18th-Century Anthropology

Buffon's ape
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17TH C.





Concepts of the Non-European in Early Modern Europe

a biological condition that fascinated the eighteenth-century intellectuals because it seemed to them to prove that white was the original color of Adam and Eve.
Anthropological Perspective
comparative point of view that there are physical and cultural differences among human populations which must be taken into account in any attempt to generalize about humanity (Rowe, p. 61 = Darnell, ch. 5).
Artificial variation
antithesis of natural variation. The two types were confused in early modern Europe. Some believed that negroid features had been artificially derived, meaning man-made after birth by molding the head or facial features. Others argued that the variety of characteristics occurred naturally. The pygmies ultimately turned out to be true, whereas Negro nose-flattening ultimately proved to be fictitious and a rationalization for aesthetic prejudices.
self-evident truth; a universally accepted principle or rule. In logic and mathematics an axiom is a proposition that is assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from it.
two-footed animal. This quality was much discussed in the eighteenth century because it was seen as an advantage to the human species.
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), author of the popular On the Natural Varieties of Mankind (1775), is traditionally regarded as the “father of physical anthropology.”
Count de Buffon (1707-1788) claimed to have found a synthesizing principle at work in the living world, analogous to Newton’s synthesis in physics, in his popular 1749 essay entitled “Of the Varieties in the Human Species.” The underlying law at work in nature was climate.
= anthropophagite; a human being that eats human flesh. “Cannibalism always turns out to have been suppressed shortly before the observer’s arrival, or is imputed by his informants to other people,” Bitterli, p. 9.
of or pertaining to Descartes’s mathematical methods or philosophy; deductive reasoning where a conclusion is drawn from a set of premises containing no more information than the premises taken collectively. The conclusion is logically true. Deductive reasoning is the antithesis to inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is where the truth of the conclusion is verifiable only in terms of future experience and certainty is attainable only if all possible instances have been examined.
term invented by Blumenbach based on the [European] idea that the most beautiful race lives around Mount Caucasus and that humanity’s progenitors (meaning their forefathers and their original model) descended from Noah’s Ark settling on Mount Ararat, the southern slope of Mount Caucasus.
Chain of Being
ancient concept or world-order of the great Scale of Nature. The world is structured in terms of an immense number of links arranged in hierarchical order (gradation), going from the lowest through every possible grade to the highest (plenitude), each grade differing by the least possible difference (continuity). Charles Bonnet, Idée d'une échelle des êtres naturels. Alexander Pope coined the phrase “chain of being” in his poem, “Essay on Man” (1732-4). Arthur O. Lovejoy, author of The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936), considers evolution to be but a “temporalizing of the Chain of Being.” Nineteenth-century evolutionists switched the European perspective from the angel-to-ape gradation to one of the ape-to-humanity instead (with a gradation of races inside humanity).
Orangutan  Orang-outang
Monkey  Singe
Flying Squirrel  Eureuil volant
Bat  Chauve-souris
Ostrich  Austruiche
Aquatic Birds  Oiseau aquatique
Amphibious Birds  Oiseau amphibre
Flying Fish  Poissons volans
Crawling Fish  Poissons rampans
Eels  Anguilles
Water Snakes  Serpens d’eau
Slugs  Limaces
Snails  Limaçons
Tubular Worms  Vers à tuyau
Moths  Teignes
Gallflies  Gall-insectes
Tape-Worm  Taenia, ou solitaire
Polyps  Polypes
Sea-Anemone  Orties de Mer
Sensitive Plants  Plantes sensitives
Lichens  Lychens
Moulds  Moissures
Mushrooms, Agarics  Champigonons agaries
Truffles  Truffles
Corals, Coraloids  Coraux et coralloides
Lithophyte  Lithophytes
Asbestos, Amianthus  Amianthe
Talcs, Gypsums, Selenites  Talcs, Gyps, Selenites
Slates  Ardoises
Formed Stones  Pierres figurées
Crystallizations  Chrystallizations
Salts  Sels
Vitriols  Vitriols
Semi-Metals  Demi-metaux
Bitumens  Bitumes
Pure Earth  Terre pure
= “Man of the Woods” in an African language.
conceptualized by Baudet, without using this term, as a wave of enthusiasm and uncritical imitation of China and things Chinese — or perceived to be Chinese — that swept across Europe (Baudet, pp. 43-44).
Climatic theory
ancient theory that the differences of skin color among human populations is due to the differences of climate. This theory found new favor in the eighteenth century thanks to the Baron de Montesquieu and the Count de Buffon.
The Contact
declination in qualities of human skin, size, and mentality from the ancestral racial “norm.” According to Buffon, the laws of degeneracy operated from the Temperate Zone to the Torrid or Frigid Zones and in the East-West direction as well.
marriage within a specific social unit.
The Enlightenment
philosophical movement of the 18th century in Europe, characterized by a lively questioning of authority, keen interest in matters of politics and general culture, and an emphasis on empirical method in science.
tendency to view alien groups or cultures in terms of one’s own.
= xenophilia; superiority of all things foreign (Baudet, pp. 49-50).
tendency to view non-European groups or cultures in European terms, with the assumption that Europe’s are superior.
to unroll, unfold, open; development; to come forth gradually into being; to go to a more highly organized state or condition.
marriage outside a specific social unit.
not native, strikingly foreign; discussed by Baudet as characteristic of the Enlightenment; the improper generally held an inordinate fascination for the 18th century; a modus vivendi or temporary arrangement of living between the degenerative view of life “no longer” and the evolutionist view of life “not yet” (Baudet, pp. 37-38 and 51).
Frigid Zone
the coldest zone of the globe and harshest conditions, consequently home to the most degenerative varieties of the human species.
Historical Point of View
recognition of cultural contrasts between the present and the past (Rowe, p. 69).
Homo sylvestris
= wild man.
small orang-outang, according to Buffon.
position on the north-south coordinate.
position on the east-west coordinate, only made possible in the eighteenth century with the invention of chronometers.
change from one form into another, e.g., the Frog-Apollo metamorphosis as illustrated in Lavater’s Physiognomy (1778-79). This concept fascinated Enlightenment scientists because it illustrated the unity in diversity that characterized living nature. Petrus Camper (1722-1789) likewise illustrated metamorphoses in nature.
Lavater’s metamorphosis: computer-animated version
Lavater's originalLavater's original
a future reign of righteousness; for example, a future reign by Christ.
theory or doctrine that all human races have descended from a single created pair, or from a common ancestral type; antithesis of polygenism.
“Morals and Manners”
eighteenth-century expression for today’s concept of “culture” in the anthropological sense.
Natural inequality
antithesis of artificial or social inequality pointed out by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century.
unreasonable hatred of the “Negro” (African or African-American) race.
Noble Savage
eighteenth-century literary device to criticize society or l’infâme (Voltaire’s term for Christianity); a literary device for Natural Reason in the Enlightenment.
“Man of the Woods,” in the Malay language.
conceptualized by Baudet, without using this term, as a preeminently sympathetic view of Turks, Persians, and other non-Westerners other than the Chinese, Africans, or American Indians (Baudet, pp. 45-48).
Perspective Distance
sensitivity to and acknowledgment of cultural differences through time (history) or space (anthropology) which permits the culture to be respectively observed on its own terms (Rowe, p. 76).
Polished society
the civil state, i.e. European civilization; the antithesis of “rude nation” or the “savage state.”
theory or doctrine that existing human races have evolved from two or more distinct ancestral types; polygeny; antithesis of monogenism. Some polygenists of the 18th century were Voltaire and David Hume. All the European scientists of the 19th century were polygenists.
large orang-outang, according to Buffon.
natural tendency of travelers to see only what they are prepared to see; psychological urge to see only what one wants to see; intellectual anxiety to interpret the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar; pre-judgments; prejudices; rationalizations.
originally meant the initial, primary level.
= “no longer;” degenerative; the belief that primitive or chronologically early civilizations are qualitatively superior to contemporary civilization (Baudet, p. 34).
a category of humans, conceptualized in the eighteenth century and reified in the nineteenth century. Carolus Linnaeus, the great Swedish nomenclator of the 18th century, classified four races based on the ancient theory of the four humors. Blumenbach classified five races. The number and identification of races which each anthropologist classified varied enormously between them.
defined broadly as stigmatization of those we perceive as different from us; defined specifically as the doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior. There can be an ethnocentric group of people without being a racist group of people because racism seems to need to have some systematized body of scientific knowledge. Racist expressions generally seek to justify and thus perpetuate sets of mind or social practices already in existence.
questioning the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual; a doubting attitude; even doubting the possibility of real knowledge of any kind.
the biological group in which the individuals can produce fertile offspring together.
Temperate Zone
the best zone on the globe in terms of environmental conditions, which included Europe, and was the site of humanity’s origin because the temperate climate favored Nature’s optimal generative power.
Torrid Zone
the hottest climate on the globe and therefore home, it was assumed, to the world’s darkest-skinned peoples.
= “not yet;” evolutionist; place or state of political or social perfection; any visionary system of political or social perfection; imaginary political or social perfection (Baudet, p. 34).
Wild children
abandoned children of Europe found in the wild.
Wild man
homo sylvestris in Latin.
= étrangisme; superiority of all things foreign (Baudet, pp. 49-50).
unreasonable hatred or fear of foreigners.


Baudet, Henri.
Paradise on Earth: Some Thoughts on European Images of Non-European Man. Trans. Elizabeth Wentholt. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1988.
Bitterli, Urs.
Cultures in Conflict: Encounters Between European and Non-European Cultures, 1492-1800. Trans. Ritchie Robertson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989.
Darnell, Regna, ed.
Readings in the History of Anthropology. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.
Rowe, John Howland.
“The Renaissance Foundations of Anthropology.” Readings in the History of Anthropology, ed., Regna Darnell (New York: Harper and Row, 1974): 61-77.
Schiebinger, Londa.
Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science (Beacon Press, 1993): Chapter 5.
Woodrow, Ross.
Digital Lavater. Digital edition of Lavater’s Physiognomy (in English translation). University of Newcastle.


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