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  • PAUL STOCK (a1)

This article explores the association between racial thought and the idea of Europe in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain. It begins by noting the complexities surrounding the word “race” in this period, before considering whether—and on what grounds—contemporary race thinkers identify a “European race” or “races”. This reveals important ambiguities and correlations between anatomical, genealogical and cultural understandings of human difference. The essay then discusses how some of these ideas find expression in British encyclopedias, histories and geographical books. In this way, it shows how racial ideas are disseminated, not just in dedicated volumes on anatomy and biological classification, but also in general works which purport to summarize and transmit contemporary received knowledge. The article draws upon entries on “Europe” in every British encyclopedia completed between 1771 and 1830, as well as named source texts for those articles, tracing how the word “Europe” was used and what racial connotations it carried. Some entries imply that “European” is either a separate race entirely, or a subcategory of a single human race. Others, however, reject the idea of a distinctive European people to identify competing racial groups in Europe. These complexities reveal increasing interest in the delineation of European identities, an interest which emerges partly from long-standing eighteenth-century debates about the categorization and comprehension of human difference. In addition, they show the diffusion of (contending) racial ideas in non-specialist media, foreshadowing the growing prominence of racial thought in the later nineteenth century.

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1 For anthologies of such specialist works from this period see Augstein H. F., ed., Race: The Origins of an Idea (Bristol, 1996); Eze Emanuel Chudwuki, ed., Race and Enlightenment: A Reader (Oxford, 1997); Kitson Peter and Lee Debbie, eds., Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: Writings in the British Romantic Period, vol. 8, Theories of Race, ed. Kitson Peter (London, 1999)

2 Hudson Nicholas, “From ‘Nation’ to ‘Race’: The Origin of Racial Classification in Eighteenth-Century Thought”, Eighteenth-Century Studies 29/3 (1996), 247.

3 Wilson Kathleen, The Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender in the Eighteenth Century (London and New York, 2003), 1112, 55.

4 Wheeler Roxann, The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture (Philadelphia, 2000), 7, 9–10. George Stocking argues that race did not commonly designate “physical entities unchanged since the beginning of recorded time” until after the publication of Robert Knox's The Races of Men (1850). See his Victorian Anthropology (New York, 1987), 65.

5 Kidd Colin, British Identities before Nationalism: Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600–1800 (Cambridge, 1999), 34, 287. Kidd draws upon the definitions of “ethnick” in the Glossographia (1656) and Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755), though the word meant “pagan” as early as the 1470s. See Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1989), “ethnic”, sense 1.

6 Wilson, The Island Race, 6–8.

7 Loomba Ania and Burton Jonathan, Introduction, in idem, eds., Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (New York, 2007), 8, 22–3.

8 Wheeler, The Complexion of Race, 2–5, 22–4

9 Elizabeth Colwill, “Sex, Savagery and Slavery in the Shaping of the French Body Politic”, in Melzer Sara E. and Norberg Kathryn, eds., From the Royal to the Republican Body: Incorporating the Political in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century France (Berkeley, 1998), 204.

10 Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, De l'esprit des loix, nouvelle edition, avec les dernieres corrections & illustrations de l'auteur, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1750), 2: 245, 254. The translations are mine. For similar uses of the word “race” see ibid., 1: 421; 2: 400, 433, 452, 454, 466. For further analysis see Hannaford Ivan, Race: The History of an Idea in the West (Washington, DC, 1996), 187–90, 200–2.

11 See de Secondat Charles-Louis, de Montesquieu Baron, The Spirit of the Laws, trans. Cohler Anne M., Miller Basia C. and Stone Harold (Cambridge, 1987), 537.

12 Montesquieu, De l'esprit des loix, 1: 343. The translation is from Spirit of the Laws, trans. Cohler, Miller and Stone, 250.

13 Related debates have not entirely disappeared. Recent discussions about the origins of Homo sapiens encompass the “out-of-Africa” theory, which postulates that modern humans evolved in Africa and spread from there, and the “multiregional” theory, which suggests that the species evolved simultaneously in many locations across the world. See Lewin Roger, Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins, 2nd edn (Chicago, 1997), 323–35.

14 For an English tabulation of Linné's human varieties see Marks Jonathan, “Systematics in Anthropology”, in Clark G. A. and Willermet C. M., eds., Conceptual Issues in Modern Human Origins Research (New York, 1997), 46–7. Linné's Latin terms can be seen in Systema Naturae, 13th edn, 3 vols. (Vienna, 1767), 1: 29.

15 Stepan Nancy, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 1800–1960 (London, 1982), xviii.

16 Gates Henry Louis Jr, “Critical Remarks”, in Goldberg David Theo, ed., Anatomy of Racism (Minneapolis, 1990), 319–21. See also Hudson, “From ‘Nation’ to ‘Race’”, 258.

17 Buffon, Histoire naturelle (1749), in Oeuvres Complètes de Buffon, 5 vols., ed. M. Richard (Paris, 1837–8), 2: 646–7, 607. The translations are mine. For Buffon's (inconsistent) use of the word “race” see Hudson, “From ‘Nation’ to ‘Race’”, 253–5.

18 Buffon, Oeuvres, 2: 621–4.

19 Bindman David, Ape to Apollo: Aesthetics and the Idea of Race in the Eighteenth Century (London, 2002), 12, 20.

20 Kitson, Theories of Race, 141

21 Blumenbach J. F., The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, trans. and ed. Bendyshe Thomas (London, 1865), 99100. This quotation is from the second edition of De generis (1781).

22 For Blumenbach's five human varieties (Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American and Malay) see Anthropological Treatises, 264–6. For the continuing use of the word “Caucasian”, especially by immigration services, see Hannaford, Race, 207.

23 Augstein H. F., “From the Land of the Bible to the Caucasus and Beyond: The Shifting Ideas of the Geographical Origins of Humankind”, in Erst Waltraud and Harris Bernard, eds., Race, Science and Medicine, 1700–1960 (New York and London, 1999), 64.

24 Schiebinger Londa, Nature's Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science, rev. edn (New Brunswick, 2004), 118–19.

25 Lawrence William, “On the Causes of the Varieties of the Human Species”, in idem, Lectures on Physiology, Zoology, and the Natural History of Man, 3rd edn (London, 1823), 431.

26 Maupertuis, Venus physique, contenant deux dissertations, l'une sur l'origine des hommes et des animaux; et l'autre sur l'origine des noirs (La Haye, 1746), 144–5. The translation is from idem, The Earthly Venus, trans. Simone Brangier Boas, introduction by George Boas (New York, 1966), 80.

27 Maupertuis, Venus, 149.

28 Lawrence, “On the Causes”, 434–7.

29 Prichard James Cowles, Researches into the Physical History of Man (London, 1813), 231–3, 206–9, 236, 209.

30 See Wheeler, Complexion of Race, 295–6. For more on the importance of aesthetics in Prichard's ideas see Schiebinger, Nature's Body, 133–4.

31 Home Henry, Kames Lord, “Preliminary Discourse, Concerning the Origin of Men and of Languages”, in idem, Sketches of the History of Man, 2nd edn. 4 vols. (London, 1778), 1: 3–26, 72–9.

32 Kitson, Theories of Race, xiii.

33 Long Edward, The History of Jamaica, 3 vols. (London, 1774), 2: 356, 374–5, 353. Long's terminology is occasionally indistinct: sometimes he uses “race” in the sense of “classes of human creatures”, which might imply varieties of a single group; at other moments he talks about orang-utans as a “race of beings”, which would suggest a meaning closer to the modern “species”. See ibid., 2: 371, 375–6.

34 Bigland John, An Historical Display of the Effects of Physical and Moral Causes on the Character and Circumstances of Nations (London, 1816), 7580, 90–6.

35 White Charles, An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Difference Animals and Vegetables; and from the Former to the Latter (London, 1799), 55, 83. For more details about White see Bindman, Ape to Apollo, 214–19.

36 Anonymous review, “An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man and in different Animals and Vegetables, and from the former to the latter. By Charles White, 1799”, Monthly Review 33 (new series) (1800), 360–64.

37 For discussions of empire and race see Wheeler, The Complexion of Race, 10–14; Colwill, “Sex, Savagery and Slavery”, esp. 207; Wilson, The Island Race, esp. 90–91, 151.

38 Kafter Frank, ed., introduction to Notable Encyclopaedias of the Late Eighteenth Century: Eleven Successors of the Encyclopédie, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 315 (Oxford, 1994), 12.

39 Kafker, “William Smellie's Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica” and idem, “The influence of the Encyclopédie on the Eighteenth-Century Encyclopaedic Tradition”, both in Notable Encyclopaedias, 155–7, 395.

40 Yeo Richard, Encyclopaedic Visions: Scientific Dictionaries and Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge, 2001), 158–9, 163–6, xiii, 51.

41 Kafter, “William Smellie's Edition”, 148; Clair William St, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge, 2004), 193–6. There were twenty shillings in a pound, and twelve pence in a shilling.

42 Yeo, Encyclopaedic Visions, 51; Allan David, A Nation of Readers: The Lending Library in Georgian England (London, 2008), 194 For more on reading societies and lending libraries, see also St Clair, The Reading Nation, 235–67.

43 Identifying encyclopedic source material is extremely difficult because articles rarely employ references. I have, however, investigated every occasion when an article on “Europe” mentions a work or an authority by name. These materials often name other influences not acknowledged directly by encyclopedias. The Encyclopaedia Londinesis (1810–24), for example, cites John Pinkerton's Modern Geography (1802), which in turn draws upon the anonymous Complete System of Geography (1747), Fenning and Collyer's New System of Geography (1765–6) and Middleton's New and Complete System of Geography (1777). See Encyclopaedia Londinensis, 24 vols. (London, 1810–24), 7: 83; John Pinkerton, Modern Geography, 2 vols. (London, 1802), 2: 782.

44 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2nd edn, 10 vols. (Edinburgh, 1777–84), 4: 2860. For the importance of aesthetics in Prichard's and Lawrence's racial ideas see Schiebinger, Nature's Body, 133–4.

45 The English Encyclopaedia, 10 vols. (London, 1802), 3: 351.

46 Silvia Sebastiani, “Race as a Construction of the Other: ‘Native Americans’ and ‘Negroes’ in the Eighteenth-Century Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica”, in Bo Stråth, ed., Europe and the Other, Europe as the Other (Brussels, 2000), 224.

47 The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, 18 vols. (Edinburgh and London, 1808–30), 9: 238.

48 Augstein, “From the Land of the Bible”, 66; Drioxhe Daniel, La linguistique et l'appel de l'histoire (1600–1800) (Geneva, 1978), 86–7; Olender Maurice, “Europe, or How to Escape Babel”, History and Theory 33/4 (1994), 17.

49 The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, 9: 238, 235.

50 The Modern Encyclopaedia, 10 vols. (London, [1816–20?]), 5: 77.

51 Encyclopaedia Edinensis, 6 vols. (Edinburgh, 1816–27), 3: 433.

52 Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edn, “genius”, senses 3 and 4.

53 Complete System of Geography, 2 vols. (London, 1747), 1: 1.

54 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 4th edn, 20 vols. (Edinburgh, 1801–9), 8: 350–1.

55 Middleton Charles, A New and Complete System of Geography, 2 vols. (London, 1777), 1: ii. According to Roberto Dainotto, the “Arabist theory” (the idea that “European” civilization originated in Asia) became more prevalent from the 1770s onwards. See Dainotto, Europe (in Theory) (London, 2007), 6, 130–2.

56 Middleton, System of Geography, 2: 3.

57 A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, 2 vols. (London, 1806–7), 1: 349.

58 Supplement to the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 6 vols. (Edinburgh and London, 1824), 4: 181.

59 Ibid., 4: 187.

60 This theory appears in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 4th edn; The Cyclopaedia; or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences and Literature, 39 vols. (London, 1802–19); Encyclopaedia Londinensis, 24 vols. (London, 1810–24).

61 For details of Pinkerton's life see Couper Sarah, “Pinkerton, John (pseuds. Robert Heron, H. Bennet) (1758–1826)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), available at, accessed 21 February 2009.

62 Pinkerton, Modern Geography, 1: 8. Versions of his argument appear in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 4th edn; Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary; Encyclopaedia Londinensis; and The Oxford Encyclopaedia, 7 vols. (Oxford, 1828–31).

63 Droixhe, La linguistique, 86–88. See also Kidd, British Identities, 9–11.

64 Pinkerton, A Dissertation on the Origin and Progress of the Scythians or Goths, Being an Introduction to the Ancient and Modern History of Europe (London, 1787), 17–18.

65 Pinkerton, Dissertation, vii, 33–4.

66 Pinkerton, Dissertation, iii. Pinkerton specifically mentions Tacitus, Isidore of Seville, Jordanes and Bede.

67 Johnson James William, “The Scythian: His Rise and Fall”, Journal of the History of Ideas 20/2 (1959), 250–55.

68 Johnson, “The Scythian”, 255; Thom Martin, Republics, Nations and Tribes (London, 1995), 218–20. Thom draws upon Eduard Norden's Die Germanische Urgeschichte in Tacitus Germania (1920) to suggest that these resemblances were perhaps the consequence of generic conventions in classical ethnographic writing, rather than an attempt to posit direct descent from the Scythians to the Germans.

69 Olender, “Europe, or How to Escape Babel”, 12; Droixhe, La linguistique, 87; Johnson, “The Scythian”, 256–7.

70 Johnson, “The Scythian”, 256.

71 Kidd, British Identities, 187–191; Droixhe, La linguistique, 133; idem, De l'origine du language aux langues du monde (Tübingen, 1987), 73–4.

72 Kidd, British Identities, 227–31; idem, “Ethnicity on the British Atlantic World, 1688–1830”, in Wilson Kathleen, ed., A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and the Empire, 1660–1840 (Cambridge, 2004), 275.

73 Kitson, Romanticism, Race and Colonial Encounter (New York, 2007), 153. Kitson cites Cornelius de Pauw's Philosophical Dissertations on the Egyptians and Chinese (1795) and John Barrow's Travels in China (1804).

74 [Pinkerton], “An Essay on the Origin of Scottish Poetry”, in Ancient Scottish Poems, Never Before in Print, 2 vols. (Edinburgh and London, 1786), 1: xxii–xxxvii.

75 Kidd, “Race, Theology and Revival: Scots Philology and Its Contexts in the Age of Pinkerton and Jamieson”, Scottish Studies Review 3/2 (2002), 22.

76 Pinkerton, Dissertation, vi–vii.

77 Pinkerton, “Essay”, xxiv–xxvi; idem, Dissertation, 186, 33.

78 Newman Gerald, The Rise of English Nationalism: A Cultural History 1740–1830, rev. edn (London, 1997), 115; Mayhew Robert, Enlightenment Geography: The Political Languages of British Geography, 1650–1850 (New York, 2000), 188–9; idem, “British Geography's Republic of Letters: Mapping an Imagined Community, 1600–1800, Journal of the History of Ideas 65/2 (2004), 261–73.

79 Pinkerton, Dissertation, frontispiece.

80 Pinkerton, Modern Geography, 1: 591–2, 625.

81 Pinkerton, Dissertation, 196.

82 Pinkerton, Modern Geography, 1: 10.

83 Fenning D. and Collyer J., A New System of Geography; or, A General Description of the World, 2 vols. (London, 1765–6), 2: 495.

84 Complete System (1747), 1: 2, 596; 2: 68.

85 Fischer Steven Roger, A History of Language (London, 1999), 35, 53–4, 60.

86 Hannaford, Race, 241–2. See also Jones Sir William, “On the Origins and Families of Nations, delivered to the Asiatick Society, 23 February 1792”, in idem, Discourses, 2 vols. (London, 1821), 2: 1–35.

87 Newman, The Rise of English Nationalism, 115–16. See also Wilson, The Island Race, 3.

88 Augstein H. F., James Cowles Prichard's Anthropology: Remaking the Science of Man in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain (Amsterdam and Atlanta, 1999), 170–73.

89 [J. G. Lockhart], “The Germanic Origin of the Latin Language and the Roman People by Jäkel” Ernst, Quarterly Review 46 (1831–2), 336–9.

90 Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, 9: 239.

91 Complete System (1747), 1: 1; Middleton, New and Complete System, 2: 5; Guthrie William, A New System of Modern Geography, 5th edn (London, 1792), 60.

92 The English Encyclopaedia, 3: 351; The Modern Encyclopaedia, 5: 77; The London Encyclopaedia, 22 vols. (London, 1826–9), 8: 677.

93 Encyclopaedia Londinensis, 7: 85.

94 Kidd, British Identities, 22–4.

95 Augstein, Prichard's Anthropology, xv.

96 Pinkerton, Dissertation, xxi, 109.

97 Olender Maurice, The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion and Philology in the Nineteenth-Century, trans. Goldhammer Arthur (Cambridge, MA, 1992), 5.

98 [Etienne Bonnet de Condillac], Essai sur l'origine des connaissances humaines, 2 vols. (Amsterdam, 1746), 2: 197, 221. My translation.

99 Olender, The Languages of Paradise, 15–16, 57–63; idem, “Europe, or How to Escape Babel”, 5–9, 22–4.

100 Thom, Republics, Nations and Tribes, 224–7, 266.

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Modern Intellectual History
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