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'Scientific' Racism and the Role of Medicine


  • What was ‘scientific’ about scientific racism? Discuss in relation to Anthropology, Phrenology, or Eugenics.
  • How was scientific racism used to help justify British colonial rule?
  • Why were the Victorians so worried about ‘degeneration?’


Core Reading

Vanessa Heggie, 'Lies, Damn Lies, and Manchester's Recruiting Statistics: Degeneration as an "Urban Legend" in Victorian and Edwardian Britain,' Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 63.2 (2008), pp. 178 - 216.

Rebecka Klette, 'Depicting Decay: The Reception and Representation of Degeneration Theory in Punch, 1869 - 1910', The Victorianists: BAVS Postgraduates (29 December, 2015).

Max S. Nordau, Degeneration (London: William Heinemann, 1895) - Read the British Library's linked article about Nordau and Degeneration, and use the viewer to read pages 15 to 20.


Additional Readings

Andrew Bank, ‘Of ‘native skulls’ and ‘noble Caucasians’: phrenology in colonial South Africa,’ Journal of Southern African Studies, 22.3 (1996): 387 – 403.

Lawrence Goldman, ‘The End of the Statistical Movement: Francis Galton, Variation and Eugenics,’ in Goldman, Victorians and Numbers: Statistics and Society in Nineteenth Century Britain (OUP: 2022).

Conor Heffernan, ‘The Best Developed Man in Great Britain and Ireland? Eugen Sandow and the Commercialization of Eugenics in Twentieth Century Britain,’ Journal of Victorian Culture (2023).

John L. Hennessey, ‘Overlooking whiteness? Discourses of race and primitiveness in accounts of the Ainu by Benjamin Douglas Howard and Henry Savage Landor (1893),’ History and Anthropology (2023): 1 – 16.

Cynthia Huff, ‘Victorian Exhibitionism and Eugenics: The Case of Francis Galton and the 1899 Crystal Palace Dog Show,’ Victorian Review, 28.2 (2002): 1-20

Douglas Lorimer, Science, Race Relations, and Resistance: Britain, 1870 – 1914 (OUP: 2013).

Douglas Lorimer, ‘Theoretical Racism in Late Victorian Anthropology, 1870 - 1900,’ Victorian Studies, 31.3 (1988): 405 – 430.

Sally Ledger, ‘In Darkest England: The Terror of Degeneration in Fin-de-Siècle Britain,’ Literature & History, 4.2 (1995): 71 – 86.

Diane B. Paul, John Stenhouse, and Hamish G. Spencer (eds), Eugenics at the Edges of Empire: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and South Africa (Palgrave Macmillan: 2018).

Dorothy Porter, "Enemies of the Race": Biologism, Environmentalism, and Public Health in Edwardian England,’ Victorian Studies, 34.2 (1991): 159-178

James Poskett, Materials of the Mind: Phrenology, Race, and the Global History of Science, 1815 – 1920 (University of Chicago Press, 2019): 19 – 52.

Sadiah Qureshi, ‘Robert Gordon Latham, Displayed Peoples, and the Natural History of Race, 1854 – 1866,’ The Historical Journal, 54.1 (2011): 143 – 166.

Elise Smith, “Why do we measure mankind?” Marketing anthropometry in late-Victorian Britain,’ History of Science, 58.2 (2020): 143 – 165.

Richard Soloway, ‘Counting the Degenerates: The Statistics of Race Deterioration in Edwardian England,’ Journal of Contemporary History, 17.1 (1982): 137 – 164.

John Stenhouse, ‘A disappearing race before we came here’: Doctor Alfred Kingcome Newman, the Dying Māori, and Victorian Scientific Racism,’ New Zealand Journal of History, 30.2 (1996): 124-140

Paul Turnbull, ‘British Anatomists, Phrenologists and the Construction of the Aboriginal Race, c.1790–1830,’ History Compass, 5.1 (2006): 26-50.