The major significance of the German naturalist-physician Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) as a topic of historical study is the fact that he was one of the first anthropologists to investigate humankind as part of natural history. Moreover, Blumenbach was, and continues to be, a central figure in debates about race and racism.

How exactly did Blumenbach define race and races? What were his scientific criteria? And which cultural values did he bring to bear on his scheme? Little historical work has been done on Blumenbach’s fundamental, influential race work. From his own time till today, several different pronouncements have been made by either followers or opponents, some accusing Blumenbach of being the fountainhead of scientific racism. By contrast, across early nineteenth-century Europe, not least in France, Blumenbach was lionized as an anti-racist whose work supported the unity of humankind and the abolition of slavery.

This collection of essays considers how, with Blumenbach and those around him, the study of natural history and, by extension, that of science came to dominate the Western discourse of race.

part I|24 pages

Blumenbach studies

chapter 1|13 pages


A brief history of Blumenbach representation
ByNicolaas Rupke, Gerhard Lauer

chapter 2|9 pages

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach – Online

ByGerhard Lauer, Heiko Weber

part II|96 pages

Defining human races

chapter 5|16 pages

Blumenbach’s collection of human skulls

ByWolfgang Böker

chapter 7|8 pages

A defense of human rights

Blumenbach on albinism
ByRenato G. Mazzolini

part III|127 pages

Racism, anti-racism, and Eurocentricity

chapter 9|35 pages

The beautiful skulls of Schiller and the Georgian girl

Quantitative and aesthetic scaling of the races, 1770–1850
ByRobert J. Richards

chapter 10|20 pages

Ethnographic exploration in the Blumenbachian tradition

ByPeter Hanns Reill

chapter 11|36 pages

The rise of paleontology and the historicization of nature

Blumenbach and Deluc
ByJohn H. Zammito

chapter 12|15 pages

The origins of scientific racism and Huxley’s rule

ByNicolaas Rupke