The timeline appears to not be showing details of each entry, so at the risk of being redundant I will repost them here.


Sir William Petty submits a paper to the Royal Society that discusses the order of all creatures according to the great chain of being.  Ape is placed next to man, and after this he discusses some of the differences between man — such as Middle Europeans and Guinea Negroes.  In noting these differences, he then submits them to the ranking on the chain of being.  This, it should be noted, isn’t precisely racial in scope — it is more slanted towards location.  However, its importance lies in the fact that it is written work that begins to show the inkling of an idea that a certain grouping of people based on locative differences (where these groupings also had notable physical differences) could be deemed superior or inferior.

Nothing happens in a vaccuum.  While the roots of the ideas that lead to the concept of race could be traced much farther back, the timing of this publication and its distinction between Europeans and Negroes was adding fuel to the fire.  In a social context, Bacon’s Rebellion had occurred just the year prior, and laws specifying differences in rights between blacks, whites, and Native Americans had been passed in the American colonies.  Socially, people were looking for reasons to differentiate between black and white, and it could be said that Africans as slaves were becoming increasingly popular.  This is why I believe that this document is an important predecessor that helped to set the stage for the more explicit racial concepts that were to follow.


Francois Bernier publishes “ A New Division of the Earth, According to the Different Species or Races of Men Who Inhabit It,” which, according to the RACE website, is among the first publications to make the jump between groupings of people based upon nationality/location and religion to groupings of people based upon species, or race.

Unlike Petty, who framed his discussion of categories within the divine, Bernier focuses on a more natural system of classification that is purely based on physical aspects of people – such as skin color. It was a new way of looking at human variation, formed within the context of the Enlightenment’s fixity of species, and described four species (or races): Europeans, Africans, Chinese/Japanese, and Lapps. It should be noted that Bernier does not make a distinction between superior and inferior groups, but instead focuses simply on a classification system.

Thus, Bernier’s participation in the greater scope of race was, like Petty, merely a prelude to the later associations that would be attached to race. But it is interesting and of note, to me, that the intellectual categorization was not wholly attached to that of the social concept of race. In this, I wonder – were it not for slavery, would the following publications have focused so intensely on superior and inferior races of people? I think perhaps it would not have been such a dominant concept, yet even so, with slavery in the background the neutral categorizations like Bernier’s would become less popular views.


George Louis de Buffon – Histoire Naturelle


Carolus Linnaeus’ work in Systemae Naturae is a landmark moment in the intellectual development of racial concepts. First, it introduced the system of binomial nomenclature that is still used today (which, I think, helped to make him a respected authority on the subject and, perhaps, a stronger influence for those philosophers and scientists also developing theories and classification systems for human race), and second introduced his own ideas regarding classification of humankind. His classifications remain in part with us today based upon the 10th edition of this work – Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, and Europeanus – as something we don’t even think about. By that, I mean that most people take those words for granted (American, Asian, African, European) as a natural means of classifying people, both in terms of location and in terms of differentiating groups of humans based upon physical characteristics rather than by nationality or culture.

Linnaeus’ work was influential, and inspired derivative work that took his concepts and further refined them: American being choleric and characterized as being red, European being sanguine and characterized as being white, Asian being melancholy and characterized as being sallow, and African being phlegmatic and characterized as being black. These were further broken down into typical behaviors of these races, of which African was least (indolent, governed by caprice). In these descriptions, it can be easily carried over to a natural assumption that Africans should be slaves (as they are least disciplined), and reinforces the direction that the American colonies were taking (such as a number of Virginian laws that were created in 1705 that further defined slaves as property).


Edward Long – History of Jamaica


Christoph Meniers was a proponent of scientific racism, where his own work The Outline of the History of Mankind very clearly sets out how the white race is physically (and thus mentally) superior, and the black race is physically (and thus mentally) inferior.  He was a philospher who coined the term ‘Caucasian’ in this work from the proximity of Georgians to Mount Caucasus.

I find that he was not often mentioned in the sources that I have pulled from (RACE, Discover Magazine, glances through Wikipedia, among others), though a few times (including an article I’m linking here) he’s credited as being a major influence, and that his work was the popular standard of the 18th century.  This claim is one that is in contrast with other claims that his work was criticized due to poor scholarship, and that the following entry (Blumenbach) was the work which popularized him.

However, the fact that he did coin the term ‘Caucasian’ and the fact that it was picked up by others until it became a racial category in social use is, I feel, indicative that his work was widely read at the time and as such had influence on following works describing and defining racial categories.


Blumenbach’s taxonomy, “Decas craniorum” is one that follows closely at the heels of Linnaeus and Meniers.  He was a student of Linnaeus, which is perhaps why his ideas follow in the same sort of structure.  However, unlike Linnaeus’ work, his laid claim to a degenerative hypothesis where one race was the ideal and the rest came about by means of degeneration due to exposure to hostile environments.  In this case, this can be seen by his labeling of white people as Caucasian, based off of Meniers  physical proximity to that mountain range, where he felt they met the standards of the human ideal.  He did not subscribe to differences between the races being that of mental capacity or the like, but instead ranked them by beauty.  This is an important distinction due to the fact that it is an overt system of ranking.  While Linnaeus’ descriptions were inferred (positive and less positive descriptions), Blumenbach’s are outright.

His work was based in part upon the phrenology, the measurement of skulls, but also used outward physical characteristics to define his five races. Even so, Blumenbach did not propose that any of his races were less than the others in the sense of colonial slavery.  But, his work definitely suggested that one race was the original and the ideal, and the other races came after, and were less than ideal.  Additionally, he helped to popularize Meniers coining of the term ‘Caucasian’ – which perhaps gave more credence to that system of thought.


Robert Knox – The Races of Man


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s