Thesis ID: CBB346835522

Out of Asia: A Global History of the Scientific Search for the Origins of Humankind, 1800-1965 (2018)


From approximately 1800 until 1950, most evolutionists—as well as anatomists, philologists, and other men of science—agreed that the human race began in Asia (with the notable exception of Charles Darwin, who preferred Africa). Since the 1950s, however, essentially all paleoanthropologists have agreed that Homo sapiens evolved on the African continent. In my dissertation, I trace the intellectual and cultural genealogies of the 'out of Asia' and 'out of Africa' hypotheses of the geographic origins of humanity, framing both as sites for making knowledge claims about race, identity, human equality, and the history of humankind. In explaining this transition, I track the problem of human origins through diverse contexts, including nineteenth century theories of race and language, early twentieth century expeditions for the "missing link" in Java and Mongolia, interwar geological surveys in Kenya and Tanzania, and UNESCO's postwar quest to define a deracialized, unified, and peaceful humanity. The history of paleoanthropology has been strongly influenced by studies of material culture, and the methodological turn towards studying the creation of fossils as scientific objects – a methodological choice that renders invisible the theoretical frameworks that underpinned the acquisition and interpretation of the fossils. By elucidating the theoretical frameworks that guided where expeditions went, how research funds were distributed, and how fragmentary evidence was interpreted in a variety of ways, I offer a radically new interpretation of the history of paleoanthropology in the past two centuries. While grounded in the history of science, my study also intervenes in the study and practice of global history. Scientific efforts to make sense of human diversity and the natural history of the human species have been fundamentally shaped by the process of globalization over the past five hundred years. At the same time, I remain attentive to the reciprocal interactions between global or world history and paleoanthropology, which has been an important, if not always critically deployed, resource for global and world historians since the 1960s.

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Authors & Contributors
Kjaergaard, Peter C.
Dubow, Saul
Swetlitz, Marc
Cantor, Geoffrey N.
Proctor, Robert N.
Hull, David L.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Science in Context
Journal of the History of Biology
University of Chicago Press
Oxford University Press
Harlan Davidson, Inc.
The MIT Press
Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press
Leuven University Press
Physical anthropology
Human evolution
Darwin, Charles Robert
Tobias, Phillip V.
Royer, Clémence
Boule, Pierre Marcellin
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
21st century
18th century
South Africa
United States
Scandinavia; Nordic countries

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