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The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race

The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity

Bruce Baum
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race
    Book Description:

    The term Caucasian is a curious invention of the modern age. Originating in 1795, the word identifies both the peoples of the Caucasus Mountains region as well as those thought to be Caucasian. Bruce Baum explores the history of the term and the category of the Caucasian race more broadly in the light of the changing politics of racial theory and notions of racial identity. With a comprehensive sweep that encompasses the understanding of "race" even before the use of the term Caucasian, Baum traces the major trends in scientific and intellectual understandings of race from the Middle Ages to the present day. Baum's conclusions make an unprecedented attempt to separate modern science and politics from a long history of racial classification. He offers significant insights into our understanding of race and how the Caucasian race has been authoritatively invented, embraced, displaced, and recovered throughout our history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0900-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: “Caucasians” and the Political History of Racial Identities
    (pp. 1-21)

    One of the many telling artifacts of the modern world is the fact that there are Caucasians and then there are “Caucasians.” That is, there are the various Caucasian peoples of the Caucasus Mountain region—for example, Georgians, Dagestanis, Circassians, Chechens, Ossetians, and others—and there are the presumed members of the “Caucasian race.” The latter is a curious invention of the modern age; it has been a basic component of numerous influential racial classifications from the late eighteenth century through the dawn of the twenty-first.

    This book is primarily concerned with the peculiar career of the idea of a...

  5. 1 Before the “Caucasian Race”: Antecedents of European Racialism, ca. 1000–1684
    (pp. 22-57)

    There was no notion of a Caucasian race in the years between 1000 to 1684. In fact, the “race” concept itself was introduced by Europeans elites only near the end of this period, in the seventeenth century, after the rise of the Atlantic slave trade and massive enslavement of “black” Africans. Nevertheless, the ethnic history of Europe during this period, which stretched from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, was a prelude to the invention of the “Caucasian race” idea in the late eighteenth century and its subsequent career.

    Several medieval and early modern European notions about differences and boundaries...

  6. 2 Enlightenment Science and the Invention of the “Caucasian Race,” 1684–1795
    (pp. 58-94)

    The “Caucasian race” category was a product of the European Enlightenment and late-eighteenth-century natural history. It was introduced about one hundred years after François Bernier’s 1684 “New Division of the Earth,” which featured a Europe-centered “white” race. The boundaries that Bernier surmised for this race, his first, reached beyond Europe in a way that foreshadowed the boundaries of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s “Caucasian” race. Still, Blumenbach’s eventual use of the wordCaucasian, referring to the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia (or in central Eurasia), to designate roughly the same peoples is puzzling. It went against the grain of then-current European...

  7. 3 Passage into “Our Ordinary Forms of Expression”: The “Caucasian Race,” ca. 1795–1850
    (pp. 95-117)

    In the first half of the nineteenth century, Johann Blumenbach’s notion of a “Caucasian race” passed quickly into both scientific and ordinary usage in Europe and in the United States. In this period, European elites sought to shore up social hierarchies in the wake of the French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath, and “Negro” slavery intensified in the United States. Consequently, scientific racialism steadily hardened into a scientific racism that was far removed from Blumenbach’s thinking. Whereas Blumenbach used the notion of a Caucasian race to designate one of five principal “varieties” of human beings that “run into one another...

  8. 4 Racialized Nationalism and the Partial Eclipse of the “Caucasian Race,” ca. 1840–1935
    (pp. 118-161)

    French writer Georges Vacher de Lapouge’s remarks eerily foreshadowed the most brutal consequence of the latest race science in Europe and North America between roughly 1840 and 1935: the Nazis’ murder of nearly 6 million European Jews, among others, during 1942–45. Marx’s comments highlighted one of the key social dynamics that reconfigured racial thought in this period: mass migrations and intense labor market competition among workers of different European nationalities and ethnicities in the context of uneven capitalist development across European states. As in Marx’s English example, such competition was often between European peoples who only recently had been...

  9. 5 The Color Line and the “Caucasian Race” Revival, 1935–51
    (pp. 162-191)

    Between 1933 and 1945, from Hitler’s rise to power to Germany’s defeat in World War II, Europe realized De Lapouge’s 1899 prediction that a “conflict of races is now about to start” in which “people will slaughter each other by the million because of a difference of a degree or two in the cephalic index” (see chapter 4). Violent conflict between “races” had characterized modern politics since the seventeenth century. Now, however, it came home to Europe with a vengeance. The Nazis enacted an aggressive eugenics program through the Sterilization Law of 1933. They denied German Jews citizenship and expropriated...

  10. 6 Not-so-Benign Racialism: The “Caucasian Race” after Decolonization, 1952–2005
    (pp. 192-218)

    Between 1952 and 2005 the career of the “Caucasian race” idea has taken another major turn. Scholars in biology, social sciences, and humanities have increasingly recognized the difficulty—if not impossibility—of answering the basic question about race that Ashley Montagu asked inMan’s Most Dangerous Myth(1942): On what grounds can the various physical characteristics that have been selected historically as markers ofracedifference “be considered as significantly defining a ‘race’?” (see chapter 5). More and more scholars have concluded that the zoological concept of race cannot meaningfully be applied to the physiological differences among human beings. That...

  11. 7 “Where Caucasian Means Black”: “Race,” Nation, and the Chechen Wars
    (pp. 219-233)

    As we have seen, the history of the Caucasus region is both intertwined with and distinct from the history of the “Caucasian race” myth. As I discussed in chapter 2, German philosopher Christoph Meiners and German physician and anthropologist Johann Blumenbach coined the “Caucasian race” idea was with reference to the Caucasus region and mountains. Blumenbach in particular aligned scientific authority behind myths about the Caucasian origins of humanity and tales of the unique beauty of the Caucasian peoples, especially Circassians and Georgians.

    Yet, while Blumenbach famously cast Georgians as prototypical members of a Caucasian race in an eighteenth-century context...

  12. Conclusion: Deconstructing “Caucasia,” Dismantling Racism
    (pp. 234-254)

    The idea of a Caucasian race has had a prominent place in the history of race science. Yet, while there are numerous Caucasian peoples—Georgians, Armenians, Chechens, Circassians, Dagestanians, and Ingushetians among them—there is noCaucasian race. Even so, theideaof the Caucasian race has been highly consequential, politically and socially, and its history has profound implications for the politics of race and the politics of knowledge.

    My overarching aim has been to contribute to a critical theory of social identities, with special reference to “racial” identities. Social identities—class, religious, ethnic, racial, national, gender, and sexual—are...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 255-326)
  14. Index
    (pp. 327-341)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 342-342)