What breed do South Asians come from

Racial theories of German anthropologists before and during the First World War


1 Introduction

2. The establishment of modern racism
2.1 The basics in the 18th century
2.2 Anthropology and Linguistics
2.3 Gobineau and emerging national consciousness
2.4 Racism in the imperialist age

3. Development of anthropology in Germany
3.1 The fathers of the new science
3.2 German anthropology, colonial policy and militarism

4. German anthropologists in the empire
4.1 Johannes Ranke (1836-1916)
4.1.1 “Man” as the main work
4.1.2 Aesthetics and the assessment of non-European races and peoples
4.1.3 The prehistory of Europe and popular science
4.1.4 Ranke's racial anthropology
4.2 Emil Schmidt (1837-1906)
4.2.1 The skull collector
4.2.2 Craniology and South Asian Travel
4.2.3 Fight the amateur
4.2.4 Peculiarly Jewish racial characteristics
4.3 Felix von Luschan (1854-1924)
4.3.1 Physical ethnographer
4.3.2 Colonial Policy and Racial Anthropology
4.3.3 Concerns about Germany
4.3.4 The "bourgeois militarist"

5. Moderate racial theories in the "old school"

6. Bibliography
6.1 Sources
6.2 Literature

7. List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction

The path to dealing with history is often a tedious and arduous one. But not only politics and society sometimes find it difficult to attempt to come to terms with history, the sciences also tend to suppress dark chapters in their history. For example, it took almost forty years before the role of medicine and biology was intensively researched during the Third Reich. Benoît Massin also states that anything comparable to the history of racial anthropology or human genetics is still missing. In particular, Massin attacks the (own) historiography of German anthropology. Using three examples, he shows how post-war anthropologists reject any responsibility for the horrors of National Socialism. The latest attempt at this "apologetic historiography", as Massin calls it, was made in 1990 by the human geneticist Peter Emil Becker.[1] According to his conclusion, racial studies should not be held accountable for the racism and racial politics of the Third Reich. Crucial figures such as the anthropologists Otto Reche or Eugen Fischer are missing in his depiction, as is the reference that Becker himself did research in Germany during the Nazi era and was a member of the NSDAP.[2]

The historical assessment of German anthropology before the First World War is not much better. There is a general tendency to attribute racial ideologies to marginal political extremists or "pseudo-scientists".[3] This also applies to the years of the German Empire. While the work of some popular science authors is known, the racial teachings of university professors are rather sparsely illuminated. The aim of this work should be to shed a little more light into the darkness of anthropological research in Germany before and during the First World War. In this context, the question will be investigated to what extent the scientific writings of the anthropologists of the time were interspersed with racist statements and whether the theses of the superiority of the “Aryan” or “Germanic race”, which were widespread by some popular scientists, found their way into their scientific writings or were criticized are.

However, a comprehensive analysis is not possible as part of a seminar paper. The distinction between trained anthropologists and lay people who pretend to be such is already proving to be a problem. Therefore this work is limited to three people who held a chair at German universities during this time. In addition to Adolf Bastian and Rudolf Virchow, Johannes Ranke, Emil Schmidt and Felix von Luschan were the three most important German lecturers in anthropology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ranke and Schmidt headed anthropological institutes in Munich and Leipzig, von Luschan was renowned for his teaching activities at Berlin University and his commitment to the local ethnological museum. At that time, there were no equivalent institutes at other universities. Anthropological lectures and exercises were held there by lecturers within other natural science subjects.

However, this selection is not sufficient for a representative picture of the anthropological teaching of the time. It is arbitrary and deliberately omits some “variables”, since historians have recently documented their résumés.[4] Likewise, not all of the scientific representations of the three anthropologists examined can be taken into account. The search for sources was also selective and focused on the relevant question. Nonetheless, it should be possible to outline the positions of the selected representatives on the race question from the few papers examined.

While in the period to be examined the actors are generally expected to overestimate their own self-confidence in European achievements and culture, racism is differentiated from European ethnocentrism by further essential points: Racism is one of them scientific arguments underlying ideology and postulates the Privilege the superior ingroup. In addition, racism defines the distinction between ingroup and outgroup as "Naturally", As a criterion that cannot be changed (e.g. by origin or blood).[5] The present work also follows this definition.

The next two chapters 2 and 3 deal with the historical presentation of the emergence of racism and the emergence of scientific anthropology, especially in Germany. In the following main part in chapter 4 life, work and

Racial teachings of the three selected anthropological scientists briefly and concisely analyzed. Finally, Chapter 5 tries to summarize the results of this investigation and to interpret the history and development of German anthropology before and after the First World War.

2. The establishment of modern racism

2.1 The basics in the 18th century

Modern racism is rooted in the intellectual currents of the 18th century. Both the Enlightenment and Pietism as a religious revival movement provided the basis for racism. In the attempt to define man's position in nature, observations of nature were linked from the outset with the moral and aesthetic ideals of Greek and Roman antiquity. The connection between science and aesthetics is one of the main characteristics of racism.[6] Carl von Linné, whose classification of humans and animals, published in 1735, had a decisive influence on the following decades, characterized the physical characteristics of “homo europaeus” as follows: “White, rosy skin color, muscular, with thick blond hair, blue eyes ".[7] These aesthetic characteristics were used to describe the so-called "Nordic race" until the 20th century.

Almost half a century after Linnaeus, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), who is considered the founder of modern physical anthropology, divided humanity into five races. He claimed that the beauty of the face is shaped by the climate - the more moderate the climate, the more beautiful the face. The propagation of this ideal of moderation turned out to be momentous.[8] In addition to the aesthetic model, the ideal type from then on also included certain modes of behavior aimed at moderation. This interest in moral questions corresponded with the pietistic movements of the time and ultimately led to a stereotype attached to racism.

Christian Meiner (1747-1810) made a distinction in his influential book “Outline of the History of Mankind” from 1785 between the “Mongolian race”, which is voracious, shameless, irritable and selfish, and the courageous, freedom-loving, compassionate and moderate "Caucasians".[9]

2.2 Anthropology and Linguistics

The increasing contact with foreign countries, their populations and the resulting impressions increased interest in learning more about the origins of man and the beginnings of human culture, language and religion. Out of this wish, anthropology arose in the 18th century, which wanted to deal exclusively with the human physique, and later ethnology. The latter intended to focus on the spiritual and cultural side of the human being. Ruth Römer states that to this day the two sides of man have not been separated and that it is probably not worth striving for. The race ideologies of the 19th century would have always regarded body and mind as a unity, "only that on the intellectual side they did not do any research and spent pure imagination and wishful thinking."[10]

With the adoption of the face angle introduced by the anatomist Peter Camper[11] Anthropology had adopted a beauty norm as a classification feature early on, which Blumenbach had already used as a guide.[12] Its classical anthropology, however, under the influence of romantic natural philosophy, gave way to an even more judgmental place, which sometimes left the soil of monogenistic explanations and assumed different origins of the human races. The natural scientist Heinrich Steffens published a two-volume “Anthropology” in 1822 in which he regarded races as physically and mentally different from the start.[13]

Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869), a doctor from Dresden, made a distinction in 1849 between "day, night and twilight peoples". He represented the Caucasian-European peoples on the day side of humanity, on the night side the blacks, in between the "Mongolian" and "American races". The symbolic assignment already implies his judgments about the spiritual abilities of the different types of people. Influenced by the latest linguistic research, Carus put the Indo-Europeans at the forefront of the leading development. All the advantages of the day peoples would give them "the right to see themselves as the real prime of humanity".[14]

In the course of Romanticism and its enthusiasm for the Orient, European linguists had increasingly devoted themselves to Persian and Sanskrit. Similarities between the Near Eastern and European languages ​​were already apparent before the 19th century. After all, it was Franz Bopp (1791-1867) who at the age of 25 proved that the Sanskrit language was related to the Greek, Latin, Persian and Germanic languages.[15] This newly discovered language family was called, among other things, "Indo-European", "Indo-European" or "Aryan". The orientalist Friedrich Schlegel had given this assumed linguistic relationship an anthropological tinge before (1808) by inferring a racial relationship. With his assumption that a new master race would have formed through mixing in the north of India, that this people would have "swarmed to the west" and that the greatest nations originated from this tribe, he had laid the foundation for the myth of an Aryan race.[16]

Anthropology and linguistics influenced each other very early on. While some hoped that their conclusions could be supported by linguistic arguments, linguistic research was tempted to deduce the history and ancestry of peoples and races from the context of languages. The language finally got a character of a physical trait and finally that of a racial trait.[17] The linguistic assumption that “Aryans” and Semites did not come from the same language family turned out to be fatal. The researchers accepted the separation of the “Caucasians” into two language families and thus two tribal and ethnic groups as a dogma. At the same time, many scientists tended to regard the Aryans as more valuable than the Semites.[18]

2.3 Gobineau and emerging national consciousness

Arthur Comte de Gobineau (1816-1882) used the literature of anthropological, linguistic and historical research of his time for his work "Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines" from the years 1853-1855. The "Essai" was received well into the 20th century and its influence on the German-speaking area was particularly far-reaching. Ludwig Schemann, a member of the Bayreuth circle around Richard Wagner and the founder of the so-called Gobineau Society, dedicated his life to his writings and distributed them in Germany, albeit in a falsified and distorted form.[19]

Gobineau classified mankind into three races, namely white, yellow and black. He used common stereotypes to describe them. Within the superior white race, the Aryans would be at the forefront. His conclusions led to deep pessimism. In the people of European descent he no longer recognized any pure races, they had reduced the Aryan blood by mixing and in the long term the decline was the certain fate of the white race.[20] He acquired the undeserved reputation of an anti-Semite through incorrectly quoted quotations from the disseminators of his works. He counted the Jews among the white race, who shared the lot of decline with the Aryans.[21]

Gobineau's theses came at a time when the aftermath of the 1848 revolutions was still in progress. In many parts of Europe the awakening national consciousness increasingly took over the sciences, which also led to a closer merging of nationalism and racism. The foundations for this had already been worked out in the first half of the 19th century. Historiography had already emphasized the spiritual kinship of the peoples linked by a common language around 1800. The rediscovered description of the Germanic tribes of Tacitus from 98 BC BC, in which he praised certain qualities of the way of life of the Germanic peoples the Source of German history.[22]

In the second half of the century, the terms race, people and nation finally mixed up in a shambles. Around 1860 anthropology received the status of an autonomous science, but still allowed methods and concepts to be imposed on it by linguistics. When she began to treat languages ​​and races as if they coincided, this provided the basis for national race and Aryan concepts.[23]

After the Franco-Prussian War, the anthropologist Armand de Quatrefages tried to prove that the Prussians were not Aryans or Teutons, but Slav-Finns, a kind of “prehistoric people” with a penchant for cunning and violence. In Germany this thesis aroused great outrage. The German anthropologist Rudolf Virchow finally invalidated the “French theory” in 1885 on the grounds that detailed studies had revealed that the population in northern Germany was predominantly blond and blue-eyed, which was proven by Germanic descent.[24]

The science of skull research and the study of other physical features became more and more intense. The introduction of skull indices and the beginning of a division between long and short skulls had strengthened the idea of ​​being able to better define human races by means of skulls than with the help of languages.[25]

2.4 Racism in the imperialist age

It is no coincidence that the first racial theoretical contributions to the glorification of imperialism come from England, the world power that already had large colonial possessions and a leading position on the world market in the middle of the 19th century.[26] The greatest influence was undoubtedly Darwinism, which is England's most important and far-reaching contribution to race theory.[27]

Charles Darwin's (1809-1882) epoch-making work “On the origin of species by means of natural selection” from 1859 marked a turning point in biology. The triumphant run of physical anthropology was based to a large extent on the book "The descent of man and selection in relation to sex" published in 1871 on the theory of descent.[28] Many authors contributed to the popularization of his teaching. They partially transferred the principles of Darwin's theory to social processes and mixed them with political convictions. The catchwords “surviving of the fittest” and “natural selection” were often interpreted biologically and attempts to justify colonialism and exploitation.[29]

The great scientific discoveries - for example Mendel's laws of inheritance - were increasingly interpreted in the minds of contemporaries as a “victory of science over natural forces” and as an expression of “human progress towards prosperity and happiness”.[30] This optimistic thinking sometimes gave way to concern about degeneration.In England, Francis Galton (1822-1911) had argued that civilization largely eliminated natural selection and thus favored “negative selection”. The lazy and the stupid, as well as the criminals and the sick, reproduced more strongly than the able and healthy. Appropriate measures must be taken to counteract this. With his suggestions for sterilization, hereditary marriage certificates or neo-Malthusian measures, Galton is considered the founder of eugenics and racial hygiene.[31] At the beginning of the 20th century, racial hygiene societies emerged across Europe. In Germany in 1905 Alfred Plötz founded the Society for Racial Hygiene together with the sociologist Richard Thurnwald, who completed his habilitation in ethnology in 1919 and also did folklore during National Socialism.[32]

In parts of the educated German bourgeoisie, Friedrich Nietzsche's “Zarathustra” started a real cult around the turn of the century, which “took on quasi-religious traits”.[33] His postulate of the future rule of the “superman” over the “far too many” was often misunderstood in the political sense and went fluidly with the mystically exaggerated nationalism of large parts of the Protestant educated classes. In “The Foundations of the 19th Century” (published in 1899) Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927) combined social Darwinist ideologies with enthusiastic nationalism to create a national ideology in which he believed in a special mission of the German nation and that the Germanic race to lead the world.[34]

The English-born journalist - he called himself a "philosopher of history" - married Richard Wagner's daughter and stayed in the Wagner district of Bayreuth until his death. Chamberlain was one of the first advocates of the spiritual diversity of peoples. Since not all Germans looked like Aryans, he referred to a common “Aryan racial soul” determined by blood, which is the origin of the honesty, loyalty and diligence of every German. In the rapid spread of Pan-Germanism, he recognized signs of a beginning development of the Nordic or Aryan race. By claiming that Jesus was not a Jew, but the illegitimate son of a Germanic warrior - that is, an Aryan [!] - he tried to reconcile his theory with his Christian faith.[35] In his opinion, the Jews were at the core of all bad things. A historical battle between Aryans and Jews would have to decide in the future whether the lower Jewish spirit would triumph over the Aryan soul and pull the world down with it.[36]


[1] Benoît Massin, Anthropology and Human Genetics in National Socialism or: How do German scientists write their own scientific history ?, in: Heidrun Kaupen-Haas / Christian Saller (ed.), Scientific Racism: Analyzes of a Continuity in Human and Natural Sciences, Frankfurt aM 1999, Pp. 12-64, here p. 12f.

[2] Ibid., P. 42f.

[3] Ibid., P. 12.

[4] Mention should be made, among other things, of the detailed account of Eugen Fischer: Niels C. Lösch, Rasse als Konstrukt: Life and Work of Eugen Fischer, Frankfurt a.M. 1997, as well as that of the Swiss anthropologist Otto Schlaginhaufen: Christoph Keller, The skull surveyor. Otto Schlaginhaufen - anthropologist and racial hygienist, Zurich 1995.

[5] Gerhard Hauck, From “lazy negroes” to “egoism of genes” - On the continuity and change of racist thought figures in ethnology, in: Peripherie, No. 61, 1996, pp. 88-103, here p. 88.

[6] Georg L. Mosse, The History of Racism in Europe, Frankfurt a.M. 31994, p. 29.

[7] Translated by Ruth Römer, Linguistics and Racial Ideology in Germany, Munich 21989, p. 18.

[8] Mosse, History of Racism, p. 37.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Römer, Linguistics, p. 14.

[11] The angle that an imaginary line forms between lip and forehead to an imaginary horizontal across the head. An angle of 80 degrees was considered ideal, less than 70 degrees were attributed to negroes, monkeys and more descending "primitive" creatures. See: Römer, Sprachwissenschaft, p. 19.

[12] Mosse, Rassismus, p. 47.

[13] Römer, Linguistics, p. 21.

[14] Quoted from Werner Conze, Rasse, in: O. Brunner / W. Conze / R. Koselleck (eds.), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, Vol. 5, Stuttgart 1984, pp. 135-178, here p. 154, there after Carl Gustav Carus, memorandum for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Goethe. On the unequal ability of the different human tribes for higher spiritual development, Leipzig 1849, p. 121.

[15] Römer, Linguistics, p. 51.

[16] Léon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth. On the sources of racism and nationalism, Vienna 1977, pp. 214-216.

[17] Römer, Linguistics, p. 40f.

[18] Conze, Rasse, p. 160.

[19] Mosse, Rassismus, p. 80f.

[20] Römer, Linguistics, p. 30.

[21] Mosse, Rassismus, p. 79.

[22] Ibid., P. 72.

[23] Poliakov, Der Arische Mythos, pp. 295f.

[24] Ibid., P. 308.

[25] Ibid., P. 306.

[26] Lilli Segal, The High Priests of Annihilation. Anthropologists, doctors and psychiatrists as pioneers of selection and murder in the Third Reich, Berlin 1991, p. 23.

[27] Mosse, Rassismus, p. 95.

[28] Römer, Linguistics, p. 16.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Wolfgang J. Mommsen, The wrestling for the national state 1850 to 1890, in: Propylaea History of Germany, Vol. 7 First Part, Frankfurt a.M. 1993, p. 778.

[31] Thomas Nipperdey, German History 1866-1918, Vol. 1, Working World and Bürgergeist, Munich 1990, p. 628.

[32] Peter Weingart / Jürgen Kroll / Kurt Bayertz, Race, Blood and Genes. History of eugenics and racial hygiene in Germany, Frankfurt a.M. 1988, p. 201.

[33] Mommsen, Wrestling for the National State, Vol. 7 Part One, p. 787.

[34] Ibid., Pp. 790f.

[35] Segal, High Priest of Destruction, p. 32f.

[36] Mosse, Rassismus, p. 128f.

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