Anthropology 101 Introduction to Anthropology Eighth Journal Entry Assignment Due Thursday, February 27th.

Dr. Dalton, Spring 2000.

Directions :

This is an exercise to help you become aware of how disciplinary knowledge changes through creative applications of anthropological studies of other cultures. This example involves the idea of “race” and how the physical measurement of human body “types” led anthropologists to begin to question the existence of separate “races” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Read the following excerpts from the eminent intellectual historian of anthropology George W Stocking, Jr. from his book Race, Culture, and Evolution : Essays in the History of Anthropology (Chicago :The University of Chicago Press. 1968.) Based on this reading, first, briefly summarize and describe how, through the attempt to measure different physical “types” or “races,” in Stocking’s words, “nothing failed like success.” Use the terms “discordant” versus “concordant” physical traits from class i your description. Second, briefly summarize and describe how American anthropologist Franz Boas’ study of changes of headforms of immigrant children challenged view of the assumed stability of physical “types” or “races,” particularly with regard to the association widely assumed to exist between “race,” head and brain size, an “intelligence.” George Stocking, Jr.

The Persistence of Polygenist Thought in Post-Darwinian Anthropology

In 1774, the Scottish jurist and philosopher Lord Kames speculated as to “whether there are different races of men, or whether all men are of one race without any difference but what proceeds from climate or other external cause.” Impressed by the fact that certain human tribe differed “visibly from each other, no less than the lama [sic] . . . from the camel,” Kames felt it reasonable to assume that God, who “left none of his works imperfect,” had created many pair of the human race, differing from each other both externally and internally ; that he fitted these pairs for different climates, and placed each pair in its proper climate ; [and] that the peculiarities of the original pairs were preserved entire in their descendents [sic].” However reasonable, thi was an assumption that the pious were “not permitted to adopt,” and Kames suggested instead that human diversity was a divine punishment for the presumption of the Tower of Babel.1 Despite this rather halfhearted bow to orthodoxy, Kames’ reformulation of an old question may be regarded as the beginning of the debate which was to be a primary focal point of anthropological thought well into the nineteenth century : the controversy between the monogenists and the polygenists. It has been assumed by some that this debate ended in 1859, or shortly thereafter, havin contributed in somewhat paradoxical ways to the “Death of Adam.” By calling into question th uniqueness of his creation and robbing him of the paternity of most of mankind, polygenism had been an important accessory to Adam’s demise.

Monogenists, on the other hand, in defending the orthodox position that all mankind descended from a single pair, had been forces into protoevolutionists speculations (occasionally even foreshadowing the mechanism of natural selection) in order to ex-lain the increasingly evident reality of human diversity. But once creation itself was called into question, and Darwin linked all men to a common anthropoid ancestor, the polygenists’ multiple ‘centers of Creation” were no more substantial than th Garden of Eden, and the whole debate became irrelevant.2

From a broader point of view, however, polygenism and monogenism can be regarded as specific expressions of enduring alternative attitudes toward the variety of mankind. Confronted by antipodal man, one could marvel at his fundamental likeness to oneself, or one could fast at his immediately striking differences. One could regard these differences as of degree or of kind, as products of changing environment or immutable heredity, as dynamic or static, as relative or absolute, as inconsequential or hierarchical. Considered in these terms, polygenist thinking did not die with Darwin’s Origin of Species, nor is it entirely dead today. But even in a somewhat more restricted sense, polygenist thinking continued to be manifest for some time after the descent of man had become part of the conventional wisdom of Western thought. Anthropologists did not all leap to embrace Darwinian evolution ; indeed, insofar at the were polygenists, many of them agreed with James Hunt, president of th Anthropological Society of London, who could not in 1866 see “that any advance can be made in the application of the Darwinian principles to anthropology until we can free the subject from th unity hypothesis which has been identified with it.”3

However, the liberation of evolutionism from monogenism was in fact already the taking place. Addressing Hunt’s society two years before, Alfred Russell Wallace had tried to show how Darwinian theory might resolve the controversy between monogenists and polygenists by combining the views of each. All men had in fact descended from a common root. But the moment of that single ancestry lay so far in th past that by the time man’s forebears had acquitted the intellectual capacities which made them truly human, the various races had already been differentiated by natural selection, and it migh fairly be asserted “that there were many originally distinct races of men. . . .” Once these intellectual capacities were acquired, natural selection had ceased to affect the physical structure of man, and the various races had in fact since remained static as far as their physical structure was concerned.4

In sum, it is clear that Darwinism did not lay all the issues between monogenists an polygenists, nor did the development of scientific physical anthropology free racial thought fro a heritage of impressionistic and anecdotal argument. On the contrary, despite its apparently rigorously scientific approach and its constantly mounting accumulation of systematic measurement, physical anthropology carried within itself a framework of assumption rooted i the polygenist tradition.

Indeed, it might be argued that the two sides of the unity controversy corresponded to two basic approaches to the study of man, the monogenists representing cultural and the polygenists physical anthropology. However this may be, there is no denying a very close relationship between late nineteenth-century physical anthropology and the earlier polygenists writers. It was the nineteenth-century polygenists of greatest retrospective stature, Paul Broca, who is generally acknowledged as the founder of modern physical anthropology, and who dominated the fiel until his death in 1880.5 But quite aside from the evidence of paternity, the polygenist elements in late nineteenth-century European physical anthropology are evident in the characteristic preoccupations of its major figures : the assumption that the cultural differences of men were direct product of differences in their racial physical structure ; the idea that the distinguishing physical differences between human races were virtually primordial ; the idea that the most important of these differences were those involving the human skull and brain ; and th assumption that out of the heterogeneity of modern populations there could be reconstructe “types” which were representative of the “pure races” from whose mixture these modern populations derived. All of these are to be found in the work of Paul Topinard, author of the classic textbook, Éléments d’anthropologie générale, and after Broca’s death the most important figure in European physical anthropology.

Following the earlier phrenologists, Topinard assumed that human mental faculties were localized in certain areas of the brain. He departed from phrenologists, however, in arguing that the definition and localization of these faculties must be empirically determined rather tha deduced from prior assumption. But he was convinced that their development varied from race to race, and that this variation was a major factor in differing cultural histories. The idea that human nature was one and the course of human progress the same everywhere was an erroneous assumption – as if the brains of the Chinaman and the Bushman, the Australian and the European, were all the same. An adequate sociology must be based on the structure of the brain. By analyzing cultural products in conjunction with anatomical and physiological evidence, sociology could help to define the mental faculties of each race. Only on this basis could it determine “the general laws of progress in human societies.” Needless to say, Topinard felt that the idea of a hierarchy of “superior” and “inferior” races was a thoroughly scientific one.6

Although he arrived upon the anthropological scene too late to play a leading role in th unity controversy, Topinard’s historical retrospect of that debate left little doubt where hi sympathies lay : the monogenists appear as the defenders of orthodoxy, the polygenists as the precursors of scientific progress. Topinard in fact described the three primary types of mankin as distinct species and suggested that they were better conceived as parallel descendants of different anthropoid ancestors than as the branching offspring of a single stock. And “following the formula of the old polygenists,” he felt that the form of the human head, as indicated by th cephalic index, was a “permanent racial character” ; its study was basic to the classification o human races.7

For present purposed, however, the most important aspect of Topinard’s thought has to do with the notions of “pure race” and “type.” Reduced to its essentials, the polygenist notion of race was built on the idea of racial essence, conceived in almost Platonic terms. It assumed that there is some hereditary essence expressing itself in the number of visible peculiarities that mar every member of a “pure” race and distinguish it from other races, the clarity of the distinctio depending of the purity of the essence – since the only process which could significantly modif a race was racial mixture. Insofar as its purpose was the classification of the bearers of these essences on the basis of carefully observed and measured physical differences, it may fairly b said of nineteenth-century physical anthropology that “nothing failed like success.” As anthropologists moved from the classification of primary to secondary races, the number o morphological peculiarities necessary to separate races increased, and these were more and more subject to quantification. Color alone would usually distinguish Negro from Caucasian ; but t separate Nordic and Mediterranean one must observe – and measure – not only pigmentation, bu stature and head form as well. Paradoxically, the more precise and extensive the observation and measurement of mankind, the more tenuous was the “reality” of races they served to define.

The natural variability of biological phenomena combined with the laws os particulate inheritance to make it increasingly difficulty to maintain in practice the view that race is a phenomenon expressed in the individual human being. In the thirty-five years after Paul Broca founded the Societe d’Anthropologie de Paris in 1859, twenty-five million Europeans were subjected to anthropometric measurement ; yet when William Z. Ripley wrote to Otto Ammon asking for a photograph of a “pure” Alpine type from the Black Forest, Ammon was unable to provide one. “He has measured thousands of heads, and yet he answered that they really had no been able to find a perfect specimen in all details. All his round-headed men were either blond, or tall , or narrow-nosed, or something else that they ought not to be.”8

In a situation such as this, the thoughtful physical anthropologist was necessarily driven to conclude that there were few “pure” Alpines left. Or he might begin to question or even to modify his conception of “race.” The modification which was in fact developed, particularly in the work of Paul Topinard, was the concept of “type.” “Of all races, we are told, there is not a more homogeneous one that\n that of the Esquimaux,” wrote Topinard in 1876 ; yet even the Eskimo varied from one ii\individual to another in stature and headform. What then of racial essence ? – better put it aside and talk instead of “type” : By human type must be understood the average of characters which a human race supposed to be pure presents. In homogeneous races, if such there are, it is discovered by the simple inspection of individuals. In the generality of cases it must be segregated. It is then a physical ideal, to which the greater number of the individuals in the groups more or less approach, but which is better marked in some than in others.

As time passed, Topinard became increasingly agnostic as to the reality of homogeneous races. By 1879 he had concluded that there was “nowhere in the world . . . a population completely untouched by intermixture and manifesting a single type.” Race, then could only be considere in terms of the type concept : as Topinard put it in 1885, “races are hereditary types.” To recreate these types out of the heterogeneity of modern mixed populations was the tremendously difficult task of the physical anthropologist. But once accomplished, it produced only an imaginar entity : “At the present time rarely, if indeed ever, [do] we discover a single individual corresponding to our racial type in every detail.” To prove the hereditary continuity of thes types in time was “in the present state of affairs” virtually impossible. But “race”resided precisely in this “uninterrupted continuity,” which by 1892 Topinard described as at best a “hypothesis,” “convenient for study, but impossible to demonstrate.” The conclusion wa oblivious : physical anthropology should devote itself to the investigation of types and leave open the question of their hereditary persistence. As one later writer put it, physical anthropology ha through the development of anthropometric techniques reached a point where its “most notable” representative urged that its principal problem be abandoned “because research into type and the mathematical treatment of metric data do not reveal the ‘pure races’.” Indeed, “this particular idea” – “the notion that the representatives of a ‘pure race’ must all fit or approximate a calculated average” – had “undoubtedly turned out to be a disastrous Grecian gift to anthropology.9

But the reality of races was not so easy to abandon as this. If races were only abstract conception “of continuity in discontinuity, of unity in diversity,” they nevertheless existed even for Topinard : “we cannot deny them, our intelligence comprehends them, our mind sees them our labor separated them out ; if in thought we suppress the intermixtures of peoples, thei interbreedings, in a flash we see them stand forth – simple, inevitable, a necessary consequenc of collective heredity.” Even Topinard found it hard not to believe that somewhere beneath the patchwork surface of contemporary populations were to be found the “pure races” whose mixtures had produced the present heterogeneity. And for those who were less agnostic, it was not only “race” which stood forth, simple and inevitable, in the mind’s eye. The fictive individual who embodied all the characteristics of the “pure type” grew in imagination, obliterating the individual variation of his fellows, until he stood forth for them all as the living expression of the lost, but now recaptured, essence of racial purity.

Notions of “racial purity” were so widespread as to make further documentation superfluous.

The Critique of Racial Formalism

Studies of heredity in headform led directly to [Franz] Boas’ most important inquiry into racial process : the study of the descendants of immigrants which he carried out for the U.S. Immigration Commission between 1908 and 1910.10

If Boas’ Study has always seemed a bit anomalous as part of the Commissions’s forty-two-volume justification for immigration restriction, this is in part because it has been assumed that the Commission initiated the investigation of the physical assimilation of immigrants. In fact, however, the proposal came from Boas. He was perennially sensitive to the problem o getting support for anthropological researches. When Maurice Fishberg suggested that the organization of the Immigration Commission might provide a way to finance the continuation of Boas’ studies of heredity, Boas was quick to jump at the idea. He felt, however, that “other anthropometrical questions would be more appropriate” to the activities of the Commission. The plan he submitted through economist Jeremiah Jenks, the only academic member of the Commission, drew together various threads of his past researches into racial process in a broad-gauged approach to a problem which was central both to his own anthropological interest and to the work of the Commission. Stated in terms Boas had used as early as 1894, it was the effect o “change of environment upon the physical characteristics of man.” Posed in language more congenial to the commission, it was whether the “marvelous power of amalgamation” which had worked so well in assimilating immigrants from northwestern Europe would continue to operat on the “more remote types” recently entering the country from southern and eastern Europe. With proper financial support, Boas suggested that he would settle the question, “once [and] for all.”11

The proposal in fact took some selling. Opposed by several members of the Commissio who felt it had little to do with the “sociological “ purposes of their study, it was approved only after Boas pointed out that his investigation was not to be a narrowly physical study. On the contrary, he was interested in the effect of social as well as physical environment, and on the interrelation of changed in “social surroundings” and physical type. In these terms he hoped to deal with three basic problems : the selection that was involved in the immigration process itself ; the changes that took place in this country in children born abroad ; and further changes that might take place in children born in this country. The actual empirical studies would be carried on in New York city on representatives of each of four European types : northern, eastern, central, and southern. For comparative purposed, Boas would draw on the accumulated data of European physical anthropology.12

During May and June of 1908, Boas carried out a pilot study primarily among Russia Jewish boys in the City College and two public high schools. In the beginning, the investigation proceeded along lines which flowed directly from Boas’ earlier researches. Thus the issue involved was not simply that of stability or assimilation of type in a changed environment, but the effect of that environment on the processes of growth. Could it be shown, for instance, that acceleration of growth in the American environment produced a “decided improvement in type” ? Recalling his work with Half-blood Indians and his earlier growth studies, Boas suggested that “this question has been before my mind for a great many years, and it seems to me one of the fundamental problems upon which the whole question of adaptation rests.” The analysis of the early data, however, gave his study a new focus and an unforeseen significance.13

Writing to Jenks from Europe, where he had gone to secure comparative material, Boas reported some “very striking and wholly unexpected” results. Along with “all anthropologists,” he had thought “that the headform of the [children of] immigrants would remain the same.” But his pilot study data on Russian Jews indicated marked changes of cephalic index. Although he recalled a parallel in certain results of his work on Worcester schoolchildren, Boas was a bi doubtful at first that these striking findings would be borne out in subsequent research. Several months later he was inclined to interpret the changes in terms of social class and mobility affecting only groups who lived in particularly “favorable surroundings.” He foresaw differen results when his investigations were extended into schools attended by lower-class children an by members of other racial groups.14

During the next year, with the cooperation of educational, welfare, and settlement groups, Boas extended his study in public and parochial schools, at Ellis Island (which represented the “zero degree of American influence”), through house-to-house canvassing (in order to compar children with their own parents), and through the reworking of previously collected bodies o material. By June of 1909, shortly before the fieldwork ended, Boas and a corps of thirteen assistants, many of them his graduate students, were collecting measurements at the rate of 1,200 individuals a week. Over the months that followed, Boas supervised the analysis of data on various bodily measurements for a total of almost 18,000 persons – East European Jews Bohemians, Neapolitans, Sicilians, and in much small numbers, Poles, Hungarians, and Scots. There were sidetracks, such as the irritating days in November 1909, which Boas spent “tussling” with an apparent change of type in entering immigrants after the Panic of 1893. There were problems with the data. Boas was “very much worried” when the Bohemian cephalic index showed no change, but was reassured the next day when the absolute figures showed pronounced changes of a complex character which the index figures had obscured. By the end of 1909, when Boas had already submitted his preliminary report, he was able to report a wide range of changes in the American environment. Not all the changes in body form were in th same direction, nor all of them for the better (Jews thrived in the “congested districts” of New York – Sicilians seems to lose vigor). But in general, the “unforseen results” he had noted eighteen months before had been confirmed.15

Boas spent the next nine months in further analysis, and in the preparation of his final report. As eventually summarized in its first pages, his conclusions were self-consciously revolutionary. The study had shown “much more than anticipated.” Not only had there bee “decided changes in the rate of development” of children, but there was also a “far-reachin change in the type” of each immigrant group. Furthermore, these changes could “only be explained as due directly to the influence of environment.” Explicitly challenging the traditional physical anthropological assumption of the stability of headform, Boas noted that these changed affected even the bodily trait “which has always been considered one of the most stable and permanent characteristics of human races.” Indeed, his results were “so definite that, while heretofore, we had the right to assume that human types are stable, all the evidence is now in favor of a great plasticity of human types, and permanence of types in new surroundings appears rather as the exception than as the rule.”16

His conclusions, however qualified had called into question a fundamental dogma of physical anthropology : the stability of headform. Not surprisingly, they caused quite a stir.

Bibliography :

1 Sketches of the History of Man, 2d ed., 4 vols. (Edinburgh, 1788, I, 3-4, 8, 16, 20, 72, 75-78.

2 William Stanton, The Leopard’s Spots (Chicago, 1960), p. 196 ; J. C. Greene, The Death of Adam (Ames, Iowa, 1959).

3 “On the Application of the Principle of Natural Selection to Anthropology, in reply to views advocated by some of Mr. Darwin’s Disciples,” AR, IV (1866), 339 ; T. D. Stewart, “The Effect of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution on Physical Anthropology,” in Betty Meggers, ed., Evolution and Anthropology : A Centennial Appraisal (Washington, 1959), pp. 11-25.

4 “The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced from the Theory of ‘Natura Selecton,’” JASL, II (1864), clxvi-clxvii.

5. Topinard, Elements d’Anthropologie Generale, p. 141.

6. Topinard, Elements, pp. 166-168, 222.

7. Topinard, Elements, pp. 410.

8. Ripley, Races of Europe, p. 108.

9. W. Scheidt, “Concept of Race,” p. 389, in E. Count, ed., This is Race (New York 1950).

10. “Heredity in Anthropometric Traits, American Anthropologist, IX (1907), 453-469 ; (with Helene Boas), “The Headforms of Itanians as Influenced by Heredity and Environment, AA, XV (1913), 163-188 ; “Modern Population of American, Procs. 19 International Congress of Americanists, Washington, 1915, as reprinted in Boas, Race, Language, and Culture, p.23.

11. Boas Papers, American Philosophical Society, Boas to Jenks, 3/23/1908 ; Boas, “The Half-Blood Indian, an Anthropometric Study,” Popular Science Monthly, XLV (1894), p. 761.

12. Boas Papers, American Philosophical Society, Boas to Jenks, 3/23/1908, 4/15/08, 5/2/08 ; Jenks to Boas, 4/14/1908, 4/29/08.

13. Boas Papers, American Philosophical Society, Boas to Jenks, 6/23/1908, 7/24/08.

14. Boas Papers, American Philosophical Society, Boas to Jenks, 7/24/1908 ; 9/3/08.

15. Boas Papers, American Philosophical Society, Boas to Jenks, 6/23/1908, 9/3/08, 12/22/08, 6/5/1909, 9/23/09, 12/24/09, 12/24/09 ; C. W. Crampton to Boas, 9/10/1908 ; Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants : Partial Report on the Results of an Anthropological Investigation for the United States Immigration Commission, Senate Document No. 208, 61st Congress, 2d Session (Washington, 1911), pp.7-30.

16. Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants : Partial Report on the Results of an Anthropological Investigation for the United States Immigration Commission, Senate Document No. 208, 61st Congress, 2d Session (Washington, 1911), pp.1-7.

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