Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

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Johann Friedrich Blumenbach.

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (11 May 1752 – 22 January 1840) was a German physician, naturalist, physiologist and anthropologist, one of the first to study of mankind as an aspect of natural history and to research race , and whose studies on morphology led him to identify five races.


Blumenbach studied medicine at Jena, and then at Göttingen. His M.D. thesis De generis humani varietate nativa ("On the Natural Variety of Mankind" ), which was first published in 1775, is considered an influential work in race and craniometry research. He was appointed extraordinary professor of medicine in 1776 and ordinary professor in 1778. He was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London in 1793, a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1794, a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1813, and a Member of the Academy of Sciences at Paris in 1831. Blumenbach's peers considered him one of the great theorists of his day, and he was a mentor or influence on many of the next generation of German biologists

Blumenbach's races

Blumenbach's five races.

On the basis of his craniometric research (analysis of human skulls), Blumenbach divided the human species into five races:

Blumenbach argued that physical characteristics like skin color, cranial profile, etc., were correlated with group character and aptitude. He interpreted craniometry and phrenology to make physical appearance correspond with racial categories.

Like other early monogenists, before modern understanding of genetics, his explanation for the causes of racial differences was environmental differences, even believing that morphological differences between races would slowly disappear if the environments changed. He has been described as rejecting certain politically sensitive mental differences between races, citing certain accomplished non-White individuals, but the existence of such individuals does not mean that group averages are equal.

Blumenbach's work included his description of sixty human crania (skulls) published originally as Collectionis suae craniorum diversarum gentium illustratae decades (1790–1828). This was a founding work of craniometry. More generally, his morphological research was used by other researchers.

See also


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