A category in physical anthropology to define groups of people of common origin characterized by a series of common morphological traits. In the political anthropology and social thought of the Age of Imperialism, a means of categorization applied unscientifically to mark social, cultural, political, economic, psychological, and other sorts of inequality among groups of people. In both cases the concept is deeply connected with notions of culture, population, ethnicity, and language. Morphological differences among peoples was noted in ancient natural philosophy, major representatives of which believed that external peculiarities of human beings reflected character, intelligence, cultural, and mental abilities of their bearers. This assumption was broadly illustrated in the contacts of the Ancient Greeks and Romans with the barbarian world.
   At the Era of Great Discoveries, the tradition had a woeful influence on the treatment of the aboriginal inhabitants of newly opened territories of northern and southern America, southern Africa and the eastern part of Asia. Equally, the maintenance of the slave trade gave birth to a series of attempts to allege and explain the superiority of Europeans over their colonial subjects, just as in the United States racist and racialist thinking became an integral part of the gathering political struggle between slave owners and abolitionists. It should be noted, nevertheless, that racial discrimination was never unique to the representatives of European civilization. Racially determined social differentiation was common in precolonial Africa, Asia, and India. In Africa it helped to sustain slave-based empires.
   In nineteenth-century Europe, the ideas of Carl Linnaeus, Charles Darwin, and Thomas Huxley brought a new wave of attention to the race concept in scientific and social thought. Two main trends developed: racial classification and explanation of specific differences. During the second half of the century, the latter trend itself split into two tendencies, one was connected with examination of different factors influenced on the formation of peculiar morphological traits; the other concentrated on the propagation of a revised version of racial theories. All of the latter were based on a common concern with tracing the cultural differences and social and political inequality among peoples to the determining factor of race. Particularly noteworthy is Joseph-Arthur Gobineau, who formulated ideas about deterministic role of racial differences in the history of humankind. Based on his thesis about innate inequality of mental characteristics and the capacity to create, comprehend and maintain cultural heritage, Gobineau believed in the primacy of a so-called Aryan race over other races and connected with Aryans all ancient civilizations, resorting to numerous falsifications in the effort. Gobineau’s ideas were later integrated into the racial mythology of Nazi Germany. Another direction was connected specifically with the treatment of the black population of sub-Saharan Africa. This thesis, for the first time strictly formulated by J. Gent at the mid-1860s, created grounds for further studies in this field of representatives of Social Darwinism, who used racism as a crucial argument in favor of the primeval character of social inequality and social struggle. Mixed with the material greed accompanying European, American, and Japanese expansion, it fuelled the zeal with which imperial slogans such as Manifest Destiny, White Man ’ s Burden, and mission civilisatrice were propagated and in its most virulent form - as in King Leopold’s Congo - had genocidal implications.
   See also <>; <>; <>; <>; <>.
    Banton, Michael. Racial Theories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987;
    Benedict, Ruth. Race and Racism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983;
    Bowler, Peter J. Biology and Social Thought. 1800–1914. Berkeley: Office for History of Science and Technology, University of California, 1993;
    Shanklin, Eugenia. Anthropology and Race. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1994.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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