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British anatomists, phrenologists and the construction of the Aboriginal Race, c.17901830


Turnbull, P, British anatomists, phrenologists and the construction of the Aboriginal Race, c.1790-1830, History Compass, 5, (1) pp. 26-50. ISSN 1478-0542 (2006) [Refereed Article]

DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2006.00367.x


This article considers how Aboriginal Australian bodily remains were procured and understood in British anatomical and phrenological circles from the beginning of Australian colonization in 1788 to the early 1830s. These years saw an important shift in European thinking about race. The idea that racial differences were the result of humanity's diversification from one ancestral type through environmental modification came to be challenged by "transmutationist" theories that conceptualized racial characteristics as markers of biological peculiarities between different human-like beings, quite possibly of primordial origin. The article shows how comparative anatomical analysis of Aboriginal Australian remains often procured in violent circumstances served to reinforce received environmentalist explanations of the nature and origins of human variation. However, the article also shows how in what they made of Aboriginal remains, subscribers to the concept of environmental degradation could be as fatalistic in their prognosis of the natural capacity of Aboriginal Australians to be progressively brought to embrace civilization as the transmutationist critics they began to encounter in earnest from the mid-1830s. In the hands of metropolitan British anatomists and phrenologists, Aboriginal bones were used so as to generate knowledge that had a pernicious impact on Australia's Indigenous inhabitants.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Philosophy and Religious Studies
Research Group:History and philosophy of specific fields
Research Field:History and philosophy of science
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in human society
UTAS Author:Turnbull, P (Professor Paul Turnbull)
ID Code:92901
Year Published:2006
Deposited By:School of Humanities
Deposited On:2014-06-30
Last Modified:2016-08-31

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