible.
Among those who espoused the multiple species theory, or polygeny, were Philadelphia physician Samuel Morton and European scholar Louis Agassiz. Their work was popular in the mid-19th century. The most prominent scientist who believed in monogeny, that all humans were one species, was Charles Darwin.
By the mid-19th century scientific debates over race had entered the mainstream culture and served to justify slavery and mistreatment. Some, like plantation doctor Samuel Cartwright tried to explain the tendency of slaves to runaway by coining the term, drapetomania, and prescribed whipping as method of treatment. Though there was resistance to slavery in both the U.S. and Europe, scientists, for the most part, continued to advance theories of racial inferiority.
The abolitionist movement of the 19th century sought to humanize the plight of African slaves in various ways, to influence political power and public opinion. The resistance to slavery and the image of Africans as sub-human can be found in protest hymns like Amazing Grace, which was written by John Newton in 1772 in response to the horrors he witnessed working on an English slave ship.
One of the ways that race played out in popular culture was in the publication in 1852 of the most widely read novel of its time, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which depicted a more realistic portrait of slavery and tried to humanize slaves.
The 19th century also marked a period of widespread racialization—not just of African Americans—but of Native Americans, Mexican Americans and Chinese Americans as well. Much of the racializing of non-Europeans, and even the Irish, served an economic and political purpose. African slavery, for instance, provided free labor and added political clout for slaveholding states in the South.
Taking Native American land and belittling Native American cultures was made easier by defining Native people as savages.
At the end of the 19th century, the U.S. experienced another wave of European immigration. This time the immigrants were southern and eastern Europeans and their presence challenged ideas about race, specifically who was white and who was not. Unlike earlier European immigrants who were mostly German, Scandinavian and Irish, these newer immigrants were Polish, Italian and Jewish, and brought with them customs and traditions that were different from their European predecessors.
They were often the victims of discrimination. Even U.S. immigration policy tried to limit the number of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe by imposing quotas.
At the beginning of the 20th century, African Americans migrated north for factory jobs that opened up during World War I and to escape the violence in the South.
Between 1889 and the early 1920s, roughly 50 – 100 lynchings a year took place in the U.S. While blacks were mostly the victims, Italian Americans, Asian Americans and Jews were also lynched. Even in the North, blacks encountered racism as they competed with whites for jobs. Several northern cities—St. Louis, Tulsa, Detroit and Chicago among others—were the sites of major race riots from 1915 to the early 1920s.
During the Depression, some race scientists sought to justify economic and social inequality by attributing certain characteristics such as criminal behavior, work ethic and intelligence to race, using a theory of genetic inheritance. In other words, you were poor or a criminal or less intelligent because it was in your genes.
This idea was the basis for eugenics. Charles Davenport, the director of the Eugenics Records Office, was among the scientists who promoted these ideas. The eugenicists' expert testimony was influential in getting Congress to pass the Immigration Act of 1924 and provided the social framework embraced by Nazi Germany.
By World War II, the U.S. had expanded the racial categories in the census to include various ethnic groups, among them Mexicans, Japanese, Indians from Asia and Philippinos. These categories and the demographics associated with each group would be used to limit immigration as well as provide the statistical data to analyze racial discrimination in the U.S. that followed in the post-war era.
The 1950s and 60s were a time of enormous social change in the U.S. Discrimination and institutional racism were being challenged at every turn. To some extent, the racial and social hierarchies that had long been accepted were being contested. And perhaps more slowly, attitudes about race and racial difference were beginning to change.
The way we view race and ethnicity today is far more complex than the simple categories in the first U.S. Census. In fact in the 2000 census the "mark one or more" standard allowed for 63 possible racial combinations, reflecting the diversity of the country. By the year 2010, the U.S. population will barely resemble what it was 400, 100,even twenty years ago. That means we will probably have to reconsider the term race, and whether it is relevant to describing who and what we are.
By the 19th century, the scientific debate focused on whether human biological difference was just a racial variation, or represented an entirely different species. The "species" theory, polygenism, held that human "races" were of different lineages and suggested a hierarchy outlined in the "Chain of Being" that positioned Africans between man and lower primates.
Polygenism was the antithesis of monogenism, which espoused a single origin theory of humanity consistent with the Bible. Ironically, proponents of slavery were, for the most part, monogenists, because polygeny was incompatible with the Bible.
Edward Long published History of Jamaica in 1774 in England; excerpts were reprinted in the U.S. in 1788. In History of Jamaica, Long compared blacks to animals and outlined a racial hierarchy where blacks were situated between Europeans and orangutans. Long, along with Dr. Charles Whites' Account of the Regular Gradation in Man in 1799, provided the "empirical science" for the species theory. White defended the theory of polygeny by refuting French naturalist George Louis de Buffon's interfertility argument—the theory that only the same species can interbreed—pointing to species hybrids such as foxes, wolves and jackals, which were separate groups that were still able to interbreed.
Naturalist Charles Pickering was the librarian and a curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences. In 1843, he traveled to Africa and India to research human races. In 1848, Pickering published Races of Man and Their Geographical Distribution, which enumerated eleven races.
In the 1820s and 30s, a Philadelphia physician named Samuel G. Morton collected and measured hundreds of human skulls in order to confirm that there were differences among the races—in particular, a difference in brain size. His systematic large-scale experiments made him a pioneer of American race science and physical anthropology. Morton was a proponent of polygenism, which theorized that the different races were different species, with separate origins. Morton amassed a large collection of human skulls from all around the world. He believed he could identify any skull's racial origin simply by measuring it, and developed tables based on his experiments, which involved pouring lead pellets into skull cavities. Morton assigned the highest brain capacity to Europeans—with the English highest of all. Second was the Chinese, third was Southeast Asians and Polynesians, fourth was American Indians, and the smallest brain capacity was assigned to Africans and Australian aborigines. The collection of skulls is now in the museum of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. He wrote Crania Americana (1839), An Inquiry into the Distinctive Characteristics of the Aboriginal Race of America and Catalogue of Skulls of Man (1840), and Crania Egyptica (1844). Although Morton was a scientist, he used his influence to make the case for black inferiority to bolster U.S. Secretary of State John Calhoun's efforts to negotiate the annexation of Texas as a slave state. Calhoun was a pro-slavery advocate from South Carolina.
In 1854, Josiah Clark Nott published his racial theories in a book of essays written with George Robins Gliddon, an Egyptologist and follower of Samuel George Morton, entitled Types of Mankind or Ethnological Research. It popularized the polygenist theory. In 1856, Nott and Confederate propagandist Henry Hotze translated Arthur Gobineau's 1853 essay on racial inequality, but with significant omissions and distortions.
In the wake of Types of Mankind, abolitionists and for the first time, African American scholars, engaged in the race science debate. In the political discourse leading up to the Civil War, prominent statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass challenged the leading theorists of the American School of Anthropology, which included Nott, Gliddon, Agassiz and Morton, among others. Work by early "race scientists" tried to prove that blacks were not the same species as whites, and alleged that the rulers of ancient Egypt were not Africans. In Douglass' 1854 address, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered," he argued that "by making the enslaved a character fit only for slavery, [slaveowners] excuse themselves for refusing to make the slave a freeman..."
Race science took a particularly insidious turn in the 19th century when non-Europeans were routinely the subject of so-called scientific exhibitions, carnivals and international fairs that purported to explore racial diversity and ethnicity. The exhibitions examined the notion of racial difference using displays of human beings, designed ostensibly to represent an evolutionary hierarchy. In many exhibits, people were grouped by skin color from the darkest to the lightest, or "lowest" to the "highest" on an evolutionary scale. These “expositions” were a major factor in perpetuating the idea that African, Asian, and Natives were inferior to Europeans and white Americans.
London’s “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations,” which opened in 1851 in the Crystal Palace, was the first international fair. Included in the exhibits were Ethiopian “serenaders” and a “Nubian Court”. Paris also held a fair in 1867, the “Exposition Universelle”, which featured an “anthropological study” of a staged colonial setting. This set a precedent for every international exposition in the years that followed, with a display of either living or photographic examples of non-European peoples. These exhibits not only promoted racial theories but also introduced colonized people as a backward spectacle to contrast with European technological and industrial advancements.
For Millie and Christine McCoy, conjoined twins who were billed as the “Two-Headed Nightingale,” life was much more difficult. Born into slavery, they lived in North Carolina like conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker, but were taken from their family and sold several times. They were even put on public display by their owners who recognized the commercial value of the spectacle. The twins were bought by J.D. Smith when they were still toddlers, and he became their manager for stage appearances. The twins were kidnapped by a man Smith hired as their exhibitor while on display in New Orleans. Since the girls were now "stolen property," public showings were out of the question, but they were still exhibited before exclusive private groups. Smith finally found the twins in London after a period of years, and after a protracted legal battle, regained control of them. They were a great success, billed as the "Two-Headed Lady" or the "Two-Headed Nightingale." They spoke several languages fluently, and danced and sang songs as well. The twins were freed after the Civil War, but stayed with their former manager's widow, earning more than six hundred dollars a week.
Amsterdam held the Colonial Exhibition in 1883, which displayed twenty-eight Surinamese in its West Indies section. They were photographed extensively by Prince Roland Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a trained ethnologist and the grandson of Napoleon’s brother. Bonaparte's career in ethnographic photography included photographic albums of North American Indians in 1887 and Lapons in 1890.
The Midway Plaisance in Chicago was the major venue for exhibits of non-Western cultures in the U.S. At the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, several “African villages” were constructed at the Midway fairground, where “villagers” were paraded up and down each day before being returned to their display areas. African Americans took exception to the racial stereotyping and constructed their own images of black communities. A pamphlet written by Ida B. Wells-Barnett, journalist and anti-lynching advocate, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was published in several foreign languages; “The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World’s Columbian Exposition,” expounded on the oppression of African Americans in both the North and South.
The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis featured among other attractions a group of pygmies who had been brought in from the Belgian Congo. One of the pygmies was Ota Benga, who, after the exhibit was over, was sent to the Bronx Zoo. The director of the zoo, William T. Hornaday, believed he understood the thoughts of zoo animals. He believed Ota Benga was no different from any other animal in the zoo, and insisted he was only showing an interesting exhibit. Crowds came to the monkey house exhibit, which opened in 1906, to see man's "evolutionary ancestors," which included monkeys, chimpanzees, a gorilla named Dinah, an orangutan named Dohung and the pygmy Ota Benga. Controversy swirled around the extremely popular exhibit, as religious figures objected to the theme of evolution, and the black community was outraged at the treatment of Benga. As a legal compromise, Ota Benga was allowed to leave his cage and walk around the zoo in a white suit; but he returned to the monkey house at night. The pygmy was angered by his treatment, and retaliated in various ways, including brandishing a knife around the park and shooting visitors with a small bow and arrow. This behavior led to his expulsion from the park, and he was sent to the Virginia Theological Seminary and College, which he soon left for work in a tobacco factory. Eventually his depression and anger became too much for the pygmy, and he shot himself in the heart with a borrowed revolver in 1916.
The mid-nineteenth century marked a period of significant advancement in understanding human biology. Two developments were later appropriated by scientists in developing theories of genetic heritability—Charles Darwin's publication of The Origin of Species (1859), which provided a theory of evolution that became the basis for understanding racial diversity, and Gregor Johann Mendel's experimental work on heredity in plants.
Mendel's account of the experiments and his conclusions, published in 1866, were largely ignored during his lifetime, but were rediscovered in 1900, and became the basic tenets of genetics. In The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin discussed the origins of race, and noted naturalists' great difficulty in determining an exact number of "races." Darwin, a monogenist on the question of race, believed that all humans were of the same species and found "race" to be a somewhat arbitrary distinction between groups.
Southern doctors Samuel Cartwright, Josiah Clark Nott and James Marion Sims were among the race scientists who gained prominence in the scientific community in the 1850s by legitimizing the exploitation of slaves. Scientific experiments on blacks were routine, a practice that continued in medical and research fields well beyond slavery. In the years after the Civil War, southern physicians published scientific studies which sought to prove that blacks were dying out as a race under the conditions of freedom, implying that the system of slavery had been beneficial.
In 1851, Louisiana plantation doctor Samuel Cartwright tried to explain the tendency of black slaves to flee captivity by proposing a psychiatric diagnosis that he called "drapetomania." The term was derived from the Greek drapetes, or runaway, and mania, or madness. Cartwright suggested in New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal that slave owners could treat and cure this “medical disorder” by whipping slaves and amputating their toes.
J. Marion Sims, considered the "father of American gynecology," moved to Alabama from Philadelphia after his first two patients died. There, Sims developed a technique to repair a condition in women called vesicovaginal fistula, which was usually the result of traumatic labor. This new technique to repair the condition became the standard procedure. He also devised instruments, including the Sims' speculum, to perform the surgery. In 1852, his technique using silver sutures led to the successful repair of fistulas, but he operated on his slave subjects, Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy, approximately 40 times without the use of anesthesia, despite the fact that it was widely available.
Paul Broca, a French pathologist, anthropologist and pioneer in neurosurgery, was a founder of the Anthropological Society of Paris (1859) and the Revue d'anthropologie (1872). He identified the brain area for articulate speech, which became known as Broca's area, and developed methods of classifying hair and skin color. He established brain and skull ratios—cranial anthropometry—and even created instruments used in measuring and calculating indices such as craniometers. Using anthropometric methods, Broca devised a Eurocentric classification that purported to establish a relationship between anatomical features of the brain and mental capabilities.
Sir Francis Galton, a British anthropologist, pioneered the field of eugenics, which sought to improve and control human hereditary traits. Especially intrigued by Charles Darwin’s work, The Origin of Species, Galton devoted much of his life to exploring its implications. He devised techniques such as composite photography in order to establish racial and social "types." He was a proponent of selective human breeding to halt what he saw as the decline of the British race. His advocacy of selective breeding was influential in the development of eugenics—a term Galton coined—in the U.S. and later adopted by the Nazi party. He published Hereditary Genius (1869) in which he asserted that talent is an inherited characteristic and established a system of classifying fingerprints that is still used today. In 1883, Galton wrote Inquiries into Human Faculty.
The worldwide Eugenics movement gained strength in the U.S. at the end of the 1890s, when theories of selective breeding espoused by British anthropologist Francis Galton and his protégé Karl Pearson, gained currency. Connecticut was the first of many states, beginning in 1896, to pass marriage laws with eugenic provisions, prohibiting anyone who was "epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded" from marrying. The noted American biologist, Charles Davenport, became the director of biological research at a station in Cold Spring Harbor in New York in 1898. Six years later the Carnegie Institute provided the funding for Davenport to create the Station for Experimental Evolution. Then, in 1910, Davenport and Harry H. Laughlin took advantage of their positions at the Eugenics Record Office to promote eugenics.
The ERO concluded after years of gathering data on families that the poor were the main source of the “unfit”. Davenport and other highly regarded eugenicists such as psychologist Henry H. Goddard and conservationist Madison Grant started a campaign to address the problem of the "unfit." Goddard, using data based on his Kallikak family research, lobbied for segregation, while Davenport preferred immigration restriction and sterilization as primary methods. Grant, the most extreme of the three, agreed with both of his colleagues, and even considered extermination as a possible solution.
A major influence on the eugenics movement was Herbert Spencer, an English philosopher and prominent political theorist. He is best known as the father of social Darwinism, a school of thought that applied the evolutionist theory of "survival of the fittest"—a phrase coined by Spencer—to human societies.
By the 1900s, the scientific community’s understanding of race was both essentialist—defining each race by certain biological and social characteristics—and taxonomic (hierarchical). Scientists were struggling with the concept of race in divergent ways. Aleš Hrdlicka and Earnest Hooten, two prominent physical anthropologists also trained as physicians, were influential at a time when the field focused mostly on anatomy and physiological variation.
Charles Davenport earned a Ph.D. in biology in 1892 from Harvard, and later became an instructor of zoology there. As a biologist, he pioneered the development of quantitative standards of taxonomy. A follower of the biometric approach to evolution which had been developed by Francis Galton and Karl Pearson, Davenport was also on the editorial committee of Pearson's journal, Biometrika. After Mendel's laws of heredity were “rediscovered”, Davenport became a strict convert to the Mendelian school of genetics. His 1911 book, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics, was a major work in the history of eugenics. Along with an assistant, Davenport also studied the question of miscegenation, or, as he put it, "race crossing" in humans. In 1929, he published Race Crossing in Jamaica, which purported to give statistical evidence about the dangers of miscegenation between blacks and whites.
Madison Grant, a lawyer known more as a conservationist and eugenist created the "racialist movement" in America advocating the extermination of "undesirables" and certain "race types" from the human gene pool. He played a critical role in restrictive U.S. immigration policy and anti-miscegenation laws. His work provided the justification for Nazi policies of forced sterilization and euthanasia. He wrote two of the seminal works of American racialism: The Passing of the Great Race (1916) and The Conquest of a Continent (1933). The Passing of the Great Race gained immediate popular success and established Grant as an authority in anthropology, and laid the groundwork for his research in eugenics.
In 1911, a starving and nearly naked Indian man took shelter in a northern California slaughterhouse. He was turned over to anthropologist Thomas T. Waterman, who brought him to live at the University of California's anthropology museum. He was given the name Ishi, which meant "man" in his native language. Most of the members of Ishi's tribe, the Yahi-Yana, had been massacred during the California Gold Rush. Dubbed "the last wild man in America," he became a popular attraction, and in his first six months at the museum, 24,000 visitors watched him demonstrate arrow-making and fire-building. Ishi lived at the museum until he died of tuberculosis in 1916.
The American Journal of Physical Anthropology was founded by Aleš Hrdlicka in 1918, and he remained editor of the publication until his death. Hrdlicka also helped found the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 1929, and from 1898 to 1925 was involved in anthropological investigations throughout the world. He was famous for his work on anthropometry, early man and human evolution, and in particular for his theory of migration of Native Americans in Siberia and Alaska.
In 1926, the American Association of Physical Anthropology and the National Research Council organized a Committee on the Negro, which focused on the anatomy of blacks and reflected the racism of the time. Among those appointed to the Committee on the Negro were Hrdlicka, Earnest Hooton and eugenist Charles Davenport. In 1927 the committee endorsed a comparison of African babies with young apes. Ten years later the group published findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology to "prove that the negro race is phylogenetically a closer approach to primitive man than the white race."
Earnest Albert Hooton was a physical anthropologist known for his work on racial classification and his popular books, including Up From The Apes, in which he described the morphological characteristics of different 'primary races' and various 'subtypes.' At Oxford he studied with R.R. Marrett. He was hired by Harvard University, where he taught until his death in 1954. While at Harvard, he was also Curator of Somatology at the Peabody Museum for Archaeology and Ethnology in Boston. Hooton was also instrumental in promulgating the constitutional approach to human biology, which theorized a correlation between physique, temperament and race. Perhaps more than any scientist of his time, Hooton did more to establish racial stereotypes about black athleticism and black criminality from an anthropological framework.
In the late nineteenth century, John Wesley Powell led the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, which dominated the field of anthropology in the U.S. at the time. Powell and his curator for ethnology, Otis T. Mason, were proponents of Lewis Morgan’s theory of cultural evolution—the idea that the social progress of a culture is inextricably linked to technological progress. Franz Boas, often considered the father of American anthropology, opposed Morgan’s theory and introduced new ideas about the evolution of cultures, as well as organization and classification of artifacts.
By the 1930s, hereditarianism—the theory that heredity was the basis for differences in intelligence and behavior—began to fall out of favor. To counter the rise of Nazism and its racist ideologies, scientists critical of the use of race to justify oppression and discrimination published a number of important works. We Europeans: A Survey of "Racial" Problems (1935) by Julian Huxley and A.C. Haddon, sought to show that science offered a very limited definition of race. Another work during this period, The Races of Mankind by Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish, argued that though there were some racial differences, they were primarily superficial, and did not justify racial prejudice. The hereditarian theory was further discredited when Boas showed significant increases in cranial size in the U.S. from one generation to the next, undermining the notion that genetics and race determined intelligence.
Appointed to Columbia University’s anthropology faculty in 1896, Franz Boas later rose in rank to consolidate and lead Columbia’s anthropology department, and is credited with creating the first Ph.D program in anthropology in the U.S. Boas played a pivotal role in forming the American Anthropological Association and promoting the "four field" concept of anthropology that includes physical anthropology, linguistics, archaeology and cultural anthropology. He established that all societies' biological characteristics, language, material and symbolic culture are autonomous areas of anthropology, and that each is equally important to human nature, and that none is subordinate to another.
In 1928, Margaret Mead published Coming of Age in Samoa. As Mead and her advisor Boas expected, the book upset many Americans and Western Europeans when it first appeared. Another influential book by Mead that became a cornerstone of the women's movement was Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, which claimed that females were dominant in the Tchambuli tribe of Papua New Guinea.
In 1934, Ruth Benedict published Patterns of Culture, in which she contrasted the unique characteristics and personality traits of various cultures. A student of Boas, Benedict emphasized cultural relativism, in which customs and values are viewed within the context of the entire culture. The U.S. government consulted Benedict during World War II for an understanding of Japanese culture, and she helped President Franklin D. Roosevelt understand the importance of continuing the reign of the Emperor of Japan as the surrender offer was crafted. Her 1946 book, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, based on her study of Japanese society and culture, was later questioned by some who felt her work was shallow because her research had been conducted from a distance, rather than directly.
African American anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston began her studies at Howard University before transferring to Barnard College where she received her B.A. in anthropology in 1928. Also a student of Boas, she is perhaps best known for her ethnographic research and writing based on African American folklore in Mules and Men (1935) and her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.
William Montague Cobb was the first African-American physical anthropologist. He earned a medical degree from Howard University in 1929. He studied at Case Western Reserve under physical anthropologist T. Wingate Todd, whose progressive ideas opposed prevailing theories of racial determinism espoused by physical anthropologists Aleš Hrdlicka and Earnest Hooton. Cobb was known for his research on human cranio-facial union at the Hamann-Todd Collection and the Smithsonian, and his works The Cranio-Facial Union and the Maxillary Tuber in Mammals (1943), and Cranio-Facial Union in Man (1940).
British-born anthropologist Ashley Montagu was among the first scientists to argue against the concept of race. A student of both Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict, Montagu studied the procreative beliefs of the native tribes of Australia in the late 1930s. He taught anatomy at various schools in the U.S. and became a professor of anthropology at Rutgers from 1949 to 1955. He earned fame in the 1940s by arguing that race was a social construct, a product of perceptions, rather than a biological fact, and he was a principal drafter of the U.N. "Statement on Race" in 1949 that incorporated these ideas. Montagu vocally opposed anthropologist Carleton Coon’s notion that whites and blacks evolved along separate paths, and published in 1942 Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. In 1950, Montagu authored the UNESCO Statement on Race. His varied interests were reflected in the more than 60 published titles including, The Natural Superiority of Women (1953), in which he argued that women were in many ways biologically superior to men, and The Elephant Man (1971), an account of John Merrick, the severely disfigured man of Victorian England which became the basis for the Broadway play and movie
Beginning in the 1900s, scientists began to develop different methods for measuring intelligence. These tests were used often to justify racial and ethnic discrimination. The results of these intelligence tests were influential in shaping U.S. immigration policy that limited immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, and in justifying race-based segregation in public education, and U.S. conscription during World War I. Previously, the scientific debate centered largely on perceived differences in racial intelligence based on cranial size.
French psychologist Alfred Binet is credited with creating the the first modern intelligence test, the Binet-Simon intelligence scale, in 1905. Binet's objective in developing the test was to identify students who needed special help in school. However, Binet recognized the limitations of the test in understanding cognition and intellect; he did not intend that the test be used as a measurement of intelligence. Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon published revisions of the intelligence scale in 1908 and 1911. Lewis M. Terman of Stanford University, a prominent eugenist ("eugenics" is the science of improving a human population through selective breeding) and member of the Human Betterment Foundation, published his refinement of the Binet-Simon scale in 1916. Terman incorporated German psychologist William Stern's concept that mental age/chronological age times 100 would quantify intelligence, thus creating the intelligence quotient or IQ. Terman's test, which he renamed the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, formed the basis for one of the modern intelligence tests, although IQ is calculated differently today.
Harvard-educated psychologist, ethologist and primatologist, Robert Mearns Yerkes, known for his work in Army intelligence testing in World War I and in the field of comparative psychology, was an early standout in the field of primate intelligence and chimpanzee and gorilla behavior. The theory of behaviorism was developed by Yerkes and his colleague John B. Watson.
In 1917, Yerkes, as the president of the American Psychological Association, urged the group to initiate several programs during World War I. The Army's Alpha and Beta intelligence tests were his creation, and they were administered to over a million U.S. soldiers during the war. The results of the tests led to the conclusion that recent immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe had considerably lower scores than earlier immigrants from Northern Europe. Eugenicists relied on these results as ammunition for their campaign for immigration restrictions. The test results, however, were later criticized as having been more a measure of acculturation than of intelligence, since the test scores correlated closely with the number of years spent living in the U.S.
Psychologist Cyril Burt was influenced by the British class system, and decried what he saw as the decline of the "British race." Influenced by Francis Galton's work, Burt was also drawn to the theories of Charles Spearman—and in fact tried to claim Spearman's g-factor theory of intelligence as his own—in an effort to substantiate his theory of the heritability of intelligence with quantitative analysis. Burt was a member of the British Eugenics Society. He was appointed professor and chair of psychology at University College, London, in 1931 taking over Spearman's position. At the university, Burt influenced many students, among them Arthur Jensen and Chris Brand.
Since the 1940s, evolutionary scientists have rejected the concept of race based on physical characteristics—or phenotype—in determining the variety of races. Evolutionary and social scientists observed that established racial categories and definitions lacked taxonomic validity. They argued that definitions of race were imprecise, arbitrary, derived from customs, had many exceptions and gradations and that the number of races observed varied according to the culture examined. For example, categorizing human populations by skin color was no more useful than using hair color or hair texture, or eye color, or nose size, lip size, or height. Instead, they theorized that analyzing human genotypic and phenotypic variation was better interpreted in terms of populations and clines
One of the leading scientists in advancing modern evolutionary theory was Sewall Wright. His work on inbreeding, mating systems and genetic drift made him, along with R. A. Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane, the founders of population genetics theory. Their work was the basis of modern evolutionary synthesis also referred to as neo-Darwinian synthesis.
The inbreeding coefficient and F-statistics, which are standard tools in population genetics, were developed by Wright. His contribution to the mathematical theory of genetic drift led to its designation as the Sewall Wright effect; this theory represents cumulative changes in gene frequencies that arise from random births, deaths, and Mendelian segregations in reproduction. Wright was involved in a longstanding argument with Fisher, who was convinced that most populations in nature were too large for the effects of genetic drift to be important.
Another important scientist involved in reconceptualizing genotypic and phenotypic variation was anthropologist C. Loring Brace. Brace was responsible for the observation that these variations, insofar as they were affected by natural selection, migration or genetic drift, were distributed along geographic gradations called “clines.” This conclusion drew attention to the fact that phenotypic-based descriptions of races ignore numerous other similarities and differences, such as blood type, which do not correlate highly with race. This led anthropologist Frank Livingstone’s to conclude that "there are no races, only clines."
Theodosius Dobzhansky, an American geneticist born in Russia, is known for his basic work in genetics and conducted much of his research with fruit flies. His writings include Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937), a summary of contemporary knowledge of genetics; Evolution, Genetics, and Man (1955); and Mankind Evolving: The Evolution of the Human Species (1962), which explores cultural and biological evolution.
In 1939, race scientist Carleton Coon published The Races of Europe. By 1950, Coon had co-authored Races: A Study of the Problem of Race Formation in Man with colleagues Stanley Garn and Joseph Birdsell. In Race Formation, a place-based concept of race—a multi-regional theory—emerged that countered the neo-Darwinian interpretation of biological variability, which emphasized natural selection. With multi-regional theory, races were conceptualized as geographical races, whose defining characteristics were seen as the byproduct of adaptation through natural selection based on environmental factors. His hierarchal ranking resembled the scientific racism of the early twentieth century.
American immunochemist William C. Boyd co-authored a publication entitled Races and People with Isaac Asimov in 1958. A worldwide survey of the distribution of blood types made by Boyd and his wife Lyle in the 1930s showed that blood groups are inherited and not influenced by environment. Genetic analysis of blood groups led him to hypothesize that the population differences between human races are found in alleles. This hypothesis prompted him to divide the world population into 13 geographically distinct races with different blood group gene profiles.
Harvard professor Richard Lewontin helped establish the field of molecular evolution in a pair of papers that he co-authored with J.L. Hubby in the journal Genetics in 1966. Lewontin , an evolutionary biologist, geneticist and social commentator, helped establish the mathematics of population genetics and evolutionary theory. He found that the proportion of human variation that could be statistically explained by race was insignificant in a 1972 article. If it could be found that the relative degree of variation among races was significant compared to the variation within a single race, then race could be a statistically valid concept; however, if the relative degree of variation among races was not significant compared to the variation within a race, then race would have to be seen as a less statistically valid measure of biological differences.
A series of papers using larger data sets have replicated Lewontin’s results, demonstrating that statistically “race” does not explain a great deal about human variation. Neo-Darwinian theories which explain animal behavior and social structures in terms of evolutionary strategy—which has been controversially applied to humans, and seen as genetic determinism—as espoused by sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists such as Edward O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins, has drawn criticism from Lewontin. His opinion is that a more careful understanding of the context of the whole organism as well as its environment is required for a more complete understanding of evolution.
Published at the height of polygenism's popularity, Josiah Nott and George Gliddon's 800-page illustrated volume, Types of Mankind (shown left), reproduced the work of Louis Agassiz and Samuel Morton, spreading racist views to a popular audience. The work sold well and nine editions were printed. Some slave owners found justification for slavery in the Bible, and others used this new "science" to defend it.
In 1854, Josiah Clark Nott, a physician and surgeon, and George Robins Gliddon, an Egyptologist, published Types of Mankind, popularizing the polygenist theory of separate origins of human races. The argument was refuted by Charles Darwin in 1871 in his book The Descent of Man.
This image is from the Science Museum of Minnesota, based on the work of Yale geneticist Kenneth Kidd, Ph.D. It shows the distribution of human genetic variation found in modern human populations; where there are more colors of dots on the map, there is more genetic variation. The map shows clearly that most genetic variation is found in Africa, and there is less variation the farther a population is from the African continent.