Centaurus Articles on Cold War Social Science, Race, and Anthropology

Karl von Baer, 1865

A number of recent articles in Centaurus may be of interest to AHP readers. Titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Détente Science? Transformations of Knowledge and Expertise in the 1970s,” by Rüdiger Graf. Abstract:

Scrutinizing the multifaceted relationship between the history of science and the political, economic and cultural transformations of the 1970s, while acknowledging that ‘Cold War [social] science’ has proven to be a fruitful heuristic concept, the paper asks if– in a period decreasing confrontation –there was also a ‘détente [social] science’? First, it presents a short overview of the most significant transformations of the 1970s and sketches if and to what extent developments in the realm of science influenced them or even brought them about. Secondly, the perspective will be turned around. After developing the concept of Cold War Science in greater detail, the paper asks whether the changes of the 1970s influenced the development of the natural and social sciences. In particular, it analyzes their influence on the conceptions of knowledge and expertise that have been described as constitutive elements of Cold War Science. In conclusion, it tries to assess if these changes amount to anything that might be labelled fruitfully as détente science.

“Geography, Race and the Malleability of Man: Karl von Baer and the Problem of Academic Particularism in the Russian Human Sciences,” by Nathaniel Knight. Abstract:

The question of national specificity in science was vigorously debated in 19th century Russia and remains relevant to the geographical and cultural contextualization of scholarship. This article introduces the term academic particularism to denote this phenomenon and addresses it through an examination of the career, ideas and legacy of Karl von Baer in the fields of geography, ethnology and physical anthropology. The article traces significant shifts in Baer’s interests and views after his relocation to Russia in 1835 and identifies a cluster of key ideas present in Baer’s work in the mid-19th century that were further developed by subsequent scholars in the late 19th century and came to constitute a distinctive strain in the Russian human sciences.

“‘With the Risk of Being Called Retrograde’. Racial Classifications and the Attack on the Aryan Myth by Jean-Baptiste d’Omalius d’Halloy (1783–1875),” by Maarten Couttenier. Abstract:

Renowned for his geological studies, Jean-Baptiste d’Omalius d’Halloy also pursued a far less known anthropological career. In different ‘editions’ of his main work, the first Belgian armchair anthropologist tried to divide the world population into races, branches, families and peoples. As a true figure of transition between the 18th and 19th century, he used both human and natural sciences to establish his racial classification, based on natural characters and geography, but also evolution, history and language. Influenced by both William Frederic Edwards and Paul Broca, d’Omalius often defended polygenist views, despite his catholic and monogenist conviction and his refusal to accept the multiple origin of humankind. It is also notable that d’Omalius, like Tacitus and Montesquieu before him, claimed that the sole origin of humankind could to be situated in Northern European, which for d’Omalius still represented the homeland of the most civilized races. Critical of the ‘Aryan myth’, he stated that ‘Germanic’ culture and language had spread over Asia and not the other way around, an argument that caused conflict within learned societies and at international conferences. For the first time, based on new archival material, this article offers an overview of Belgian anthropology before the creation of Société d’Anthropologie de Bruxelles in 1882.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.