Advanced Seminar in Race, Progress and Civilization in Anglo-American Thought from the 17th to the 20th Centuries

Course NameAdvanced Seminar in Race, Progress and Civilization in Anglo-American Thought from the 17th to the 20th Centuries
Course CodeHIS389 / HIS589
DescriptionEnlightenment philosophers like John Locke, John Millar and Adam Ferguson tended to assume that human nature was similar everywhere, and that civilisations advanced according to universal material and environmental laws. From the late 18th century through to the first half of the 20th century, this universalist model was challenged by a growing belief in human difference – and human inequality. Throughout the 19th century, materialist explanations of human progress based on universal developmental laws would gradually give way to theories of human order and progress based upon racial hierarchy as the determining factor in historical development. Racial doctrines which justified slavery and imperialism also increasingly provided nineteenth century anthropologists, archaeologists and historians with the explanation for the rise of civilisation itself. But throughout the 19th century, such inequitable visions of progress were challenged by the continuity of the Enlightenment tradition in the form of theories of technologically-driven progress (the Danish Three Age system), universal stages of material and mental development (Darwin, Tylor, Lubbock and Morgan) or economic development and class struggle (Marx, Engels, Childe and their followers). The course centres upon the tension between theories of progress and those of degeneration. Between conceptions of the human past envisaged as a primaeval Arcadia of “Noble Savages,” and one characterised by poverty, ignorance and “nasty, brutish and short” lives. Between the rise of civilisation understood as a universal process of progression through universal stages of social, religious and economic development on one hand, and theories which saw civilisation as arising in one place and being spread to other areas – diffusionism – often through the presumed activity of “superior” racial elements. The seminar will be based upon the interpretation of original documents. It is intended as a course in intellectual, rather than social and political, history. The seminar will concentrate on British and North American anthropology, although the work of some relevant German (F. Max Muller, Baron Christian Carl Josias Bunsen and Rudolf Virchow), Danish (Thomsen and Worsaae) and French thinkers (Renan and Gobineau) will also feature. (No knowledge of these languages is necessary or assumed, however.)
Learning OutcomesUpon completion of this course, students should be able to:
– Comprehend and have a clear understanding of the eclipse (and revival) of Enlightenment universalist theories of human progress in the 18th century, and the rise of racial determinist theories from the late 18th through the 19th centuries;
– Understand and analyse the principal original documents pertaining to the great controversies relating to the origins of civilization of the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries in the Anglo-Saxon world especially;
– Place in context and lend perspective to racist ideas in terms of their intimate relationship to systems of dominance associated with slavery, imperialism and exclusionary nationalism;
– Understand something of the historical, intellectual and social context which led to the transition from universalist and idealist theories of human anthropology and civilizational progress and their replacement with doctrines founded on the principles of racial difference and inequality. In particular, students should gain some understanding of the intimate relations between racial anti-Semitism and racial theories denigrating the capacities of Africans and colonial subjects;
– Understand the connections between racial theory, imperialism, slavery and social elitism and overall theories of progress and civilization in 19th century British, French and American thought.
SchoolSchool of Humanities & Social Sciences
LevelBachelor / Master
Number of credits (US / ECTS)3 US / 6 ECTS
PrerequisitesHIS103 / HIS600