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Human variation and racism in early modern English culture, c. 1600–1750
Author: Mark S. Dawson

This book examines early modern English notions of bodily difference. Tracing how the English valued somatic contrasts, both amongst themselves and, as they ventured into and through the Atlantic, among non-Europeans, this book demonstrates that individuals’ distinctive features were thought to be innate, even as discrete populations were also believed to have fleshly characteristics in common – whether similarities in skin-tone, facial profile, hair colour, or demeanour. According to much scholarship, bodies thought to be constituted from the same four elemental fluids as Adam and Eve’s – the phlegmatic, sanguine, choleric, and melancholic humours – were not the stuff of visceral inequality. On the contrary, this book finds that people routinely judged and were judged on sight; according to the ostensible balance, or complexion, of their humours. Belief in monogenesis and Christian universalism notwithstanding, people could be sorted on the basis of their looks, and assumptions made about their ancestry, present condition, and future behaviour. Complexions vouched for distinctions in social status, physical cum moral fitness, national allegiance, and religious affiliation. Humoralism inflected both social politics and international relations. If looking at people racially is to group them according to perceived physical contrasts – in the belief these contrasts mark innate, inherited variations in physical ability, mental agility, or moral aptitude – which simultaneously justify their prejudicial treatment relative to one’s own group, then this book demonstrates how and why racism was fitfully part of early modern English culture.

Atheism and polygenesis
Nathan G. Alexander

existed alongside or before Adam. There were, in other words, multiple Adams, or multiple origins for the various races of mankind.1 This view, called polygenesis – multiple ­origins – clashed with the orthodox doctrine of monogenesis – single origin. For the advocates of polygenesis, it seemed implausible that such widely variant races could have descended from only one pair of humans and then differentiated from each other in such a short time span. (The best-known calculation of the age of the earth came in the seventeenth century from the Irish archbishop James

in Race in a Godless World
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Mark S. Dawson

Early modern folk typecast according to humoral temperaments made manifest by hair colour, facial features, skin-tone, and bodily proportion. Neither the doctrine of monogenesis, nor uncertainty regarding the mechanisms of variation’s inheritance across generations, precluded an embodied inequality. In fact, the very existence of human diversity was testimony of the divine. Yet God’s providence was also believed to bestow immortal, immaterial souls on people’s variously complexioned flesh. When it comes to the perpetration of racism, this belief should have been the saving grace for all early modern English men and women. Unlike the Ancients, who (allegedly) thought that human souls were determined by their bodies’ elemental composition, and that the cosmos was eternal and random, Christian orthodoxy assumed an ordered Creation, and that humans’ rational souls would ultimately bridle the bodily inclinations to which people’s humours otherwise disposed them. However, early modern bodily prejudice became entirely racist among those who denied this dualism and instead favoured a form of organicism; when they assumed that they themselves were wholly the product of an autonomous Nature which was not God’s handmaiden.

in Bodies complexioned
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Race and society in evolution
Nathan G. Alexander

present reality. Furthermore, while the Darwinian scheme supported monogenesis (but not the biblical version), a polygenist interpretation, or at least one that preserved a racial hierarchy, could be maintained within the Darwinian framework. Rather than descending from separate Adams, the individual offshoots of the human race might each have been formed in an ancient period of evolution or descended from its own ape. Even if one retained a monogenist view of evolution, racial divisions still had their place. Since a common argument against evolution was based on the

in Race in a Godless World
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The tangled histories of Christianity, secularization, and race
Nathan G. Alexander

theoretically, as a check against such racism. This was through the belief in monogenesis, a theory that posited a single origin for all humans in Adam and Eve. An alternative theory, called polygenesis, began to develop in the sixteenth century. This theory suggested that each human race had arisen independently, such that the races were permanently separate and distinct. As Hannah Franziska Augstein points out, “the very first full-blown racial theories were put forward by men who did not much care for religion. The notion of inherently different races was somewhat alien to

in Race in a Godless World
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Mark S. Dawson

Chaplin appraises the situation during John Smith’s lifetime, ‘inherited resemblance’ was mostly thought ‘typical only of smaller populations’ – families, villages, provinces – but ‘not the larger national populations that would later be the units of racialist analysis. To a considerable extent, this was because theories of nature stressed an underlying universal human similarity: monogenetic creation and descent from the primordial parents.’22 A concept which Colin Kidd has shown prevalent across the early modern Atlantic world, monogenesis was, he agrees, ‘inhibitory

in Bodies complexioned
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Douglas A. Lorimer

favoured monogenesis. The legacy of Victorian racial scientists for the twentieth century was a certainty about the inequality of ‘races’ and uncertainty about how they defined ‘race’. 1 Crude racial typologies were more common in popular science at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the chief populariser, Professor Augustus Keane, was a linguist. At the

in Science, race relations and resistance
Douglas A. Lorimer

United States. 41 In borrowing uncritically from Pickering, Wood, despite his religious belief in monogenesis, showed little sensitivity to the ethical dimensions of his racial typology. In his correspondence and in his conversation, Wood showed no inhibition about making prejudicial remarks. Upon return from his tours to America, his son recalled how the clergyman entertained

in Science, race relations and resistance
Douglas A. Lorimer

claimed that the races constituted separate species with separate origins. His polygenesis challenged existing ethnological thinking still dominated by James Cowles Prichard and the theory of monogenesis or common origins which was compatible with Biblical teaching and the humanitarian outreach of the abolitionist and missionary movements. Aware of the mortality of Europeans in West

in Science, race relations and resistance
Ivan Evans

African Americans. This development accordingly posed something of a moral conundrum for the growing evangelical movement. The earliest response of white evangelicals was to open the church doors to black slaves, often in defiance of wary slave owners. Baptists and Methodists believed in monogenesis – the belief that all human beings derive from a single pair of ancestors. They therefore evangelised in bi-racial churches, inaugurating a tradition of joint worship that lasted throughout the antebellum period. African Americans requited this Christian initiative in full

in Cultures of Violence