Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Measuring the Master Race

Measuring the Master Race: Physical Anthropology in Norway 1890-1945

Jon Røyne Kyllingstad
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 276
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Measuring the Master Race
    Book Description:

    The notion of a superior ‘Germanic’ or ‘Nordic’ race was a central theme in the ideology of the Nazis. But it was also a commonly accepted idea in the early twentieth century, and an actual scientific concept originating from anthropological research on the physical characteristics of Europeans. The Scandinavian Peninsula was considered to be the historical cradle and the core area of this ‘master race’. This book investigates the role played by Scandinavian scholars in inventing this so-called superior race, and discusses how this concept put its stamp on Norwegian physical anthropology, prehistory, national identity, and on the Norwegian eugenics movement. It also explores the decline and scientific disputation of these ideas in the 1930s as they came to be associated with the ‘genetic cleansing’ of Nazi Germany. This is the first comprehensive study on Norwegian physical anthropology, and its findings shed new light on current political and scientific debates about race across the globe.

    eISBN: 978-1-909254-56-5
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Jon Røyne Kyllingstad

    The work that resulted in this book began with a master’s thesis submitted to the Department of History at the University of Oslo in the spring of 2001. This was later rewritten into the bookKortskaller og langskaller (Short Skulls and Long Skulls), published in Norwegian in 2004 and now reworked and expanded into this English edition.

    While working with the first version of the book I was affiliated to the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture (the TIK centre), the Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History and the Forum for University History at the University of Oslo. I also...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    The notion of a Germanic or Nordic race was a linchpin of Nazi ideology. The Nazis believed that this ‘superior race’ had the right to extend theirLebensraum(living space) at the expense of others, and they put this idea into practice with brutal efficiency. It was not the Nazis, however, who invented the concept of a superior Nordic-Germanic race. In the early twentieth century, it was common practice to rank humanity into inferior and superior races, and many saw the Nordic-Germanic race as the pinnacle of humankind. This belief was particularly widespread in nations that were considered to be...

  6. 1. The Origin of the Long-Skulled Germanic Race
    (pp. 1-16)

    The early 1840s were a decisive period in the rise of the concept of a Germanic race. During that decade, Swedish anatomist Anders Retzius launched the cephalic index, a new method for identifying races. On the basis of differences in head measurements, he split humankind into two basic categories: the short-skulled brachycephalics and the longskulled dolichocephalics. By combining these two categories with a set of anatomical and geographical criteria, he developed a system of racial classification that made it possible to divide Europeans into a number of racial types and to establish the scientific concept of a long-skulled, blond Germanic...

  7. 2. The Germanic Race and Norwegian Nationalism
    (pp. 17-34)

    The 1830s and 1840s are often referred to as the period of national breakthrough in Norwegian intellectual history. In these decades, the nation was explored by folklorists, poets, artists, historians and philologists who, inspired by romantic nationalism, collected fairy tales, songs and myths; studied the language, literature and history of the ancient Norsemen; and sought to unearth their communal roots. Their efforts came at a time when the academic communities of Scandinavia were closely connected to each other, and when Swedish and Danish scholars were establishing their theories of a long-skulled Germanic race. The question, then, is what impact the...

  8. 3. The Germanic Race and Norwegian Anthropology, 1880-1910
    (pp. 35-64)

    The Parisian Society of Anthropology was founded in 1859, which was also the year that Darwin publishedOn the Origin of Species. Soon after, similar institutions were established all over Europe. These institutions became important arenas for research and debate on the origin and evolution of the human species and gave rise to the new discipline of anthropology, which replaced ‘ethnology’ as the most important academic discipline for research on race and human variation.

    The main founding father of anthropology was the French anatomist Paul Broca, who initiated the establishment of a number of anthropological institutions and helped turn Paris...

  9. 4. Norwegian Nationhood and the Germanic Race, 1890-1910
    (pp. 65-86)

    While the Norwegian historians, philologists and archaeologists who attained academic positions in the 1870s and 1880s were generally opposed to the racial ideas of ‘the Norwegian School of History’, Arbo’s anthropological research and Andreas Hansen’s grand theory can be seen as revivals of these ideas. So how did Norwegian humanities scholars respond to the rise of racial science, and what impact did the notion of Germanic racial supremacy have upon the scholarly debate over Norwegian history and national identity? These questions can be elucidated by studying Andreas Hansen’s relationship to Ernst Sars, the most influential public intellectual among Norwegian historians...

  10. 5. Racial Hygiene and the Nordic Race, 1900-1933
    (pp. 87-113)

    The nineteenth century saw the rise of a scientific worldview whereby humans were ranked in a hierarchy according to their degree of biological, cultural and moral advancement. This evolutionary worldview was marked by profound faith in human progress, but also by dread of degeneration. Around the turn of the century, members of the educated Western elite began to fear that the evolution of the human species was coming to a halt because modern society was out of step with nature. This anxiety fuelled the growth of the racial hygiene movement to counteract the biological degeneration of humankind. After the turn...

  11. 6. Halfdan Bryn and the Nordic Race
    (pp. 115-132)

    Physical anthropology virtually vanished in Norway after the deaths of Arbo, Guldberg and Larsen; when it re-emerged in the interwar years, eugenics had become one of its major social justifications. As noted in the previous chapter, physical anthropology was particularly relevant to the faction of the racial hygiene movement concerned with purifying and propagating the Nordic race. In the years immediately following World War I, the leading physical anthropologist in Norway was Halfdan Bryn, who would become an increasingly ardent proponent of the superiority of the Nordic race. This chapter deals with Bryn’s theoretical and methodological approach to the study...

  12. 7. The Schreiners and the Science of Race
    (pp. 133-158)

    Kristian Emil (1874-1957) and Alette Schreiner (1873-1951) had a lifelong relationship as close scientific collaborators and as a married couple.¹ They were ten years younger than Bryn and came from social backgrounds typical for academics: Kristian Emil’s father was a Kristiania merchant with Danish-German roots and his grandfather was a pastor in the Church of Norway; Alette was the daughter of the magistrate of a small town (Eidsvoll) about seventy kilometres north of the capital. As a woman, however, Alette was not at all a typical member of the academic class. In fact, women had only acquired the legal right...

  13. 8. From Collaboration to Conflict: The Racial Survey of 1923-1929
    (pp. 159-192)

    In 1920, Halfdan Bryn and the Schreiners began to collaborate on a large, state-funded anthropological survey of the Norwegian population. The project highlighted many of the scientific and ideological differences between them, and after an initial period of amicable cooperation, their joint undertaking ended in deep and insoluble conflict. This chapter charts the path their relationship took from collaboration to conflict: their initial accord, the causes of their dis agreements and the factors that led to the eventual breakdown in their working partnership.

    As mentioned in chapter 3, Guldberg had already floated the idea of a national racial survey in...

  14. 9. Science and Ideology, 1925-1945
    (pp. 193-220)

    The rising tensions between Alette and Kristian Emil Schreiner and Halfdan Bryn were related to changes in their political and scientific surroundings. From the end of the 1920s, the idea of the superior blond race became the object of an increasingly polarised debate in the international scientific world. Dogmatic racial ideas gained support within German anthropology, and advocates of racial inequality and the fear of ‘bastardisation’ began to dominate the International Federation of Eugenics Organizations (IFEO). Meanwhile, a growing number of geneticists, physical anthropologists, social scientists and humanities scholars in the English-speaking world and in Scandinavia began to question the...

  15. 10. The Fall of the Nordic Master Race
    (pp. 221-232)

    It was Carl Oscar Eugen Arbo who, with his anthropological surveys of Norwegian soldiers of the late 1880s, laid the foundation for physical anthropological research in Norway. Arbo also helped reinvigorate the notion of Norwegian nationhood centred upon the idea of a Nordic or Germanic master race and turned himself into a spokesperson for racist views on hisotry and society. Inspired by Otto Ammon, Arbo explained social and cultural differences in Norwegian society as the product of social selection resulting from the struggle for survival between inferior and superior races. These ideas remained highly controversial among scholars both in Norway...

  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 233-248)
  17. Index
    (pp. 249-252)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-255)