Syllabus for Science and the Origins of Race (SS.490), Fall 2014
Science and the Origins of Race
School of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies
Course number/section: SS.435
Day & Time: Thursday, 2:00pm – 4:50pm
Meeting Place: North Hall 114
B. Ricardo Brown, Ph. D.
Professor of Social Science and Cultural Studies
Office Location: Dekalb 419
Office Hours: Tuesday 12:30 -1:50pm
Office Phone number: 1.718.636.3600 ext. 2709
Appropriate times to call: 12:30-1:50pm or by appointment
Course blog: http://until-darwin.blogspot.com/
We often understand race as it confronts us today: as a source of diversity and multiculturalism or as a source of social problems and conflicts. This is not surprising given that for many people racism is a social fact of everyday life. However, racism presupposes the existence of Race, of something so essential to us that it orders social life, is visibly manifested by our bodies, and that these societies and human beings are fixed in their differences. Race began as a scientific concept within Natural History, but one with far reaching connections to nationalism, sexuality, industrialism, slavery, and authority. This class will investigate the many scientific discourses on race through the debates on the origin of species, whether races represent different species of humans (the monogenesis/polygenesis dispute in Antebellum America), phrenology, criminal anthropology, eugenics, and degeneration. Throughout the semester, you will be prompted to apply what we are learning to a discussion of contemporary society.
The Sociology of Science and the Origins of Race
We often try to understand race as it confronts us today, either as a source of diversity and multiculturalism or as a social problem. This is not surprising given the fact that racism is a historical production and so today we still exist amidst its' vast accumulation. But racism presupposes the existence of Race, of something so essential to us that it is visibly manifested by our bodies, and these manifestations fall into a limited number of scientifically defined types. Race began as a scientific concept within the discourse of Natural History, but with far reaching connections to nationalism, sexuality, industrialism, and authoritarianism. To place our contemporary discussion of human variety into a historical context, this class will investigate the history of scientific discourses on race from Blumenbach’s classification of humanity into the five familiar races, to Gobineau’s Essay of the Inequality of Human Races, the Social Darwinists, and Thomas Dugdale’s The Jukes, a classic study of degeneration in fin de sciel upstate New York. Along the way, we will examine the debate on the origin of species, whether races represent different species of humans (the monogenesis/polygenesis dispute in Antebellum America), phrenology, intelligence testing, criminal anthropology, the culture of poverty, and degeneration. Throughout the semester, we will apply what we are learning to the discussion of contemporary ideas and conflicts regarding race and racism.
This course will:
A. introduce and familiarize students with the history of scientific theories regarding the source of human variety, the most prominent one being that of Race.
B. provide students an social and intellectual context for understanding the development of racial theories and their far-reaching implications in many branches of knowledge
C. expose students to the range of interpretations of the meaning of race in the sociology and history of science.
D. deepen students understanding of the continuities and discontinuities of the sciences of life and society.
E. present students with the means to understand how science relates to power and how power relates to social conflicts and social problems.
Student Learning Outcomes
At the end of this semester, students will:
A. demonstrate a knowledge of the the history of attempts by naturalists and scientists to understand and give meaning to race as a means to understand variation in humans and, ultimately, nature itself.
B. recognize and contrast important persons and concepts in Natural History, Biology, and the social sciences.
B. understand and critique the sources of some of our most fundamental social and political questions regarding race and society.
C. interpret and analyze contemporary “racial” disputes and the politics of genetics in the context of their knowledge of the history of scientific theories of race.
D. identify how the disputes over the scientific meaning of race infused many key concepts in the social sciences.
E. demonstrate an ability to analyze and interpret concepts and events in the history of sociology, psychology, Natural History, and biology.
Short Reading Responses:
Three short reading responses are required. The due dates are indicated in the course schedule. These responses are 5 or should you choose, more pages (about 1200-1500 words). Each response will consist of the following:
- Discussion of the author’s mode of argumentation. Does it vary between texts or is it consistent? How would you characterize the way in which the author argues? Who do you think is the audience for the text?
- A general outline of the arguments and a brief discussion of the important concepts that you found in the readings. Discuss any aspects of the texts that might have changed your way of thinking about the author/works.
- What you see as the relation between this author/texts and those of the others we are reading this semester?
Remember, keep in mind as you read:
- The author’s style of arguing and how he constructs his argument.
- How he describes and defends key elements of his theory.
- How, if called upon, you might characterize his style of argument and writing?
At the end of the course you may submit a 1-2 page statement evaluating your own performance and your assessment of what you believe to be a fair final grade. The self-evaluation may account for as much as 5% of your final grade
Education is not a one way street and we can not expect to simply passively receive knowledge unless we expect to live a passive life. All students should come to class prepared to discuss the reading to the best of their ability. Class participation will account for 5% of your final grade.
Absences and Lateness
Persistent absences or lateness will result in a reduction of your final grade by as much as 10%.
The readings for the class will be drawn from a wide variety of sources. The primary texts that you will want to purchase for this course are:
Gossett, Thomas. 1997 . Race: the History of an Idea in America. Oxford University Press, 2nd edition. ISBN: 0195097785
Gould, Stephen Jay. 1996. The Mismeasure of Man. 2nd Revised Edition. New York, W. W. Norton. ISBN: 0393314251
Appleman, Philip, ed. 1979. Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 3rd edition. ISBN: 0393958493
It is suggested that you also purchase or obtain through the library:
Brown, B. Ricardo. 2010. Until Darwin: Science, Human Variety, and the Origins of Race. London: Pickering and Chatto.
George Canguilhem. 1988 . Ideology and Rationality in the History of the Life Sciences. Cambridge: MIT Press. ISBN-13: 978-0262031370
Mosse, George L. 1985. Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism. New York: Howard Fertig. ISBN: 0865274282
Max Nordau. 1993 . Degeneration. With Introduction by George L. Mosse. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Wailoo, Keith, Alondra Nelson, and Catherine Lee. 2012. Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race, and History. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Suggested sources for purchasing the readings:
Book Culture http://
The Advanced Book Exchange http://www.abebooks.com
Barnes and Nobles http://www.bn.com
St. Marks Bookstop http://www.stmarksbookshop.com
The Strand second-hand store on 12th street http://www.strandbooks.com
Outline of the Course of Study
Week I. Introduction to the Course
Week II. Race before Enlightenment: Natural History, Human Variety, and the Classification of Nature
Thomas Gossett. “Early Race Theories” in Race: the History of an Idea in America, pp.3-17.
Week III. The Question of the Origin of Species & the “Regular Gradation in Man”
Gavin De Beer. “Biology before Darwin” in Appleman, pp. 3-10.
Charles Darwin. “An Historical Sketch of the Progress of Opinion on The Origin of Species, Previously to the Publication of This Work” in Appleman, pp. 19-27.
Stephen J. Gould.”Age-old fallacies of thinking and stinking,” from The Mismeasure of Man, pp. 391-399.
Stephen J. Gould. “Racial geometry,” and “The moral state of Tahiti – and of Darwin,” from The Mismeasure of Man, pp. 401-412.
Week IV. The Question Concerning the Origin of Species: The American School Monogenesis vs. Polygenesis FIRST READING RESPONSE DUE
Stephen J. Gould. “American Polygeny and Craniometry before Darwin” from The Mismeasure of Man, pp. 62-104.
B. Ricardo Brown. “Polygenesis and the Types of Mankind” from Until Darwin, pp. 59-98.
Week V. The Origin Of Species and The Descent of Man
Charles Darwin. “Recapitulation and Conclusions” from The Origin of Species, and selections from The Dissent of Man in Appleman, pp. 43-88, 108-131, 187-210.
Week VI. The Sciences of Life and Man
Thomas Gossett. “Race and Social Darwinism” from Race: the History of an Idea in America, pp. 144-175.
Week VII. Degeneracy
Max Nordau. “The fin de sciel” in Degeneration, pp. 1-40.
Degenerate Art (Documentary film in class)
Week VIII. Criminal Anthropology
SECOND READING RESPONSE DUE
Stephen J. Gould. “Measuring Bodies: Two Case Studies on the Apishness of Undesirables” from The Mismeasure of Man, pp. 141-175.
Thomas Gossett. “Nineteenth Century Anthropology” from Race: the History of an Idea in America, pp.54-83.
The Anthropologist (Documentary Film in class)
Thomas Gossett. “Teutonic Origins Theory,” and “Study of Language and Literature,” from Race, the History of an Idea, pp. 84-143.
Michael Wood. Hitler’s Search for the Holy Grail (Documentary film in class)
Lundy Braun and Evelynn Hammonds. “The Dilemma of Classification: The Past in the Present” in Wailoo, Nelson, and Lee, Genetics and the Unsettled Past, pp.67-80.
The First Americans? (Documentary Film in class)
Week XII. The Germ-Plasm and Racial Destiny
George Canguilhem. 1988 . “On the History of the Life Sciences Since Darwin” from Ideology and Rationality in the History of the Life Sciences, pp. 103-124.
Week XIII. Eugenics
Daniel J. Kevles. 1995. In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, pp. 3-20, 70-112, 129-148.
Peter A. Chow-White. “The Informationalization of Race: Communication, Databases, and the Digital Coding of the Genome” in in Wailoo, Nelson, and Lee, Genetics and the Unsettled Past, pp. 81-103.
Final Essay Question Distributed
Week XIV. The Floating Signifier
Stuart Hall. Race, the Floating Signifier. Video of lecture.
Week XV. Review and Discussion: What have we learned so far?
FINAL READING RESPONSE DUE