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HIST7339: The Human and Its Others: Enlightenment Ideas of Ethnicity and Race

Dr Alexander Wragge-Morley

The foundations of anthropology as a modern discipline are usually traced back to the turn of the nineteenth century or afterwards. This course examines, however, earlier ideas about human nature and ethnicity in the wake of the discovery of the New World, encounters with unfamiliar cultures, and new scientific and commercial endeavours. We shall see that anthropology as a science was endowed in the Enlightenment with a double meaning: the exploration of human culture on the one hand, and of man’s physical organisation on the other. Anthropological discussions of race drew on a host of notions from various fields: Biblical criticism, ancient and medieval philosophy, medicine and physiology, the new natural philosophy, political theory, and the study of language. The course ends where the standard disciplinary histories of anthropology start, aiming to demonstrate the existence of diverse but distinct discourses of ethnicity and anthropology before the beginning of the nineteenth century. By surveying the ideas of early modern English, Scottish, French, German, and Spanish authors, this course attempts to reconstruct a cross-European intellectual debate.

Assessment methods


HIST7339A/B: 2 X 2,500 word essays

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