Race before Darwin : variation, adaptation and the natural history of man in post-Enlightenment Edinburgh, 1790–1835
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This paper draws on material from the dissertation books of the University of Edinburgh's student societies and surviving lecture notes from the university's professors to shed new light on the debates on human variation, heredity and the origin of races between 1790 and 1835. That Edinburgh was the most important centre of medical education in the English-speaking world in this period makes this a particularly significant context. By around 1800 the fixed natural order of the eighteenth century was giving way to a more fluid conception of species and varieties. The dissolution of the ‘Great Chain of Being’ made interpretations of races as adaptive responses to local climates plausible. The evidence presented shows that human variation, inheritance and adaptation were being widely discussed in Edinburgh in the student circles around Charles Darwin when he was a medical student in Edinburgh in the 1820s. It is therefore no surprise to find these same themes recurring in similar form in the evolutionary speculations in his notebooks on the transmutation of species written in the late 1830s during the gestation of his theory of evolution.
Jenkins , B 2020 , ' Race before Darwin : variation, adaptation and the natural history of man in post-Enlightenment Edinburgh, 1790–1835 ' , The British Journal for the History of Science , vol. First View . https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007087420000217
The British Journal for the History of Science
Copyright © British Society for the History of Science 2020. This work has been made available online in accordance with publisher policies or with permission. Permission for further reuse of this content should be sought from the publisher or the rights holder. This is the author created accepted manuscript following peer review and may differ slightly from the final published version. The final published version of this work is available at https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007087420000217