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
3 illustrations, 3 maps, index


August 2019


$70.00 Pre-order

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.


“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 Illustrations
National Races: Political Identities and Transnational Science, 1840s-1940s
Richard McMahon
Chapter 1
Transnational Network, Transnational Narratives: Scientific Race Classification and National Identity
Richard McMahon
Chapter 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
Chapter 3
A Matter of Place, Space and People: Cracow Anthropology 1870-1920
Maria Rhode
Chapter 4
Yet Another Greek Tragedy? Physical Anthropology and the Construction of National Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century
Ageliki Lefkaditou
Chapter 5
Jews between Volk and Rasse
Amos Morris-Reich
Chapter 6
Classifying Hybridity in Nineteenth-To Early Twentieth-Century Russian Imperial Anthropology
Marina Mogilner
Chapter 7
Physical Anthropology in Colonial Korea: Science and Colonial Order (1916-40)
Arnaud Nanta
Chapter 8
Racial Anthropology on the Eastern Front 1912 to mid-1920s
Maciej Górny
Chapter 9
Racial Politics as a Multiethnic Pavilion: Yugoslavs, Dinarics and the Search for a Synthetic Identity in the 1920s and 1930s
Rory Yeomans
From National Races to National Genomes: Categories of Identity, Diversity and Differentiation
Catherine Nash

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