Re: Origins of "Caucasian" Category

25 Jan 1995 16:28 CST

In article <>, writes...
>In article <>, writes:
>>Yes--what you've heard is true. You can read about the origins of
>>Blumenbach's category of "Caucasian" in Steven J. Gould's book, "Mismeasure of
>>Man" which is excellent in tracing the history of the racist eugencist
>>movement and shredding their social construction of race and bogus scientific
>>"evidence" to support their racist claims. You can find a reference to
>>Blumenbach's original book in the bibliography. It's worth reading in
>>any case. Gould mentions that Caucasian was elevated to the top of the
>>pyramid because the Caucasian skull was believed by that scientist to be the
>>most "beautiful" of the collection--very scientific.
>Gould is right about the last bit, though in Blumenbach's first identifications
>of this type of skull as 'beautiful" is was still (in latin) termed
>the skull of a "Georgian woman," not a "caucasian."
>However, Gould's book is really, really bad history; chiefly an ideological
>exercise that almost totally decontextualizes the material it addresses.
>Blumenbach, for example, was a champion of 'racial' equality and wrote
>strongly in support of the capabilities of Africans and others. He never
>'elevated' so-called caucasians to the top of any racially-based
>list re: such things as intellectual capabilities, etc.
>Norman Buchignani
>Norman Buchignani e-mail address: BUCHIGNANI@HG.ULETH.CA
>Department of Anthropology
>University of Lethbridge
>Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

I don't know if i would call it "bad" history but yes it doesn't give
adequate context. I think this is mainly from the fact that it *was* an
ideological attack against the racist elements involved, and to give a
complete contextualization would have resulted in a tome the size of War and
Peace. You are absolutely correct about Blumenbach being one of the least
racist theorists, however. The irony of his classification scheme, as it
is conceptualized today, is what Gould speaks of in his Discover article.

In the Nov. 1994 issue of DISCOVER he does an excellent job
in answering my earlier question about Blumenbach's origination of the
category of "caucasian" [thanks to Richard Lindstrom for the reference].
He did use the idea of "beauty" to formulate his category, but it was the
beauty of the inhabitants in the area *and* of a particular skull [sorry for
refuting you Julie, but Gould contradicts his assertion in the
"Mismeasure of Man" in the newer Discover article--I was confused :()].

I hardily recommend the Discover article to anyone at all interested in this.

thanks to everyone for their input,

james b.