Petrus Camper (1722-1789), Dutch Anthropologist
After the discovery of the anthropoid ape in Asia and in Africa, eighteenth-century Holland became the crossroads of Enlightenment debates about the human species. Material evidence about human diversity reached Petrus Camper, comparative anatomist in the Netherlands, who engaged, among many other interests, in “menschkunde” [“anthropology”]. Could only religious doctrine support the belief of human demarcation from animals? Camper resolved the challenges raised by overseas discoveries with his thesis of the “facial angle,” a theory which succeeding generations distorted and misused in order to justify slavery, racism, antisemitism, and genocide. Thanks to his abundant papers in Dutch archives, Camper’s ideas are restored to their original state. Eighteenth-century issues differed from those of other centuries: Did orang-utans talk like humans, walk like humans; even rape humans? What was the skin pigmentation of Adam and Eve? Did the spectrum of human physiognomies around the globe reflect the Fall of Man, the Creator’s bounty, or merely bizarre beauty practices? Why did the ideal beauty of the Greeks appear to be the reverse of the Hottentots? The book contains some 50 illustrations, including apes with hiking sticks or tea cups, metamorphoses of living forms, and Apollo or Venus icons which titillated the “science of man.”
Miriam Claude Meijer was born in Leiden (like Camper) but grew up in the United States. After earning degrees in Anthropology and History from the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC) and UCLA respectively, Dr. Meijer taught Early Modern European History at George Washington University and the University of Central Arkansas. This book was supported by a Fulbright Grant to the Netherlands. Dr. Meijer is currently researching Buffon’s natural law of race formation. She is interested in the origin of western assumptions about foreign peoples.
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Miriam Claude Meijer,
Table of Contents
Race and Aesthetics in the Anthropology of Petrus Camper (1722-1789)
(Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999)
Chapter 1 Introduction.
Chapter 2 Camper, his life and philosophy.
Scientific background and expertise: homo universalis
Science and public life
Writing and teaching
Epistemology: analysis and synthesis
Chapter 3 Man and the anthropoid ape.
Apes and monsters
Chain of being?
Teleology: the place of man
Views on blacks
Chapter 4 The question of color.
Observation in conflict with the holy text of the earth: fossils
Climate and change
The color of the skin: ‘white moors’
The first color and racial variety
Monogenism versus polygenism: Adam and Eve
Chapter 5 Graphic representation.
Drawing and passions
Drawing differences: protrusion and retraction
Chapter 6 The intersection of race and beauty.
Skulls in history
Discovery of the facial angle
Measurement in the eighteenth century: Daubenton and Hunter
Man and ape reconsidered: similarity and sex
The image of the walking ape
The question of speech
Kalmuck, African, and ape
Morphology and metamorphosis: history and skeleton of forms
The artifice thesis: moulding race
Nature and aesthetics
Chapter 7 History of the Facial Angle Theory.
Chapter 8 Conclusion.
Appendix: Camper’s lecture On the Origin and Color of Blacks.
List of plates
Camper’s manuscripts and drawings
List of personal names
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