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Samuel George Morton (1799-1851) was an American physician and natural scientist. Morton, reared a Quaker but became Episcopalian in midlife, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1820. After earning an advanced degree from Edinburgh University in Scotland, he began practice at Philadelphia in 1824. From 1839 to 1843, he was the professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania. His scholarship would sire the scientific racialism that fed the defense of slavery in the United States.

Morton was a productive writer of books on various subjects from 1823 to 1851. He wrote Geological Observations in 1828, and both Synopsis of the Organic Remains of the Cretaceous Group of the United States and Illustrations of Pulmonary Consumption in 1834. His first medical essay, on the user of cornine in intermittent fever, in 1825 was published in the Philadelphia Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences.[1] His bibliography includes Hybridity in Animals and Plants (1847), Additional Observation on Hybridity (1851), and An Illustrated System of Human Anatomy (1849).

Contents

"American School" ethnography

Samuel George Morton is often thought of as the originator of "American School" ethnography, a school of thought in antebellum American science that claimed the difference between humans was one of species rather than variety and is generally seen as the origin of scientific racism[2]. Morton's followers, particularly Josiah C. Nott and George Gliddon in their monumental tribute to Morton's work, Types of Mankind (1854), carried Morton's ideas further and claimed that his findings in fact supported the notion of polygenism. Morton himself had been reluctant to explicitly espouse polygenism because it was a major challenge to the biblical creation myth. Morton claimed that he could judge the intellectual capacity of a race by the skull size. A large skull meant a large brain and high intellectual capacity, and a small skull indicated a small brain and decreased intellectual capacity. Morton collected hundreds of human skulls from all over the world. By studying these skulls he decided at what point Caucasians stopped being Caucasians, and at what point Negroes began. Morton had many skulls from ancient Egypt, and concluded that the ancient Egyptians were not African, but were White. His two major monographs were the Crania Americana (1839), An Inquiry into the Distinctive Characteristics of the Aboriginal Race of America and Crania Aegyptiaca (1844).

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Classification of "races" in Crania Americana

In Crania Americana Morton divides humankind primarily into four races with the following characteristics:

Europeans

"The Caucasian Race is characterized by a naturally fair skin, susceptible of every tint; hair fine, long and curling, and of various colors. The skull is large and oval, and its anterior portion full and elevated. The face is small in proportion to the head, of an oval form, with well-proportioned features. . . . This race is distinguished for the facility with which it attains the highest intellectual endowments. . . . The spontaneous fertility of [the Caucasus] has rendered it the hive of many nations, which extending their migrations in every direction, have peopled the finest portions of the earth, and given birth to its fairest inhabitants. . . ."

Asians

"This great division of the human species is characterized by a sallow or olive colored skin, which appears to be drawn tight over the bones of the face; long black straight hair, and thin beard. The nose is broad, and short; the eyes are small, black, and obliquely placed, and the eyebrows are arched and linear; the lips are turned, the cheek bones broad and flat. . . . In their intellectual character the Mongolians are ingenious, imitative, and highly susceptible of cultivation [i.e. learning]....So versatile are their feelings and actions, that they have been compared to the monkey race, whose attention is perpetually changing from one object to another...."

Native Americans

"The American Race is marked by a brown complexion; long, black, lank hair; and deficient beard. The eyes are black and deep set, the brow low, the cheekbones high, the nose large and aquiline, the mouth large, and the lips tumid [swollen] and compressed. . . . In their mental character the Americans are averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war, and wholly destitute of maritime adventure. They are crafty, sensual, ungrateful, obstinate and unfeeling, and much of their affection for their children may be traced to purely selfish motives. They devour the most disgusting [foods] uncooked and uncleaned, and seem to have no idea beyond providing for the present moment. . . . Their mental faculties, from infancy to old age, present a continued childhood. . . . [Indians] are not only averse to the restraints of education, but for the most part are incapable of a continued process of reasoning on abstract subjects. . . ."

Africans

"Characterized by a black complexion, and black, woolly hair; the eyes are large and prominent, the nose broad and flat, the lips thick, and the mouth wide; the head is long and narrow, the forehead low, the cheekbones prominent, the jaws protruding, and the chin small. In disposition the Negro is joyous, flexible, and indolent; while the many nations which compose this race present a singular diversity of intellectual character, of which the far extreme is the lowest grade of humanity. . . . The moral and intellectual character of the Africans is widely different in different nations. . . . The Negroes are proverbially fond of their amusements, in which they engage with great exuberance of spirit; and a day of toil is with them no bar to a night of revelry. Like most other barbarous nations their institutions are not infrequently characterized by superstition and cruelty. They appear to be fond of warlike enterprises, and are not deficient in personal courage; but, once overcome, they yield to their destiny, and accommodate themselves with amazing facility to every change of circumstance. The Negroes have little invention, but strong powers of imitation, so that they readily acquire mechanic arts. They have a great talent for music, and all their external senses are remarkably acute."

Works

  • Crania Americana; or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America: To which is Prefixed An Essay on the Varieties of the Human Species. Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839.
  • Crania Aegyptiaca; or, Observations on Egyptian ethnography, derived from anatomy, history, and the monuments. Philadelphia: J. Penington, 1844.

See also

External links

Samuel George Morton

Historical construction of race

Brain size and intelligence

Eugenics

Notes

  1. ^ Wood, George Bacon (1859). "A memoir of the Dr. Samuel George Moron". Introductory lectures and addresses on medical subjects : delivered chiefly before the medical classes of the University of Pennsylvania / by George B. Wood.. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott. p. 443. OCLC 4402287. "His first medical essay was on the user of cornine in intermittent fever, and was published in the Philadelphia Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences (xi. 195, A.D. 1825)."  
  2. ^ cf. Fredrickson, 1972: 74ff.

References

Morton and nineteenth-century science

  • Dain, Bruce R. A Hideous Monster of the Mind: American Race Theory in the Early Republic. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-674-00946-0
  • Fredrickson, George M. The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on African-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1972.
  • Gould, Stephen Jay. The Mismeasure of Man. Rev. and expand ed. New York: Norton, 1996. ISBN 0-393-03972-2

Morton and Eugenics

  • Elazar Barkan, The retreat of scientific racism: Changing concepts of race in Britain and the United States between the world wars (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
  • Robert Proctor, Racial hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988).

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