This conference is for historians who work on the narratives of biological race and national identity developed by nineteenth and early twentieth-century philologists, ethnologists, anthropologists, raciologists (Rassenkundler) and sero-anthropologists. It will bring together researchers who work separately in different countries on a wide range of national cases, in order to establish the history of national identity narration in scientific race classification as an important and coherent research programme. It will lead to the first volume that addresses this important but neglected episode in the histories of national identity and science.
From the early nineteenth century until about the Second World War, an interdisciplinary, Europe-centred community of scholars collaborated on the scientific project of classifying Europeans by biological races such as the tall, blond Nordic, the Mediterranean and the Celto-Slav.
Race classification combined science with national identity politics. Its races were defined by biological features such as skull-shape, pigmentation and blood group but also by cultural characteristics such as language and religion. Races began life as tribes such as the Celts and Teutons, appropriated by romantic nationalists from ancient Greek and Roman accounts as the biological ancestors of modern nations. Anthropologists’ hypotheses about the history, relations, geography and psychology of races therefore carried automatic political subtexts and often served political agendas.
By linking national identity with anthropological classification, this conference targets an important gap in existing scholarship. Historians of nationalism extensively research the obviously political ‘applied’ racial project of eugenics as well as the complex relationships of national identity with other scholarly disciplines such as history and archaeology. Historians of anthropology meanwhile concentrate on the background to current preoccupations, such as anti-Semitism, colonialism and the disciplinary history of cultural anthropology.
Both neglect the pervasive influence of scientific race classification on wider nationalist discourse, albeit often in distorted popularised forms. They also rarely acknowledge the special role of transnational scientific networks in creating international connections among national identity discourses.
Please submit proposals for papers and panels by 15 March 2014 to Dr. Richard McMahon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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