Article ID: CBB001202243

Wandering Anatomists and Itinerant Anthropologists: The Antipodean Sciences of Race in Britain between the Wars (2015)


While the British Empire conventionally is recognized as a source of research subjects and objects in anthropology, and a site where anthropological expertise might inform public administration, the settler-colonial affiliations and experiences of many leading physical anthropologists could also directly shape theories of human variation, both physical and cultural. Antipodean anthropologists like Grafton Elliot Smith were pre-adapted to diffusionist models that explained cultural achievement in terms of the migration, contact and mixing of peoples. Trained in comparative methods, these fractious cosmopolitans also favoured a dynamic human biology, often emphasizing the heterogeneity and environmental plasticity of body form and function, and viewing fixed, static racial typologies and hierarchies sceptically. By following leading representatives of empire anatomy and physical anthropology, such as Elliot Smith and Frederic Wood Jones, around the globe, it is possible to recover the colonial entanglements and biases of interwar British anthropology, moving beyond a simple inventory of imperial sources, and crediting human biology and social anthropology not just as colonial sciences but as the sciences of itinerant colonials.

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Authors & Contributors
Evans, Andrew David
Tilley, Helen
Anderson, Warwick H.
Schafft, Gretchen E.
Reynaud Paligot, Carole
Sivasundaram, Sujit
History and Anthropology
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Huntington Library Quarterly
Current Anthropology
History of Science
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
University of Chicago Press
University of Illinois Press
Presses Universitaires de France
Cambridge University Press
University of Minnesota
New York University
Science and race
Physical anthropology
Science and culture
Benedict, Ruth Fulton
Shapiro, Harry Lionel
Boas, Franz
Petty, William
Thomson, John
Montagu, Ashley
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
18th century
17th century
20th century
Great Britain
United States

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