Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 10: Theories of Racial 'Extinction'

In this session we will review the rise of ‘racial extinction’ theories that were employed in the nineteenth century to explain the rapid demise of indigenous peoples—particularly in North America and Oceania, where disease and conflict had severe demographic consequences. In an effort to come to terms with the consequences of colonization, settlers turned to biological explanations to explain these dynamics. They also used ideas about ‘extinction’ to justify paternal measures of protection that saw indigenous groups removed from their ancestral lands, policies that were supported by popular depictions of such peoples as the ‘last’ of their kind. [Group 1] [Group 2]

Discussion Questions:

-How did Europeans account for the decline in the indigenous populations of Oceania and/or North America?

-How were theories of racial extinction used to justify policies of removal/separation?

-To what extent did extinction theories lead to more sympathetic representations of ‘endangered’ peoples?

Required Readings:

*John J. Cove, What the Bones Say: Tasmanian Aborigines, Science, and Domination (Ottawa, 1995), 'Ch. 2: The Early Colonial Period (1803-1876)', pp. 19-58 [e-book]

**Russell McGregor, 'The Doomed Race: A Scientific Axiom of the Late Nineteenth Century', Australian Journal of Politics and History 39 (1993), 14-22.

*Raeburn Lange, May the People Live: A History of Maori Health Development, 1900-1920 (Auckland, 1999), 'Chapter 3: Tales of a Dying Race,' pp. 53-83. [extracts]

*Sadiah Qureshi, ‘Dying Americans: Race, Extinction, and Conservation in the New World,’ in Astrid Swenson and Peter Mandler (eds.), From Plunder to Preservation: Britain and the Heritage of Empire, c.1800-1940 (Oxford, 2013)

*Richard Weikart, 'Progress through Racial Extermination: Social Darwinism, Eugenics, and Pacifism in Germany, 1860-1918,' German Studies Review 26 (2003), 273-294. [e-journal]

Further Readings:

Patrick Brantlinger, Dark Vanishings: Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races, 1800-1930 (Ithaca, 2003)

James Dascuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (Regina, 2013)

Brian W. Dippie, The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy (Lawrence, 1991)

Karl Kroeber and Clifton Kroeber, Ishi in Three Centuries (Nebraska, 2008)

Raeburn Lange, May the People Live: A History of Maori Health Development, 1900-1920 (Auckland, 1999)

Philippa Levine, ‘Anthropology, Colonialism, and Eugenics,’ in Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics (Oxford, 2010), pp. 43-61. [e-book]

Robert Manne (ed.), Whitewash: On Keith Windshuttle’s Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Melbourne, 2003) [A response to Keith Windshuttle, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Sydney, 2002)]

Russell McGregor, Imagined Destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the Doomed Race Theory, 1880-1939 (Melbourne, 1997)

M. Nicolson, 'Medicine and Racial Politics: Changing Images of the New Zealand Maori in the 19th Century,' in D. Arnold, Imperial Medidcine and Indigenous Societies (Manchester, 1988), pp. 66-104.

Stefan Petrow, ‘The Last Man: The Mutilation of William Lanne in 1869 and its Aftermath’, Aboriginal History, 21 (1997), 90-112

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, 'Ishi's Brain, Ishi's Ashes: Anthropology and Genocide,' Anthropology Today 17 (2001), 12-18.

Fiona J. Stafford, The Last of the Race: The Growth of a Myth from Milton to Darwin (Oxford, 1994) [e-book]