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Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (May 11, 1752 ‚Äď January 22, 1840) was a Germanmarker physician, physiologist and anthropologist, one of the first to explore the study of mankind as an aspect of natural history, whose teachings in comparative anatomy were applied to classification of human races, of which he determined five.

Biography

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach was born at Gothamarker, studied medicine at Jenamarker, and graduated in 1775 with his MD thesis De generis humani varietate nativa (On the Natural Varieties of Mankind, University of Göttingenmarker, first published in 1776), which is considered one of the most influential works in the development of subsequent concepts of "human race."

He was appointed extraordinary professor of medicine in Göttingenmarker in 1776 and ordinary professor in 1778. His later works included Institutiones Physiologicae (1787), and Handbuch der vergleichenden Anatomie (1804). In 1813, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Blumenbach died in Göttingenmarker in 1840.

Blumenbach's racial classification system

On the basis of his craniometrical research (analysis of human skulls), Blumenbach divided the human species into five races:

His classification of Mongolian race included all East Asians and some Central Asians. Blumenbach excluded peoples of Southeast Asian islands and Pacific Islanders from his definition, as he considered them to be part of the Malay race. He considered American Indians to be part of the American (Indigenous peoples) race. He did not think they were inferior to the Caucasian race, and were potentially good members of society. He included the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa in the Negro or black race.

Blumenbach argued that physical characteristics like skin color, cranial profile, etc., were correlated with group character and aptitude. He interpreted craniometry and phrenology to make physical appearance correspond with racial categories.

Blumenbach's work included his description of sixty human crania (skulls) published originally in fascicules as Collectionis suae craniorum diversarum gentium illustratae decades (Göttingen, 1790-1828). This was a founding work of craniometry.

Later in life, Blumenbach encountered in Switzerland "eine zum Verlieben schöne Négresse" ('a negro woman so beautiful to fall in love with'). Further "anatomical study" led him to the conclusion that 'individual Africans differ as much, or even more, from other individual Africans as Europeans differ from Europeans'. Furthermore he concluded that Africans were not inferior to the rest of mankind 'concerning healthy faculties of understanding, excellent natural talents and mental capacities'.


"Finally, I am of opinion that after all these numerous instances I have brought together of negroes of capacity, it would not be difficult to mention entire well-known provinces of Europe, from out of which you would not easily expect to obtain off-hand such good authors, poets, philosophers, and correspondents of the Paris Academy; and on the other hand, there is no so-called savage nation known under the sun which has so much distinguished itself by such examples of perfectibility and original capacity for scientific culture, and thereby attached itself so closely to the most civilized nations of the earth, as the Negro."


These later ideas were far less influential than his earlier assertions with regard to the perceived relative qualities of the different races. His early ideas were adopted by other researchers and encouraged scientific racism. Blumenbach's work was used by many biologists and comparative anatomists in the nineteenth century who were interested in the origin of races: Wells, Lawrence, Prichard, Huxley and William Flower are good examples of his influence on human biology.

Blumenbach and the Platypus

Blumenbach was also one of the first scientists to study the anatomy of the platypus. He gave the scientific name Ornithorhynchus anatinus to the animal not knowing that George Shaw had given it the name Platypus anantinus. However Platypus had already been shown to be used for the scientific name for a genus of Ambrosia beetles so Blumenbach's scientific name for the genus was used.

See also



References



Notes

  1. Biographical details are in Charles Coulston Gillispie, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 1970:203f s.v. "Johann Friederich Blumenbach".
  2. Jack Hitt, "Mighty White of You: Racial Preferences Color America’s Oldest Skulls and Bones," Harper’s, July 2005, pp. 39-55
  3. http://books.google.com/books?id=u9QKAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA312#PPA312 The anthropological treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
  4. Fredrickson, George M. Racism: A Short History, p.57, Princeton University Press (2002), ISBN 0-691-00899-X
  5. Platypus by Ann Moyal, pages 8 and 9


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