National Races


National Races

Transnational Power Struggles in the Sciences and Politics of Human Diversity, 1840–1945

Edited by Richard McMahon 

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

402 pages
6 figures, index


August 2019


$70.00 Add to Cart

June 2021


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eBook (PDF)
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August 2019


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eBook (EPUB)
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August 2019


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About the Book

National Races explores how politics interacted with transnational science in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This interaction produced powerful, racialized national identity discourses whose influence continues to resonate in today’s culture and politics. Ethnologists, anthropologists, and raciologists compared modern physical types with ancient skeletal finds to unearth the deep prehistoric past and true nature of nations. These scientists understood certain physical types to be what Richard McMahon calls “national races,” or the ageless biological essences of nations.

Contributors to this volume address a central tension in anthropological race classification. On one hand, classifiers were nationalists who explicitly or implicitly used race narratives to promote political agendas. Their accounts of prehistoric geopolitics treated “national races” as the proxies of nations in order to legitimize present-day geopolitical positions. On the other hand, the transnational community of race scholars resisted the centrifugal forces of nationalism. Their interdisciplinary project was a vital episode in the development of the social sciences, using biological race classification to explain the history, geography, relationships, and psychologies of nations.

National Races goes to the heart of tensions between nationalism and transnationalism, politics and science, by examining transnational science from the perspective of its peripheries. Contributors to the book supplement the traditional focus of historians on France, Britain, and Germany, with myriad case studies and examples of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century racial and national identities in countries such as Russia, Italy, Poland, Greece, and Yugoslavia, and among Jewish anthropologists.

Author Bio

Richard McMahon is a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom. He is the author of The Races of Europe: Construction of National Identities in the Social Sciences, 1839–1939.


"This major scholarly collection explores the history of physical anthropology from intentionally unusual angles that challenge intuitive assumptions. It also charts engagements and altercations with humanistic ethnological scholarship, including folklore, amid a host of revealingly varied nationalist aspirations."—Michael Herzfeld, Journal of Folklore Research

"A rich collection about the rise of physical anthropology, ethnology, and race science in the 19th century, National Races emphasizes the importance of placing these disciplines in a transnational, national, and imperial context. By highlighting forgotten mid-19th-century debates about mono- and polygenism, and employing case studies focused on Italy, Greece, Poland, Russia, Korea, and Yugoslavia to decenter the Western European core-focused narratives of these disciplines’ emergence, the volume recovers a rich set of liberal, transnational, and local ideas in their development, thus challenging teleological narratives of a straight road from turn-of-the-century craniometry and serology to the eugenic practices and exclusionary biological racism of interwar fascist regimes."—A. Vari, Choice

“In important ways, both implicitly and explicitly, Richard McMahon demonstrates that the fear of immigration and anti-immigration policies in Europe and the United States are tied to previous fears and anxiety about the construction of national races. McMahon provides an extensive overview and impeccable research to describe the transnational science of racial classification during a pivotal century in the modern era.”—Lee Baker, Mrs. Alexander Hehmeyer Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University

National Races is innovative and promising—and fills a significant gap in the international literature. It builds on studies of physical anthropology, nationalism (or national identity politics), imperialism, modernity, and warfare and attempts to bring these into connection. There is every reason to believe that the book will be a standard work in an interdisciplinary and transnational field of studies that has hardly been circumscribed and never been covered in any detail.”—Han F. Vermeulen, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale), Germany

Table of Contents

List of Figures    
Series Editors’ Introduction    
Introduction: Political Identities and Transnational Science    
Richard McMahon
1. Transnational Network, Transnational Narratives: Scientific Race Classifications and National Identities    
Richard McMahon
2. The Destiny of Races “Not Yet Called to Civilization”: Giustiniano Nicolucci’s Critique of American Polygenism and Defense of Liberal Racism    
Maria Sophia Quine
3. A Matter of Place, Space, and People: Cracow Anthropology, 1870–1920    
Maria Rhode
4. Yet Another Greek Tragedy? Physical Anthropology and the Construction of National Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century    
Ageliki Lefkaditou
5. Jews between Volk and Rasse    
Amos Morris-Reich
6. Classifying Hybridity in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Russian Imperial Anthropology    
Marina Mogilner
7. Physical Anthropology in Colonial Korea: Science and Colonial Order, 1916–40     
Arnaud Nanta
8. Racial Anthropology on the Eastern Front, 1912 to the Mid-1920s
Maciej Górny
9. Racial Politics as a Multiethnic Pavilion: Yugoslavs, Dinarics, and the Search for a Synthetic Identity in the 1920s and 1930s    
Rory Yeomans
Conclusion: From National Races to National Genomes    
Catherine Nash

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