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Culture and descent: The ambivalence of ethnicity across the gap between the natural and the cultural sciences in the nineteenth century
Today, the term ‘racism’ is still held to be lexically derived from a straightforward, strictly biological, and scientifically unfounded concept, 'race', and the critical study of the historical lineage of 'race science' has accordingly focused on the (mis)use of bioscientific approaches: anthropological skull measurements, evolutionary theories etc.
However, notwithstanding the widening gap between ‘sciences’ and ‘humanities,’ nineteenth-century racial scholars continued to rely heavily on cultural (philological, archaeological, historical) knowledge as well, resulting in an ambiguous overlap between biological and cultural classifications.
The idea that a language community is equivalent to an ancestrally-derived community (‘race’) became one of the thorniest problems in thinking about human communities, and the historical roots and ramifications of this semantic ambiguity are entangled and highly complex. The study of the origins of scientific racism must factor in the import from the philological sciences in order to understand how nationalist ideologies became increasingly entrenched in ethnocultural ambiguities from the end of the nineteenth century onwards.
Joep LEERSSEN will in his introduction briefly look at the use of genealogical paradigms in the early-19th-century humanities after antiquarianism.
Francesca ZANTEDESCHI focuses on the works of two French philologists, Gaston Paris and Arsène Darmesteter.
Stefan POLAND outlines a digital, database-driven, research approach enabling us to map the interdisciplinary dynamics in the nineteenth-century production of ‘racial knowledge.’