Darwin sought to not only produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Thomas Jefferson - Natural History, Politics, Benjamin Banneker, and Slavery

Descendents of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings at Monticello in 1999

“O! That mine enemy would write a book! Has been a well known prayer against an enemy. I had written a book, and it has furnished matter of abuse for want of something better.
(Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Samuel Brown, March 25, 1798).

Rebekah Higgitt’s post on Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson, science enthusiast prompted a number of responses including a very good post by Will Thomas on Jefferson’s Natural, Moral, and Political Philosophy of Race and Slavery  which deserves to be extended and amplified here.  There is indeed nothing “straightforwardly heroic” about Jefferson. This is what makes him such an interesting and important figure in America for he in many ways embodied the contradictions and the less “straightforwardly heroic” aspects of the history of the United States. It would be easy, and no doubt correct to say, that Jefferson has a Shakespearean quality to his biography and posthumous construction that few other President’s possess. It is his rhetoric that is heard from every emancipatory movement, most notably the Civil Rights Movement, but also from the forces of reaction as well.

That said – for it is as easy to read the future back into an individual’s past as it is to read the future into the past in general – to understand Jefferson as a person “of his time” is by no means to offer an apology for his faults. It is to instead place him in his time when the politics of nation forming were so contested that one should not be surprised to find at least some of them played out in the Notes on the State of Virginia. To put him in his social and historical context does not explain away his faults, but casts a brighter light on them and on our own.

Jefferson was already embroiled in political controversy and in fact originally published the Notes on the State of Virginia anonymously because he feared in particular a religious backlash that would harm his political ambitions. While the work has philosophical/theoretical aspects, it is essentially a work of Natural History motivated by political forces. The
book was commenced and for the most part composed during perhaps the darkest period of his life, in the final months of his career as a wartime governor of an invaded Virginia and in the troubled period immediately following his retirement from that office. The motivating impulse behind Jefferson’s book was the desire of the French government to amass a body of pertinent information concerning the American states, with whose fortunes the French were becoming increasingly involved at a time when the outcome of the American Revolution appeared extremely dubious. During the summer of early autumn of 1780, at approximately the same time as the disastrous battle of Camden which saw the rout of a demoralized Virginia militia, Francois Marbois, the secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia, circulated a semi-official questionnaire concerning the American state among various influential members of the Continental Congress. One such set of questions Marbois transmitted to Joseph Jones, a member of the Virginia delegation and uncle of James Monroe. Jones, in turn, gave them to the person he thought most capable of answering the queries, the thirty-seven-year-old governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson.
William Pedeu, Introduction to Notes on the State of Virginia, xi-xii.
Ultimately, Jefferson had to put aside the manuscript to escape the British forces and later Tarleton’s raid on Monticello only to pick it up again after his retirement from government in 1781. But at the time he began its composition, Jefferson was, in effect, trying to convince the French to continue their aid to the revolutionary forces. With this in mind, we can understand the mix of topics found in the Notes as being the result of the constraints of both politics as well as late 18th century Natural History. In many ways, the Notes show us that science, rationality, and ideology were as mutually constitutive then just as they are now.

The Notes on the State of Virginia is a work of Natural History, and its dispute with Buffon is both scientific but also political when seen in the light of its origins in Marbois’ queries. One takes from it that there should be no fear of supporting the Americans; the species in the new world are not degenerate, whether we are talking about species of elk or species of human, nor of European settlers exposed to the workings of food and climate. Note that the discussion is appropriately in the chapter on “Productions Mineral, Vegetable and Animal” where Jefferson is replying to the query to give “A notice of the mines and other subterraneous riches; its trees, plants, fruits, &c.” The chapter supplies what resources might be of potential commercial interest to the French. . In contrast the discussion of slavery occurs in response to Query XIV “The administration of justice and description of the laws?” and is to be found in the chapter on Laws. This has more than passing significance, as laws can be changed, while the products of nature are for Jefferson and other Naturalists, fixed.

So while the Jefferson’s text is consistent with geographical treatises of its day, that consistency is to be found with the geographical treatises required for the government of populations and territories. It is not so much an exchange with the Enlightenment savants of Europe as it might at first appear as it is a report to the State.

As a work motivated by politics and social upheaval (i.e., the queries of the French ambassador) but based in the Natural History of the late 18th Century. Jefferson’s work is expressive of the science of his time. It is “straight-fowardly racist” not only because it is bigoted by our standards, but because it is based in a Natural History which had created racial categories to classify human variety and bequeathed those categories to us. Jefferson’s views rightly strike us as racist, but he would have not known the term. While we can easily see the racism, we do not see the racialist thinking as easily because we ourselves continue to unthinkingly dwell within the racial classifications of Linne and Blumenbach. At least the facial angle of Camper has lost favor except in the training of artists.

Jefferson’s views rested on the authority of Natural History, geography, and the emerging fields of physical anthropology and comparative morphology. His use of classical authorities is a case of what is missing being as important as what is there. Jefferson’s Notes is also a profoundly secular work which does not rely on religious authority and is at times skeptical of scientific knowledge as well. As Kant would soon point out, it was an age where Enlightenment was possible, but it was not an Enlightened Age. Within this mix Jefferson’s attention to fixity, colour, skin, climate, and aesthetics fits quite neatly. Whether species are fixed or variable and the extent of the effects of climate and food on the body, the status of “hybrids” including mulattoes, were all interlocked debates within Natural History. Buffon’s degeneracy was an attempt to account for variation in nature with great emphasis on climate.

But aesthetics was also central, especially in attempts to classify human variety. The facial angle of Camper and Blumenbach’s classification, despite their differences, both relied on aesthetics to understand human variety. In the context of Natural History, aesthetics is not , as we see it, a subjective evaluation, but instead beauty can be rationally understood (Blumenbach) and measured (Camper). 

Jefferson indeed always “invokes the-cutting-edge research” when making his claim about racial superiority and inferiority, and yet he is unsure of the inferiority of Africans as definitively established.” Truly, Blumenbach was a monogenist who unlike Jefferson championed Phillis Wheatley. That our racial classification can be traced to him is another irony of history as Blumenbach the monogenist was known to remark in reference to our ideal of beauty:
"If a toad could speak and were asked which was the loveliest creature upon God's earth, it would say simpering, that modesty forbad it to give a real opinion on that point." 30
And as a Monogenist he held that the races were not separate species:  
Neither must we take merely one pair of the races of man which stand strikingly in opposition to each other, and put these one against the other, omitting all the intermediate races, which make up the connection between them. We must never
forget that there is not a single one of the bodily differences in any one variety of man, which does not run into some of the others by such endless shades of all sorts, that the naturalist or physiologist has yet to be born, who can with any grounds of certainty attempt to lay down any fixed bounds between these shades, and consequently between their two extremes. ( Anthropological Treatises, p.297-298) 

Blumenbach on Camper 
Facial line of Camper.
He imagined, on placing a skull in profile, two right lines intersecting each other. The first was to be a horizontal line drawn through the external auditory meatus and the bottom of the nostrils. The second was to touch that part of the frontal bone above the nose, and then to be produced to the extreme alveolar limbus of the upper jaw. By the angle which the intersection of these two lines would make, this distinguished man thought that he could determine the difference of skulls as well in brute animals as in the different nations of mankind. p.234 
Camper's facial angle.

And yet he will describe the Caucasian type (he coined the term) "simply beautiful in form." (Anthropological Treatises, p.100)   Blumenbach’s description of the Caucasian variety: 
Blumenbach's Caucasian skull
85. Caucasian variety. I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighbourhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones of mankind. For in the first place, that stock displays, as we have seen, the most beautiful form of the skull, from which, as from a mean and primeval type, the others diverge by most easy gradations on both sides to the two ultimate extremes (that is, on the one side the Mongolian, on the other the Ethiopian). Besides, it is white in colour, which we may fairly assume to have been the primitive colour of mankind, since, as we have shown above, it is very easy for that to degenerate into brown, but very much more difficult for dark to become white, when the secretion and precipitation of this carbonaceous pigment has once deeply struck root. p.269
Before any physical difficulties, such as skin, bone and hair, Jefferson points to the social factors preventing future social accord. The “deep rooted prejudices of whites; ten thousand recollections of blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations, the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties....” (229). Political disputes are primary and “physical and moral” distinctions come after. Vitally important, yet this chapter is on Laws and the discussion of whether there could be racial harmony comes in the context of a discussion of the proposed legal code of Virginia, especially the section that was not approved for the ending of slavery and black colonization and resettlement.

The colonization plan quote in full:
To emancipate all slaves born after passing the act The bill reported by the revisors does not itself contain this proposition but an amendment containing it was prepared to be offered to the legislature whenever the bill should be taken up and further directing that they should continue with their parents to a certain age then be brought up at the public expence to tillage arts or sciences according to their geniuses till the females should be eighteen and the males twenty one years of age when they should be colonized to such place as the circumstances stances of the time should render most proper sending them out with arms implements of household and of the handicraft arts seeds pairs of the useful domestic animals &c to declare them a free and independent people and extend to them our alliance and protection till they shall have acquired strength and to send vessels at the same time to other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants to induce whom to migrate hither proper encouragements were to be proposed It will probably be asked Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state and thus fave the expence of supplying by importation of white settlers the vacancies they will leave Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites ten thousand recollections by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained new provocations the real distinctions which nature has made and many other circumstances will divide us into parties and produce conversions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race To these objections which are political may be added others which are physical and moral....
Which is where Will Thomas picks up the quote.

One might ask what is the real distance between Jefferson’s proposal, the seizure and colonization of Liberia, or the demand for reparations when allied with the back-to-Africa movements? Of course there are differences, but the similarities abound as well.

The special place of education is also indicative of Jefferson’s ambivalence. By old age, he was discouraged that reason might bring about an end to slavery. He however remained convinced that either through education or through war, slavery was destined to end. “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” Autobiography, 68. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=800&chapter=85776&layout=html&Itemid=27

For all his repulsion, he tacitly admits it is false as the plan for resettlement is necessitated by the inevitable mixing that would occur if those born to freedom remained in the state. (240) He says that the Romans had it easy because the mixing of slave and master would not “stain the blood of the master” (240) although the Romans made no racial distinctions as we have used since Linneaus and Blumenbach. At the same time, just a few pages later Jefferson’s proposed penal reforms eliminate the concept of the “corruption of the blood” in the penal code. 

While slavery appears in the section on laws, the section on Productions Mineral Vegetable and Animal contains the passage on Albino blacks (70/71) that marks the Notes as a work of Natural History, for Jefferson notes that these are monstrosities in keeping with other works of late Natural History.
To this catalogue of our indigenous animals I will add a short account of an anomaly of nature taking place sometimes in the race of negroes brought from Africa who though black themselves have in rare instances white children called Albinos. I have known four of these myself and have faithful accounts of three others. The circumstances in which all the individuals agree are these. They are of a pallid cadaverous white untinged with red without any coloured spots or seams in their hair of the same kind of white short coarse and curled as is that of the negro all of them well formed strong healthy persect in their senses except that of sight and born of parents who had no mixture of white blood. Three of these Albinos were sisters having two other full sisters who were black. The youngest of the three was killed by lightning at twelve years of age. The eldest died at about 27 years of age in child bed with her second child. The middle one is now alive in health and has issue as the eldest had by a black man which issue was black. They are uncommonly shrewd quick in their apprehensions and in reply. Their eyes are in a perpetual tremulous vibration very weak and much affected by the fun but they see better in the night than we do. They are of the property of Col Skipwith of Cumberland. The fourth is a negro woman whose parents came from Guinea and had three other children who were of their own colour. She is freckled her eye sight for weak that she is obliged to wear a bonnet in the summer but it is better in the night than day. She had an Albino child by a black man. It died at the age of a few weeks. These were the property of Col Carter of Albemarle. A sixth instance is a woman of the property of a Mr Butler near Petersourgh. She is stout and robust has issue a daughter jet black by a black man I am not in formed as to her eye sight. The seventh instance is of a male belonging to a Mr Lee of Cumberland His eyes are tremulous and weak. He is tall of stature and now advanced in years. He is the only male of the Albinos which have come within my information Whatever be the cause of the disease in the skin or in its colouring matter which produces this change it seems more incident to the female than male sex. To these I may add the mention of a negro man within my own knowledge born black and of black parents on whose chin when a boy a white spot appeared. This continued to increase till he became a man by which time it had extended over his chin lips one cheek the under jaw and neck on that side. It is of the Albino white without any mixture of red and has for several years been stationary. He is robust and healthy and the change of colour was not accompanied with any sensible disease either general or topical. pp.119-121
And so we see another ambiguity. The monstrosities indicate a lack of fixity in the Negro, and yet under the Query on Law, skin and color are again considered essentially fixed characteristics. 

Clearly this does not imply any sort of sainthood for Jefferson either in terms of his views on human difference or in his politics as President (the Embargo/Non-Intercourse acts for example ruined the export economy of New England and along with a series of natural disasters, fundamentally altered the geography from New England to Ohio. Of course, as a Virginian, Jefferson was not very concerned about the welfare of his political opposition in the North.

But the focus here is on the place of Natural History in his politics and personal life. It was two years after the publication of the Notes that Jefferson and Hemings began their liaison. The complexities of that relationship again mirror the complexities of the social melieu of Antebellum America.  At this same time, Jefferson’s other actions indicate his continued ambivalence to scientific ideologies of racial inferiority. To quote a portion of a long footnote by Pedeu: 
In 1791, a Negro mathematician and surveyor named Benjamin Banneker, who had been hired to assist Andrew Ellicott in laying out the City of Washington, sent Jefferson a copy of an almanac he had compiled. In acknowledging the gift, Jefferson wrote: ‘Nobody wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, and that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence in Africa and America..... I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris,... because I consider it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them’ (TJ to Banneker, August 30, 1791). p. 287.

The full text of the letter to Benneker again exposes the ambiguities of the day:
-- I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th instant and for the Almanac it contained. No body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, and that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence, both in Africa & America. I can add with truth, that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecility of their present existence, and other circumstances which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic society, because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them. I am with great esteem, Sir
Jefferson wrote on the same day to Condorcet: 
I am happy to be able to inform you that we have now in the United States a negro, the son of a black man born in Africa, and of a black woman born in the United States, who is a very respectable Mathematician. I promised him to be employed under one of our chief directors in laying out the new federal city on the Patowmac, & in the intervals of his leisure, while on that work, he made an almanac for the next year, which he sent to me in his own handwriting, & which I inclose to you. I have seen very elegant solutions of Geometrical problems by him. Add to this that he is a very respectable member of society. He is a free man. I shall be delighted to see these instances of moral eminence so multiplied as to prove that the want of talent observed in them is merely the effect of their degraded condition, and not proceeding from any difference in the structure of the parts on which intellect depends. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trr031.html 

Jefferson’s utopianism was exemplified by his belief in abolition being forced through education, and education being the cornerstone of his resettlement proposal and even appears in the letter to Benneker. It is not surprising that his tombstone mentions his founding of the University of Virginia, and not his having been president. Though it is idle speculation, one would think that given Jefferson as a whole, he would not be unhappy to discover that he had been wrong. As for the Notes, they provided ample fodder for his political rivals. So much so that in 1789 Jefferson wrote to Samuel Brown: 

“O! That mine enemy would write a book! Has been a well known prayer against an enemy. I had written a book, and it has furnished matter of abuse for want of something better.”
(TJ to Dr. Samuel Brown, March 25, 1798).

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Darwin, Slavery & the Species Question

Darwin, Slavery & the Species Question

B. Ricardo Brown, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Cultural Studies
Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies
Pratt Institute

Darwin's Reach
A Celebration of Darwin's Legacy Across Academic Disciplines
Hofstra University
March 14, 2009

It is a pleasure to be here with you today.

At a conference such as this, so much has already been said about Darwin's work that it is difficult to not repeat some of the points already raised by so many of the speakers over the last three days.  It  is difficult to imagine though how one could overstate how much Darwin's voyage and his later writings transformed our understanding of natural and human history.  Finally, humans found a real place in nature and what we mean by human nature was fundamentally altered.  Because of this break, Natural history and political philosophy could become what we know today as Biology and Sociology.

So, one thing is certain..... Darwin represents a break in our understanding of the world that was so dramatic that scholars and causal readers alike often fail to pause and consider what was supposedly left behind....... and what  fragments of this earlier scientific consensus remain with us today in both our theoretical and our everyday understanding of human variety.

Even when we repeat the oft-heard phrase that Darwin's ideas were “in the air,” we seldom go further and ask exactly what ideas and theories were “in the air” of his time......... i.e., what was the social and scientific ---  and for me, those two domains are the same--- 

What was the social and scientific context of Darwin's answer to the species question?    Darwin's singular achievement too often obscures this context by making it seem irrelevant.  The fact that the Voyage is often seen as a period when Darwin was isolated from his follow naturalists contributes to making his work appear less related to that of his contemporaries in Europe and in the United States than was the case.  No doubt, his late addition of his essay on his historical and theoretical sources, and the many pictures of him in old age, have also added to Darwin's Promethean stature.   

I will argue that Darwin's achievement can only be enhanced by placing his work within its social context.   It is in this context that we see how it, and how science itself, can have such far reaching social effects.  It is in the social context that we  can most easily understand Darwin's lasting achievement as more than simply a new theory of nature.  Darwin abolished the then current scientific understanding of human variety,  the Polygenic theory, which held that the different varieties of humans constituted separate species that had emerged at different times and in distinct regions of the earth.  That the races were, in the view of the naturalists of the day, separate species.  It is the dispute over the scientific validity of this theory that Darwin writes of in the Descent of Man:
Whether primeval man, when he possessed but a few arts, and those of the rudest kind, and when his power of language was extremely imperfect, would have deserved to be called man, must depend on the definition which we employ. In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some ape-like creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point where the term ‘man’ ought to be used. But this is a matter of very little importance. So again, it is almost a matter of indifference whether the so-called races of man are thus designated, or are ranked as species or subspecies; but the latter term appears the more appropriate. Finally, we may conclude that when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and the polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death. 
Source: Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, first edition. London: John Murray, volumes 1 and 2, 1871, pp. 243–248; The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online, Cambridge University <http://darwin-online.org.uk/> (viewed April 9, 2008).
That the era of  polygenic theories was also the one in which the domination of slavery was a reality is hardly coincidental, as the polygenic theory cloaked slavery in the aegis of scientific respectability.  The South did not have to look only to Greek and Roman slavery for its ideological justification.  Now for many  Natural History itself underwrote the rationality of slavery.

So what I would like to talk about today is the period just before the publication of the Origin, a period that is dominated by polygenic theories of human origins, especially championed by American naturalists and physicians.  That this period was also dominated by the reality of slavery, a reality that was underwritten by the scientific respectability of polygenism.  The crowning work of the American School, Types of Mankind, by Josiah Nott and George Gliddon, with a chapter by Darwin's nemisis, Louis Agassiz, set the tone for much of the thinking regarding human origins.

Darwin's answer to the species question was made in response to those of other noted naturalists and natural philosophers, some of whom we still acknowledge today for their fundamental contributions to our own sciences of life and society.

Carl Linne, who classified humans as part of the natural world.  Linne's first classification was replaced in his later editions by a far more detailed description of the varieties of human beings.  But the descriptions rely on Medieval ideas of the different “complextions” of Humans.  Linne also retained remnants of the earlier prodigious humans described by Pliny the Elder in the 7th book of his Natural History..... and which persisted through the Middle Ages and down to the modern era in our representations of the Monstrous Races.”

Blumenbach, who gave us what we recognize as our conventional classification of human variety into the now familiar Five Races, separated by continent, and each with its own color and temperment.   Blumenbach, I should note believed in a common origin of all human varieties, and was quite progressive for his day, so it is somewhat ironic that his legacy is most profound in our continuation of his scheme of racial classification.

We have Cuvier, who gave us so much, from his Animal Kingdom, to his theory of revolutions of the Earth and extinction.  We also owe to him the best arguments for the fixity of species.  Comparing the specimen of the Sacred Ibis with remains found in tombs and temple drawings, Cuvier concluded that the bird had not changed over the entire period of the present era.  Now the implications of Cuvier's research was profound, for it was quickly pointed out that depictions of Negroes found in some of the same ancient drawings were recognizable.  The Ibis had not changed and neither had the Negro.  The evidence of fixity was evident, even if it was not actually so.
Egypt was a very popular subject during this time in America.  George Gliddon, who had served as an American Consul in Egypt, undertook a series of popular and well attended lectures on Egyptian history and culture, during which an 800 foot long tapestry of scenes from Egyptian life would scroll by behind him.  He also unwrapped a mummy at the end of each nights lecture, which cause him some embarrassment when one that he billed as a male prince turned out to be female.  But more than just a showman, Gliddon was fascinated by the species question and human origins.  He had read the work of the Philadelphia physician Samuel George Morton on craniology and set to work while in Egypt robbing graves for Morton's collection of crania, eventually the worlds largest with over 900 skulls.

A decade before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), Samuel G. Morton stated flatly that “the question of the origin of species is [ a question or the origin] of the human species.” In the years between 1830 and 1859 the scientific theory known as polygenesis―which held that humans were divided into races, each with a separate origin and with fixed characteristics―had come to dominate the understanding of human history.  Advocated most vigorously by a group of naturalists and doctors which came to be known as the American School, the polygenic theory of human origins was openly acknowledged by some of its proponents as a scientific justification for slavery.  It  used against the abolitionists,  who often turned to the biblical account of humans having one single origin, or monogenesis, to support their cause.   

The American School, associated with such naturalists and doctors as Morton, Josiah Nott, George Gliddon, and Louis Agassiz, were perhaps the first American scientists to be fully recognized by their European peers.

In 1842 a reviewer of recent polygenic works asked: “In surveying the globe in reference to the different appearances of mankind, the most extraordinary diversities are apparent to the most superficial observer. . . . Hence arises the question―Have all these diverse races descended from a single stock?”  Josiah Nott, who did pioneering work on Yellow Fever, lectured and wrote on the contradictions inherent in the Biblical account of creation.  Either the world is quite a bit older than 6,000 years, giving time for the variation in humans to work itself out into its present races, or one would have to admit that each race was created as it now is.  In his estimation, only the polygenic theory could reconcile the biblical account with Cuvier's work and with the obvious differences in the races.  God had not created men equal, nor in the terms of his scientific ideology, had nature. 

By 1850 the American School’s polygenic theory had succeeded in challenging the biblical chronology of the history of the earth and its inhabitants. Freed from doctrine, the American School hailed a new era of “free scientific inquiry” into human origins. The proponents of the American School elaborated the polygenic theory with such rigor that it was taken as the accepted scientific truth in the two decades before the publication of  The Origin of Species.

The debate between the monogenists and polygenists was between two powerful explanations for human variety. Although it certainly related to the debate over slavery, it would be simplistic to think that the polygenic/monogenic debate was between pro- and antislavery advocates who wanted to wrap themselves in the veneer of scientific respectability. The debate of one versus many species went to the very core of the ethics of scientific inquiry. Supporters of slavery could be found on each side, as could abolitionists. The Reverend John Bachman of Charleston, co-author [( Audubon, John James, and  John,Bachman.   The Quadrupeds of North America, 3 vols. New York: V. G. Audubon, 1851-54.  Bachman's wife Maria painted many of the backgrounds, insects, and plants in Audubon's works.  Their daughters married Audubon's sons.)] James Audubon, was a monogenist who supported slavery, while those opposed to slavery included the polygenist George Squire, who founded the short lived but significant New York Anthropological Society.

It is often uncritically accepted that the ideas and concepts Darwin brought together so masterfully in The Origin of Species were in the air and already being discussed as part of the spirit of the age. But was everything already neatly in place and pointing to the same inevitable conclusion? Was Darwin’s work the mere assembling and making intelligible insights already available? What is certain is that natural history had reached a crisis amidst the disputes over fixity, variation, and classification. If a puzzle was before Darwin, it had been laid before him by the polygenists. Darwin,it was the general view of naturalists that each species was created in its place and did not change over time.  Moreover, the variation that we find in nature was enerally to be the work of a Creator.  If species are fixed, then a comprehensive classification of species would be possible.  Indeed, natural historians sought in this classification the rational plan of nature.  The polygenists and simminded naturalists thrthese ideas into disarr.
The Origin of Species is structured as one continuous argument.It begins with an exposition on variation as it exists under domestication, followed by an examination of variation without the intervention of humans. Instead of focusing on fixity, Darwin took variation to be the norm: individuals, even those classified as belonging to the same species, vary across time and space. Variation is the central theme and the essential product of the struggle for life, and is at the same time generated by the struggle. Natural selection, among other forces, is the basis of this law of variability. In the struggle for existence, life maintains itself through variation. 

In part, The Origin of Species anticipates objections to the theory it introduces. , Darwin raises the objections himself in the chapter “Instinct,” where his discussion of the behavior of slave-making ants is important in his theory and view of human slavery. 

(Some believed that because ants practice slavery, that slavery was natural.  A stronger argument at the time than the classical authority of Aristotle on the master-slave relationship being natural.)
 Hybridity―with its implicit reference to human “hybrids”―had been seen by many naturalists as a violation of the fixity of species.  Darwin argues instead that hybridity in plants and animals demonstrates nature’permanent production of variety. problems of the geological record (fossils, catastrophe, and extinction), the succession of organic beings (preformism and teleology), and geographic distribution (design and special creation) are addressed as possible areas from which objections will be heard. spite of these difficulties, or perhaps because of them, Darwin proposes a new science arising from genealogy, morphology (the comparative study of function, behavior, and environment), embryology, and the study of rudimentary organs. This is the structure of The Origin of Species reveals Darwin’s belief in the transvaluation of natural history into the science of life. to other naturalists of his time, he sees all living things only by descent, but also as being transformed over time.  Classification,then,is not about finding the order of the creator but in tracing the lines of descent: “All true classification is genealogical, that community of descent is the hidden bond which naturalists have been unconsciously seeking, and not some unknown plan of creation, or the enunciation of general propositions, and the mere putting together and separating objects more or less alike.” 

Darwin did not engage in the active defense of his theory, leaving it to friends like Thomas Huxley and Asa Gray to respond to the more heated attacks. There were many reasons for his reticence, including his health, which had been severely compromised during the five-year circumnavigation by the HMS Beagle. It was not known at the time what caused his chronic illness and bouts of intense pain, but it is now speculated that he contracted a disease akin to sleeping sickness while on his excursions inland. Much of Darwin’s work was shaped by his Beagle.  As we all know, he had begun the voyage a believer in fixity and creation, and by the end, he had already begun to sketch the outlines of the theory.

Darwin was not the ship's naturalist, but more the social companion for Captain Fitz-Roy. British naval commanders were drawn from the upper class, and it was forbidden for them to socialize even with their own junior officers. It was a lonely life for a ship’s captain, made all the more apparent by the suicide of the Beagle’s first captain while sheltering in a harbor in the Straits of Magellan. Fitz-Roy took Darwin, even though the captain was concerned (given his interest in craniology) that the shape of Darwin’s nose suggested that he was not up to the hardships of the voyage.  Together they shared the cramped quarters of the ship for five years―the limited size of which became even more pronounced when the two discovered their opposing views on slavery. Fitz-Roy held the common view that slavery was a necessary evil because of the inherent inferiority of the enslaved races. Slavery would ultimately civilize the Negro, he argued, and introduce global trade that would make colonialism and slavery unnecessary. 

In Brazil in 1832, Darwin observed slavery for himself, and his experiences never left him.  His son Francis remembered that his father was often awakened by nightmares of his Brazilian experiences, and that his father would become enraged at the mere suggestion that slavery might have any redeeming value. Those who thought so, Darwin wrote, had never put themselves in the position of the slave. When his friend and mentor Charles Lyell wrote to Darwin about the forced separation of a slave family, Darwin’s response was brutal, though once he realized that Lyell was only relating the views of another, he excused himself by saying that the subject of slavery made his emotions get the better of him. He had begun the voyage as an ardent opponent of slavery and related how he was often told that experiences in the slave countries would prove to him the inferiority of the Negro. He wrote to his sister that his experiences in Brazil in particular only hardened his opposition to slavery. 

During the period between Darwin’s return from the Beagle voyage and the publication of his major works, a transformation was occurring in scientific knowledge. Physics and chemistry were already becoming the provinces of specialists. The laboratory was becoming the locale for organizing the production of scientific knowledge. The rapid foundation of new learned associations and societies reflected both the move toward specialization and the speedier dissemination of results and theories. Science had finally turned to the study life.Just one governing principle remained to be overthrown: the view of humanity [there is a specific reason to use “Man” as an object of Enlightenment Reason, but there is no reason to go into that stuff.] as the apex of creation. In this regard The Origin of Species is a profound argument for human humility. The history of the earth could no longer be thought of as identical with the history of humans. “As all the organic beings, extinct and recent, which have ever lived on this earth have to be classed together, and as all have been connected by the finest gradations, the best, or indeed, if our collections were nearly perfect, the only possible arrangement, would be genealogical. Descent being on my view the hidden bond of connection which naturalists have been seeking under the term of the natural system.” The Tree of Life was transformed into the tree of genealogical affinities: “I believe this simile largely speaks the truth,” Darwin stated. The Tree of Life, as well as his evocation in the concluding paragraph concerning the “tangled bank” (contained in The Origin of Species) describes both as teeming with life and the remains of past lives, and represented a dynamic and indeterminate Nature.

Darwin executed more than just a rhetorical maneuver with the naming of The Origin of Species. Darwin chose to avoid the question of human origins, because to mention it would have made his work a part of the monogenic-polygenic debate. To make a break with that controversy, Darwin answered the species question by demanding that we consider humans to be just one of an infinite variety of living animals, all of which were created by the same processes that could always be seen at work in even the smallest of organisms. Darwin shifted man from a central place in the understanding of variety in nature, and so produced a break with the polygenic/monogenic debate. If humans could tell us so much about the variety of nature, then there was no reason to privilege humans as the special key to knowledge for so too could any species tell us about the origins of humans. ’s opponents began their studies in evolution with humans and worked downward.  Darwin did the opposite, asserting that any species could answer some or all of the questions of origins.

With Darwin’s intervention into the monogenic/polygenic controversy, the fixed, closed systems of classification of natural history could no longer adequately describe the world. The Earth had to be seen as a planet where life “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” This, the last sentence of the book, is the only instance in The Origin of Species where Darwin mentions evolution. It is significant that  “evolved” is used in  a  passage where Darwin juxtaposes the fixity of the law of gravity with the plasticity of descent with modification, a plasticity that is due in large part, he believes,to the workings of chance. Most simply put, Darwin made the question of human origins a matter of the origin of any species. Humans were no longer at the center. Linnaeus may have placed humans in the chart of classification and as the measure and explanation for its origins, but Darwin placed humans in the genealogical tree of life; that is, directly in nature itself, and allowed that other species could explain the origin of man. Darwin’s work opens humans to the infinity of nature and makes them just one of many species joined in life’s great struggle for existence “whilst this planet has gone cycling according to the fixed law of gravity.”  

We should not think of Darwin’s intervention as the triumph of reason over false science, for with the new theory came also new forms of knowledge such as degeneracy (the view that social problems such as crime and madness stem from the hereditary taint or atavistic traits of individuals) and eugenics (a science dealing with the so-called improvement of hereditary qualities of a race through careful breeding), as well as new forms of control that relied on new systems of classification that never quite left behind those of the past. These were not new forms of unreason, and neither was polygenesis merely a false perversion of reason. It constituted scientific reason in relation to humanity. Our present everyday knowledge of race owes much to it, but so too to the same degree do the sciences of life such as biology and sociology insofar as they came in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to buttress the eugenics movement. 

Life and its struggle now occupied the center, and the displacement of man could not be sustained under the guise of so-called natural history. New fields such as biology, sociology, and ecology began to supplant natural history. The end of its study came with the end of the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists―and the polygenic theory was turned on its head by Darwin’s account of a single common line of descent shaped by natural selection, among other conditions of life. 

(It is interesting to note that Darwin did not directly refer to polygenism until ten years later in The Descent of Man,and by that time the polygenists had already been eclipsed by the combined forces of Darwin’s critique and the American Civil War, which shut down much scientific communication and led to the destruction of Charleston, the scattering of naturalists, and the loss of  collections.)
That the monogenic/polygenic debate has largely faded from history is what Darwin hoped would be one of his most notable achievements.  That it has not been completely disappeared would no doubt disappoint him.  Perhaps he would adopt a similar stance as the one he took when Wallace insisted that he use the phrase “survival of the fittest” rather than “natural selection” in later editions of the Origin of Species.  Darwin wrote to Wallace of  his belief that the term natural selection “was of great advantage to bring into connection natural and artificial selection”.

Darwin agrees to use the phrase “survival of the fittest”, but he will consistently couple it with Natural Selection.  He will also consistently refer to survival of the fittest as “a plain expression of fact”, but as “a metaphor for effect and change”.  And so, despite his promise to use “survival of the fittest” in the future, he wrote with characteristic irony: “Natural Selection has now been so largely used abroad and at home, that I doubt whether it could be given up, and with all its faults I should be sorry to see the attempt made.  Whether it will be rejected must now depend on the survival of the fittest”.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Maps from Cozzens' Geological History of Manhattan or New York Island.... (1843)

Another nice gem stumbled upon in the course of other research: 

The 1899 "Biographical Sketch" of Cozzens by Capt. A. W.  Vogdes  from the American Geologist
The author at first undertook to make a geological map with sections for his own amusement and study to which he added historical facts anecdotes and reminiscences of the city so that the book might be interesting to the general reader and might induce some to read and become interested in the greatest of all sciences The book contains a geological history of New York city with map section of the palisades section of Staten island section at Stony Point on the Hudson section of the rocks of Rhode Island with one of Niagara Falls catalogue of minerals found in place on New York island &c in all 114 pages and 9 plates....The value of such a man's life and labors cannot be gauged simply by his publications We must also take into account at this early stage of the science of geology the personal help and encouragement which he gave to others and such services were at all times rendered frankly by Issachar Cozzens whose genial nature and interest in the study of geology made it more pleasant and encouraged others in these early days.
See the text for explanations of the maps. 

Capt. Vogdes biography via Google Books:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Digital Bibliography for the Works Cited in Darwin’s “An Historical Sketch of the Recent Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species”

Digital Bibliography for the Works Cited in Darwin’s “An Historical Sketch of the Recent Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species”
The citations are derived from the first published version of the Historical Sketch, which appeared in the 3rd edition of On the Origin of Species.   Darwin revised it until the 6 edition, which was his last.

Darwin, Charles. 1861. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. London: John Murray. 3d ed. Text Image PDF F381
John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

This is a bibliography of texts cited in Darwin's Historical Sketch" with links to digital copies.  Note that some of the works are from Darwin's personal library and contain his annotations.  See the complete listing of Darwin's Library at the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Archive.org  Only a few citations are not available and most of those that are come from the following sources:

The Complete Works of Darwin Online
Internet Archive
BioDiversity Heritage Library
Bibliothèque nationale de France 
Google Books  

See also Darwin, C. R. 'Books Read' and 'Books to be Read' notebook. (1852-1860). CUL-DAR128.- Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)

Bory de Saint-Vincent, M. 1825. Dictionnaire classique d'histoire naturelle, par Messieurs Audouin, Isid. Bourdon, Ad. Brongniart, de Candolle, et Bory de Saint-Vincent. Ouvrage dirigé par ce dernier collaborateur, et dans lequel on a jounté, pour le porter au niveau de la sci. Paris: Rey et Gravier.

Bory de Saint-Vincent, Jean Baptiste Geneviève Marcellin. 1827. L'homme (homo) essai zoologique sur le genre humain. Paris: Rey et Gravier.  

Bronn, Heinrich Georg. 1858. Untersuchungen über die Entwickelungs-Gesetze der organischen Welt während der Bildungs-Zeit unserer Erd-Oberfläche. E. Schweizerbart'sche Verlagshandl.


Burdach, Karl Friedrich. 1837. Traité de physiologie considérée comme science d'observation, v. 2. Paris: J.B. Baillie

Chambers, Robert. 1847. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, 6th ed.
London, J. Churchill. 

Darwin, C. R. & A. R. Wallace. 1858. Proceedings of the meeting of the Linnean Society held on July 1st, 1858. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society. Zoology 3: liv-lvi.

Darwin, C. R. and A. R. Wallace. 1858. On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection. [Read 1 July] Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London. Zoology 3 (20 Aug.): 45-62. Introduction 

Darwin, C. R. 1860. Natural selection. Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette no. 16 (21 April): 362-363. London : published for the proprietors,

Darwin, Erasmus. 1794. Zoonomia; or, The laws of organic life. Vol.1, pgs. 500-510. London: J. Johnson

Freke, Henry. 1861. The Origin of Species by means of Organic Affinity. London: Longman and co.

Fries, Elias Magnus. 1825. Systema orbis vegetabilis. Lundas. Necker, Albertine Adrienne. 1839

Fries, Elias Magnus. 1848. Symbolae ad Historiam Hieraciorum. Upsaliae: Leffler et Sebell.

Dr. Freke, 1851, ('Dublin Medical Press,' p. 322).
Not available online, although there is this interesting letter:
Freke, J. 1753. A Letter from Mr. John Freke F. R. S. Surgeon to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, to the President of the Royal Society, Inclosing a Paper of the Late Rev. Mr. Creed, concerning a Machine to Write Down Extempore Voluntaries, or Other Pieces of Music (January 1, 1753). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London; Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. London: Royal Society of London

Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, Isidore.1841. Essais de zoologie générale.
From the library of Charles Darwin

“Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1851, published in the Revue et Magasin de Zoologie Pure et Appliqu´ee. The article contains a section entitled `R´esum´e des lecons sur la question de l’esp`ece’, in which Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire stated his belief that species are subject to limited variability (I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 1851, pp. 15–20). There is a lightly annotated copy of the work in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL. CD cited the article in the `historical preface’ added to the revised American edition of Origin (see Appendix IV), to the German translation (Bronn trans. 1860), and to the third English edition (1861).”

Geoffroy Saint Hilaire, Isidore.1859. Histoire naturelle générale des règnes organiques, principalement étudiée chez l'homme et les animaux. Paris: Libraie de Victor Masson.
This copy is from the Library of Charles Darwin.

Godron, Dominique Alexandre. 1859. De l'espèce et des races dans les êtres organisés et spécialement de l'unité de l'espèce humaine. Paris J.B. Baillière et Fils.
Darwin’s annotated copy from Darwin’s Library
Grant, Robert Edmund. 1826. Art. VIII: On the Structure and Nature of the Spongilla friabilis. The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Volume XIV., p.283. Printed for Archibald Constable, 1826.

Grant, Robert Edmund. 1834. Lectures on Comparative Anatomy. London: The Lancet. Lecture LV “On the Generative System in the Radiated or Cylo-neurose Classes,” pgs. 1001- 1006.


Haldeman, S. S. 1843-44. “Enumeration of the Recent Freshwater Mollusca which are common to North America and Europe; with observations on species and their distribution. Boston Society of Natural History, Vol. IV., pgs. 468-484.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1859. On the Flora of Australia. London: Lovell Reeve. Digitized from the copy in the personal library of Charles Darwin
http://archive.org/stream/Hooker1859hb66a_MS#page/n0/mode/2up http://archive.org/details/Hooker1859hb66a_MS


Huxley, Thomas. 1859. On the Persistent Types of Animal Life. Proceedings of the Royal Institution. London

de Keyserling, Hermann, Graf von. 1853. “Note sur la Succession des etres organises.”
Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France [2ème série, tome 10]
Paris: Société géologique de France


http://archive.org/stream/histoirenaturell01lama (1837 edition)

Matthew, P. 1831. On naval timber and arboriculture; with critical notes on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting. London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green; and Edinburgh: Adam Black.

Matthew, P. 1860. Nature's law of selection. Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (7 April): 312-13. London: published for the proprietors,

Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 13 April. London: published for the proprietors,

Letter, Gardeners' Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 12 May. London: published for the proprietors,

Naudin, C. V. 1852. "Considérations philosophiques sur l'espèce et la variété", Rev. Hortic. 4th ser. 1 (1852): 102–9.

Oken, Lorenz. 1809. Lehrbuch der naturphilosophie. Jena: F. Frommann.

d'Omalius d'Halloy, J. -J. 1846. “Note sur la succession des etres vivants.” Académie Royale des Sciences des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Vol. 13 (Part 1), Bruxelles. pg., 581-591.

This copy is from the Library of Charles Darwin.

Owen, Richard. 1858. Address to the British Association, Leeds.
Owen, Richard. 1859. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. London: John Murray.

Pander, von Dr. Chr. und Dr. E. D'Alton. 1821. Das Riesen-Faulthier, Bradypus giganteiis, abgebildet, beschrieben, und mit verwandten Geschlechtem verglichen. Bonn.
X 8vo, torn. viii. 1836, pp. 331-370.
Unable to locate complete digital text.


Powell, Baden. 1855. Essays on the spirit of the inductive philosophy, the unity of worlds and the philosophy of creation. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans


von Schaaffhausen. H. 1853. Decheniana Naturhistorischer Verein der preussischen Rheinlande und Westfalens, vol. 10. Verhandlungen. Bonn, Naturhistorischen Vereins der Rheinlande und Westfalens. “Ueber Bestandigkeit und Umwandrung der Arten.” pgs. 420-452.

Spencer, Herbert. 1855. The Principles of Psychology. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans.

Spencer, Herbert. 1858.  Essays : scientific, political and speculativeLondon : Williams and Norgate [1891 ed.]
Volume I: https://archive.org/details/spenceressayssci01spen

Essays : scientific, political and speculative
London : Williams and Norgate.
Volume II:  https://archive.org/details/hspenceressayssc02spen

Essays : scientific, political and speculative
London : Williams and Norgate.
Volume III: https://archive.org/details/spenceressayssci03spen

See also the selections in Essays : Moral, Political and Aesthetic: A selection from the essays in the first and second series of "Essays: scientific, political and speculative". London, 1858-63