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ROBERT GORDON LATHAM, DISPLAYED PEOPLES, AND THE NATURAL HISTORY OF RACE, 1854–1866*

  • SADIAH QURESHI (a1)
Abstract
ABSTRACT

In 1854, the Crystal Palace reopened at Sydenham. Significantly, it featured a court of natural history. Curated by the philologist and physician, Robert Gordon Latham, it was designed to provide the public with an ethnological education. Understanding Latham's project is of particular importance for broader understandings of the scientific importance of displayed peoples and mid-nineteenth-century debates on the nature of human variation. Recent scholarship has shown considerable interest in the relationship between exhibitions of foreign peoples and anthropology, particularly within the context of world fairs. Nevertheless, anthropologists are routinely claimed to have used fairs merely to display or publicly validate, rather than to make, scientific knowledge. Meanwhile, the 1850s and 1860s are often seen as having witnessed the emergence of a new ‘harder-edged’ scientific racism as, older, elastic definitions of ‘race’ were successfully overthrown by one rooted in biological difference (most commonly exemplified by the anatomist Robert Knox). By examining how Latham produced and used his museum of human types, this article proposes an alternative approach. It suggests that displayed peoples were used as ethnological specimens and that Latham's work is at a particularly significant crossroads for the mid-nineteenth-century remaking of ‘race’.

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Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge, CB2 3RHsq203@cam.ac.uk
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*

I am thankful to Jim Secord, Simon Schaffer, Peter Mandler, Sujit Sivasundaram, Elizabeth Edwards, Nick Jardine, Felix Driver, Anne Secord, Billie Melman, the Cambridge Victorian Studies Group, and two anonymous referees for their helpful advice and suggestions on this research in all its various guises. Efram Sera-Shriar and Kate Nichols deserve particular thanks for their helpful feedback and for allowing me access to unpublished material. All images are courtesy of Kevin Levell and Jim Secord.

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1 John Conolly, The ethnological exhibitions of London (London, 1855), pp. 5–7.

2 Sadiah Qureshi, Peoples on parade: human exhibitions, empire and anthropology in nineteenth-century Britain (Chicago, IL, forthcoming).

3 Robert Rydell, All the world's a fair: visions of empire at American international expositions, 1876–1916 (Chicago, IL, 1984); and Nancy J. Parezo and Don D. Fowler, Anthropology goes to the fair: the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (Lincoln, NE, 2008), document anthropologists' involvement, most obviously in the 1893 Chicago and 1904 St Louis exhibitions. See also Paul Greenhalgh, Ephemeral vistas: the expositions universelles, great exhibitions and world's fairs, 1851–1939 (Manchester, 1988); Lee D. Baker, From savage to negro: anthropology and the construction of race, 1896–1954 (Berkeley, CA, 1988), pp. 79–80; and Pascal Blanchard et al., Human zoos: science and spectacle in the age of colonial empires (Liverpool, 2008), pp. 1–49, especially p. 44 n. 48.

4 Colin Kidd, The forging of races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic world, 1600–2000 (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 1–18.

5 Nigel Rothfels, Savages and beasts: the birth of the modern zoo (Baltimore, MD, 2002), and Andrew Zimmerman, Anthropology and anti-humanism in imperial Germany (Chicago, IL, 2001).

6 Roxann Wheeler, The complexion of race: categories of difference in eighteenth-century culture (Philadelphia, PA, 2000); David Bindman, From ape to Apollo: aesthetics and the idea of race in the eighteenth century (London, 2002); and Colin Kidd, British identities before nationalism: ethnicity and nationhood in the Atlantic world, 1600–1800 (Cambridge, 1999).

7 Nancy Leys Stepan, The idea of race in science: Great Britain, 1800–1960 (London, 1982); idem, ‘Biology and degeneration: races and proper places’, in Sander L. Gilman and J. Edward Chamberlain, eds., Degeneration: the dark side of progress (New York, NY, 1985); Drescher Seymour, ‘The ending of the slave trade and the evolution of European racism’, Social Science History, 14, (1990), pp. 415–50; and Hannah F. Augstein, ed., Race: the origins of an idea, 1760–1850 (Bristol, 1996).

8 For influential examples see Robert C. Young, Colonial desire: hybridity in theory, culture and race (London, 1995); Philip D. Curtin, The image of Africa: British ideas and action, 1780–1850 (2 vols., Madison, WI, 1964), ii, p. 377; and Catherine Hall, Kith McClelland, and Jane Rendall, eds., Defining the Victorian nation: class, race, gender and the Reform Act of 1867 (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 191–2. Significantly, Catherine Hall, Civilising subjects: metropole and colony in the English imagination, 1830–1867 (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 48–9 and 275–6, shifts focus away from this view of Knox. Compare with Peter Mandler, ‘The problem with cultural history’, Cultural and Social History, 2004, pp. 94–117.

9 Jan R. Piggott, Palace of the people: the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, 1854–1936 (London, 2004); Robert G. Latham and Edward Forbes, The natural history department of the Crystal Palace described (London, 1854); Samuel Phillips, Guide to the Crystal Palace and its park, Sydenham (2nd edn, London, [1854]); and [Edward McDermott], Routledge's guide to the Crystal Palace and park at Sydenham (London, 1854).

10 James A. Secord, ‘Monsters at the Crystal Palace’, in Soraya de Chadarevian and Nick Hopwood, eds., Models: the third dimension of space (Stanford, CA, 2004), pp. 138–69; and Ralph O'Connor, The earth on show: fossils and the poetics of popular science, 1802–1856 (Chicago, IL, 2008).

11 Jeffrey A. Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1851: a nation on display (New Haven, CT, 1999); Greenhalgh, Ephemeral vistas; and Peter H. Hoffenberg, An empire on display: English, Indian and Australian exhibitions from the Crystal Palace to the Great War (Berkeley, CA, 2001).

12 Piggott, Palace of the people, p. v.

13 Secord, ‘Monsters at the Crystal Palace’, p. 139.

14 Piggott, Palace of the people, p. 61. Piggott notes that 60 million people visited Sydenham in its first twelve years.

15 ‘A visit to the Crystal Palace’, Lady's Newspaper, 10 June 1854, p. 364.

16 Latham and Forbes, Natural history department, p. 60.

17 Prince Alexander Philip Maximilian (zu Wied), Travels in Brazil in the years 1815, 1816 and 1817, trans. H. E. Lloyd (London, 1820); and Joh. Bapt. von Spix and C. F. Phil. von Martius, Travels in Brazil in the years 1817–1820, trans. H. E. Lloyd (London, 1824).

18 Latham and Forbes, Natural history department, p. 54.

19 Ibid., p. 6 and ‘Punch's handbooks to the Crystal Palace’, Punch, 27, (1854), pp. 8–9 at p. 8. Many other courts also had a dedicated guidebook.

20 Wheeler, Complexion of race; Bindman, From ape to Apollo; and Kidd, British identities before nationalism.

21 Ronal Meek, Social science and the ignoble savage (Cambridge, 1976).

22 Rosemary Sweet, Antiquaries: the discovery of the past in eighteenth-century Britain (London, 2004), p. 27.

23 Peter Mandler, ‘“Race” and “nation” in mid-Victorian thought’, in Stefan Collini, Richard Whatmore, and Brian Young, eds., History, religion and culture: British intellectual history, 1750–1950 (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 224–44.

24 Kidd, Forging of races.

25 Augstein, ed., Race, pp. ix–xxxiii.

26 Snobelen Stephen D., ‘Of stones, men and angels: the competing myth of Isabelle Duncan's pre-Adamite man’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of the Biomedical Sciences, 32, (2001), pp. 59104; and David N. Livingstone, Adam's ancestors: race, religion and the politics of human origins (Baltimore, MD, 2008).

27 Hannah F. Augstein, James Cowles Prichard's anthropology: remaking the science of man in early nineteenth-century Britain (Amsterdam, 1999).

28 Robert. G. Latham, Ethnology of the British colonies and dependencies (London, 1851); and idem, The ethnology of Europe (London, 1852). See also James C. Prichard, The Eastern origin of the Celtic nations proved by a comparison of their dialects with the Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and Teutonic languages, forming a supplement to ‘Researches into the physical history of mankind’ (Oxford, 1831).

29 Latham and Forbes, Natural history department, p. 5.

30 ‘Punch's handbooks to the Crystal Palace’, p. 8.

31 Kate Nichols, Greece and Rome at the Crystal Palace: classical sculpture and modern Britain, 1854–1936 (Oxford, forthcoming).

32 Martin Rudwick, Scenes from deep time: early pictorial representations of the prehistoric world (Chicago, IL, 1992); Secord, ‘Monsters at the Crystal Palace’; and O'Connor, The earth on show.

33 On diachronic variation see James C. Prichard, ‘On the various methods of research which contribute to the advancement of ethnology, and of the relations of that science to other branches of knowledge’, British Association for the Advancement of Science Official Report (London, 1847), pp. 230–53.

34 Piggott, Palace of the people, p. 126.

35 Nichols, Greece and Rome at the Crystal Palace.

36 On broader challenges to environmentalism see Mark Harrison, Climates and constitutions: health, race, environment and British imperialism in India, 1600–1850 (Oxford, 1999); Dror Wahrman, The making of the modern self: identity and culture in eighteenth-century England (New Haven, CT, 2006), pp. 83–126; and Warwick Anderson, The cultivation of whiteness: science, health and racial destiny in Australia (New York, NY, 2003).

37 Flourens Marie-Jean-Pierre, ‘On the natural history of Man’, Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 27, (1839), pp. 351–8.

38 Latham and Forbes, Natural history department, p. 42; and A. Kolliker, Manual of human histology, ed. and trans. George Busk and Thomas H. Huxley (London, 1853), p. 106.

39 ‘Leader’, Crystal Palace Herald, n.s., Aug. 1854, p. 33.

40 [Robert Chambers], Vestiges of the natural history of creation (London, 1844).

41 James A. Secord, Victorian sensation: the extraordinary publication, reception and secret authorship of ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation’ (Chicago, IL, 2000), p. 522.

42 J. C. Nott and Geo. R. Gliddon, Types of mankind: or ethnological researchers based upon the ancient monuments, paintings, sculptures, and crania of races & c. (Philadelphia, PA, 1854).

43 Richard D. Altick, The shows of London: a panoramic history of exhibitions, 1600–1862 (Cambridge, 1978), pp. 341–2.

44 Bernth Lindfors, ‘Dr Kahn and the Niam-Niams’, trans. Teresa Bridgeman, in Blanchard et al., Human zoos, pp. 229–38.

45 Handbill 1853, John Johnson collection of printed ephemera, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Waxworks, 3 (41).

46 Piggott, Palace of the people, p. 127; William Thomson, Crystal Palace, Sydenham. Natural history department. Ethnological collection (London, 1852); idem, Crystal Palace, Sydenham. Natural history department. Raw produce collection (London, 1852); and idem, Crystal Palace, Sydenham. Natural history department. Zoological collection (London, 1852).

47 Robert Latham G., ‘Ethnological remarks upon some of the more remarkable varieties of human species, represented by individuals now in London’, Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, 4, (1856), pp. 148–50.

48 Graham Burnett D., ‘Exploration, performance, alliance: Robert Schomburgk in British Guiana’, Journal of Caribbean Studies, 15, (2000), pp. 1137.

49 ‘The Crystal Palace’, Reynolds's Newspaper, 23 Apr. 1854, p. 7.

50 ‘A visit to the Crystal Palace’, Lady's Newspaper, 10 June 1854, p. 364.

51 Conolly, Ethnological exhibitions of London, pp. 38–9.

52 Ibid., pp. 41–2.

53 Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (catalogue numbers PRM 1998.210.3 and PRM 1998.211.9). Reproduced in Qureshi, Peoples on parade.

54 Elizabeth Edwards, Raw histories: anthropology, photographs and museums (Oxford, 2001).

55 Cull Richard, ‘On the recent progress of ethnology’, Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, 4, (1856), pp. 297316, especially p. 297.

56 W. H. Brock, ‘Hunt, James (1833–1869)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography.

57 ‘Disastrous fire at the Crystal Palace’, Daily News, 31 Dec. 1866, p. 5; and ‘Anthropological news’, Anthropological Review, 5, (1867), pp. 240–56 (especially pp. 241–2).

58 Qureshi, Peoples on parade. Also see Efram Sera-Shriar, ‘Beyond the armchair: early ethnographic practice and the making of British anthropology, 1813–1871’ (Ph.D. diss., Leeds, forthcoming), and, for a later period, see De l'Estoile Benoît, ‘From the colonial exhibition to the museum of man. An alternative genealogy of French anthropology’, Social Anthropology, 11, (2003), pp. 341–61.

59 Laidlaw Zoë, ‘Heathens, slaves and aborigines: Thomas Hodgkin's critique of missions and anti-slavery’, History Workshop Journal, 2007, (64), pp. 133–61.

60 Laidlaw Zoë, ‘Aunt Anna's report: the Buxton women and the aborigines select committee, 1835–1837’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 2004, (32), pp. 128; and select committee on aborigines (British settlements), Report from the select committee on aborigines (British settlements); with the minutes of evidence, appendix and index (London, 1837).

61 George Stocking, Victorian anthropology (New York, NY, 1987), especially pp. 239–73; and idem, What's in a name? The origins of the Royal Anthropological Institute: 1837–1871’, Man, 6, (1971), pp. 369–90.

62 Wheeler, Complexion of race; and Kidd, Forging of races.

63 Stocking, ‘What's in a name?’; and William F. Bynum, ‘Time's noblest offspring: the problem of man in the British natural historical sciences, 1800–1863’ (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge, 1974).

64 Clarke Robert, ‘Sketches of the colony of Sierra Leone and its inhabitants’, Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London, 2, (1863), pp. 320–63.

65 Carl Vogt, Lectures on man: his place in creation and in the history of the earth (London, 1864).

66 Stocking's Victorian anthropology has proved seminal in this respect.

67 Sera-Shriar, ‘Beyond the armchair’.

68 Stepan, The idea of race in science.

69 Henrika Kuklick, The savage within: the social history of British anthropology, 1885–1945 (Cambridge, 1991); and Fredrik Barth et al., One discipline, four ways: British, German, French and American anthropology (Chicago, IL, 2005). Sera-Shriar, ‘Beyond the armchair’, revises this historiography.

70 Thomas H. Huxley, ‘On the methods and results of ethnology’, in Man's place in nature: and other anthropological essays (London, 1900), pp. 209–52 at pp. 209–10.

71 Stocking, Victorian anthropology, pp. 254–7.

72 Hodgkin Thomas, ‘Obituary of Dr. Prichard’, Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, 2, (1850), pp. 182207 at p. 182.

73 Andrew Porter, ed., The nineteenth century, Oxford History of the British Empire (5 vols., Oxford, 1998), iii.

74 Robert Knox, The races of men: a fragment (London, 1850), preface and Richards Evelleen, ‘The “moral anatomy” of Robert Knox: the interplay between biological and social thought in Victorian scientific naturalism’, Journal of the History of Biology, 22, (1989), pp. 373436.

75 James Hunt, ‘On the physical and mental characteristics of the Negro’, in British Association for the Advancement of Science Official Report (London, 1863), p. 140.

76 Brock, ‘Hunt, James (1833–1869)’. See also Anon., ‘Exchange by William Craft and Dr. James Hunt at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, August 27, 1863’, in C. P. Ripley, ed., The black abolitionist papers (5 vols., Chapel Hill, NC; London, 1985), i, pp. 537–43.

77 Richards, ‘The “moral anatomy” of Robert Knox’.

78 The classic account, which has been consistently reproduced, remains Stocking, Victorian anthropology, especially pp. 239–73.

79 Robert G. Latham, The varieties of human species: being a manual of ethnography: introductory to the study of history (London, [c. 1860]).

80 Stepan, The idea of race in science.

81 Piggott, Palace of the people, p. 126.

82 Qureshi, Peoples on parade.

83 George Stocking, After Tylor: British social anthropology, 1888–1951 (London, 1995); Kuklick, Savage within.

84 Latham and Forbes, Natural history department.

85 Anon., ‘A South African native's picture of England’, Munger Africana Library Notes, 9, (1979), pp. 819, at p. 17.

86 Flower W. H. and Murie J., ‘Account of the dissection of a bushwoman’, Journal of Anatomy and Physiology (1867), pp. 189208.

87 Rothfels, Savages and beasts; and Zimmerman, Anthropology and anti-humanism.

* I am thankful to Jim Secord, Simon Schaffer, Peter Mandler, Sujit Sivasundaram, Elizabeth Edwards, Nick Jardine, Felix Driver, Anne Secord, Billie Melman, the Cambridge Victorian Studies Group, and two anonymous referees for their helpful advice and suggestions on this research in all its various guises. Efram Sera-Shriar and Kate Nichols deserve particular thanks for their helpful feedback and for allowing me access to unpublished material. All images are courtesy of Kevin Levell and Jim Secord.

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