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Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and the Culture of Science in Europe around 1800
(23-24 April 2015)

Conference programme
Report (in German) about the conference (from Akademie heute 2/2015; pdf)

Video recordings of talks and commentaries
(complete list of talks with abstracts below the video windows)





Please select video via “playlist” at top right in video window




Session 1: Blumenbach scholarship in the digital age
Gerhard Lauer (Göttingen):   Blumenbach scholarship and digital humanities
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Lauer explains the methods of digital humanities and their potential.
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Heiko Weber (Göttingen)   ‘Johann Friedrich Blumenbach – online’: challenges, opportunities, and early results
The project “Johann Friedrich Blumenbach – online” aims at a “digital edition”, enriching the original texts via markup to prepare them for digital analysis. The use of metadata and authority data bases plays an important role.
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Roman Göbel (Jena)   ‘Haeckel correspondence online’
Roman Göbel talks about the long term project “Ernst Haeckel online Briefedition”, funded by the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. It started in 2013 and aims at a digital edition of all extant letters from and to the evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) in digitaler Form verfügbar zu machen.
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Paul Youngman (Lexington)   Commentary
Prof. Dr. Paul Youngman’s commentary on the lectures about the projects “Johann Friedrich Blumenbach – online” and “Ernst Haeckel online edition of letters” presented during the international symposium “Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and the Culture of Science in Europe around 1800” of the Göttingen Akademy of Sciences and Humanities and on the project “Darwin Online”.
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Session 2: Scientific collections and material knowledge cultures

Emma C. Spary (Cambridge, UK)   The didactic, nationalist and scientific ends of specimens during the French Republic
Dr. Emma C. Spary asks how, and by whom natural history specimens were valued in France before the French Revolution, and whether 1789 really marked a complete break with the practices of the Ancien Regime. She shows that natural history was always a discipline of transnational and pan-European material culture: collections and their specimens did a lot more travelling than we might expect.
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Michael Schultz (Göttingen)   The Blumenbach collection of human skulls
Using particular items from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s (1752–1840) collection of human skulls, Prof. Dr. Dr. Michael Schultz shows the importance of this collection for modern research in various disciplines, e. g. anatomy and physical anthropology, forensic anthropology and legal medicine, history of medicine, paleopathology, archaeology and ethnology.
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Robert Scheck (Hannover)   The Cook/Forster collection
Robert Scheck talks about the acquisition of natural and ethnological objects from the Pacific for the former Academic Museum at Göttingen University on the initiative of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840). The objects were brought back to Europe by James Cook (1728–1779) from his voyages around the world. Many of them were acquired from the estate of Johann Reinhold Forster (1729–1798), who had taken part in Cook’s second voyage (1772–1775).
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Dominik Hünniger (Göttingen)   Johann Christian Fabricius and the practice of natural history around 1800
Dr. Dominik Hünniger talks about Johann Christian Fabricius’ (1745–1808) university education, his research visits to London and Paris, his teaching at Kiel university, and his achievements in the field of entomology.
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Mario Marino (Cottbus)   Commentary
Dr. Mario Marino’s Commentary on the lectures “The didactic, nationalist and scientific ends of specimens during the French Republic”, “The Blumenbach collection of human skulls”, “The Cook/Forster collection” and “Johann Christian Fabricius and the practice of natural history around 1800”.
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Keynote Address

Nell Irvin Painter (Princeton)   Five Skulls that Made Human Taxonomy
Prof. Dr. Nell Irvin Painter places Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s (1752–1840) anthropological research within the context of 18th century European colonialism. The human skulls Blumenbach used as basis for his empirical approach were often taken by force in other parts of the world before being brought to Europe. Blumenbach’s labelling of people in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East as “Caucasians” has a similar background. It relates to the trading of people from the Black Sea region as slaves in antiquity, the Middle Ages and by Arabs.
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Session 3: Anthropology and the issue of race

Renato G. Mazzolini (Trient)   Blumenbach and albinism
Prof. Dr. Renato Mazzolini talks about Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s (1752–1840) important share in the discovery that albinism is a hereditary pigmentary disorder which can affect humans of all continents, i. e. also Europeans. Blumenbach considered this a further proof of his concept of the the biological unity of humankind.
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Robert J. Richards (Chicago)   The Just Measure of Schiller’s Skull: Scaling Humanity in Kant, Blumenbach, Tiedemann, and Carus
Prof. Dr. Robert Richards examines the views of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), Friedrich Tiedemann (1781–1861), and Carl Gustav Carus (1789–1869) on the question of the existence of different human “race” in natural historical and psychological terms. Kant and Carus found permanent boundaries separating the races and a hierarchical arrangement among them, while Blumenbach and Tiedemann did not. Richards suggests that this may be due to the very limited access to and use of anatomical data/specimens in the case of Kant and Carus.
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Thomas Junker (Tübingen)   Blumenbach’s theory of human races and the natural unity of humankind
Prof. Dr. Thomas Junker demonstrates via images and text extracts from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s (1752–1840) original publications, that Blumenbach did not intend to describe a judgmental hierarchy when he defined five human varieties. This was propagated by Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) in his book The Mismeasure of Man (1981), where he also used a manipulated image.
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Hans-Konrad Schmutz (Zürich)   Anthropology and slavery from Blumenbach to the American Civil War
Prof. Dr. Hans-Konrad Schmutz examines the complex relationship between the emerging scientific anthropology and politics around 1850, focussing on the question of legitimizing or abolishing slavery. The spectrum of scientific systems ranged from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s (1752–1840) aesthetical monogenism, James Cowles Prichard’s (1786–1848) biblical monogenism, and Jean Louis Armand de Quatrefages’ (1810–1892) morphological monogenism to the different partly conservative or progressive polygenisms around James Hunt (1833–1869), Franz Ignaz Pruner Bey (1808–1882) or Paul Broca (1824–1880) and their circles of London and Paris anthropologists in the 1860s.
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Nicolaas Rupke (Lexington)   ‘Huxley’s Rule’ and the origins of scientific racism
Prof. Dr. Nicolaas Rupke rejects the idea that Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) was the founder of a “scientifically” based racism. Its origins should rather be looked for in the context of Darwinism in Britain and especially in the works of Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895).
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Session 4: Discourses and narratives

John Zammito (Houston)   The Rise of Paleontology and the Historicization of Nature: Blumenbach and DeLuc
Prof. Dr. John Zammito argues for Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s (1752–1840) prominence in advancing the research programme of a developmental-historical or historicised approach to nature in Germany: Historicised nature (and paleontology) was at the center of Blumenbach’s programme already in the decades from 1780 to 1800. Zammito especially draws on Blumenbach’s relationship to the geological ideas of Jean-André DeLuc (1727–1817) and is critical of Martin J. Rudwick’s and Frank W. P. Dougherty’s assessment of Blumenbach.
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Peter Hanns Reill (Los Angeles)   Blumenbach in the Americas: Prince Maximilian Wied-Neuwied’s implementation of Blumenbach’s interpretations of ethnographic research
Prof. Dr. Peter Hanns Reill presents new source material about the travels of Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782–1867) to Eastern Brazil and to North America. According to Reill, Wied’s scientific endeavour was shaped by his studies in Göttingen under Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), whose ethnographic research programme he sought to implement in these relatively virgin lands.
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Martin van Gelderen (Göttingen)   Overall commentary
Prof. Dr. Martin van Gelderen’s Commentary on the lectures presented during the international symposium ”Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and the Culture of Science in Europe around 1800” of the Göttingen Akademy of Sciences and Humanities.
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Funding for the conference was provided by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung für Wissenschaftsförderung.