Darwin and the French: The species question and ‘man’ in Oceania

Bronwen Douglas

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Reading Darwin with a strong sense of déjà vu, French scholars often give him a long French intellectual genealogy. So the physical anthropologist Topinard averred in 1876 that ‘transformism is of French origin … the honour is entirely due to M. Lamarck’ and defined Darwinism as ‘Natural selection through the struggle for existence, applied to Lamarck's transformism’. Using detailed exegesis, this article traces antecedents, intersections, rebuttals, appropriations, shifts, and mutual misunderstandings in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century transmutationist thinking in France and Britain. With specific reference to unstable concepts of evolution and species, the article samples French and francophone reception and interpretation of Darwin's writings and his responses to critics or supporters. Relative to ideas of race or civilization, human unity or diversity, and the interplay of empirical or deductive logic, I compare Darwin's work with that of the French physical anthropologist Broca in debates on racial ranking, extinction, and the ‘descent of man’, particularly in Australia and Oceania more widely. I conclude that, notwithstanding Darwin's personal humanitarian values, his science of man made important contributions to the theoretical underpinnings of the science of race, or raciology, which had emerged and developed mainly in France in the half century after 1800.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)168–180
    JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
    Volume91
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2022

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