Inclusion and Exclusion Perspectives on Humanity and Race in Modern European History of Ideas and Science

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Course Open to: 
Students on-site
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Course Description: 

Public perceptions of unity and diversity within humankind, of ethnic and racial difference, class and gender distinctions, develop in dialogue with theoretical inquiry into the same. In turn, such inquiry is deeply context dependent, and the notion of “humanity” it yields is not intrinsic, but a malleable cultural product shaped by processes of historical, social-anthropological, scientific and political self-reflection, and of encounter with “others” in modern Europe. This course intends to survey and problematize the major landmarks of this development through a study of primary texts and relevant secondary literature. It looks at scholarly, philosophical and political texts dedicated to the subject as well as visual representations, and at topics ranging from sixteenth-century confrontations with (and possessions of) the “exotic”, through the reflections of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century natural law, to evolutionist anthropology and the famous “human displays” or “ethnic shows” attached to nineteenth-century world or national exhibitions. It then explores how, in the context of evolutionary theories and degenerationist thinking, a number of modern scientific disciplines emerged with a preoccupation with observing, measuring, demonstrating, representing, cataloguing, and thus creating and reinforcing human differences and hierarchies. Craniometry, physical anthropology and ethnography contributed to the formation of gendered ethnic, national and imperial identities in order to further nation- or empire-building in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while psychiatry, sexology, psychoanalysis, criminal anthropology, and eugenics problematized, negotiated and interpreted forms of social deviance and concepts of “normalcy,” individual and public health, and deviance in the context of modern, urban and cosmopolitan social setting. Finally, we discuss questions of continuities and discontinuities in history by looking at events paving the way to Nazi discrimination, science and crimes and their postwar legacy, the birth of medical ethics, and recent advances in modern biomedicine and their impact on contemporary racial categories.

Learning Outcomes: 

Participants will develop their skills in the close reading and contextualized interpretation of chiefly written, but to some extent also visual primary sources, and their ability to discuss and debate important contributions to current scholarship. They will enhance their competence in approaching the topic in interdisciplinary terms. The course will deepen their understanding of ideas and practices of inclusion and exclusion on cultural, racial and other grounds over several centuries, and thus of comprehending and analyzing contemporary treatments of the subject matter in a historical perspective. Students are expected to develop a critical approach to apparently obvious/natural concepts (such as racial difference or heredity, for instance), and understand the extent to which seemingly pre-social biological entities / concepts are in fact socially framed, mediated, experienced and regulated. They will also improve their skills in presenting arguments orally in a coherent way, and in writing concise, analytical and argumentative academic texts.


-        “position paper” – 10% or 20% (depending on class size, each student may be requested to give two presentations)

-        consistent work in class (regular and relevant contributions to discussion) – 40% or 50% (cf. above)

-        essay – 40%