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Historical Perspectives on the Human

“Go Proud Reasoner and Call the Worm Thy Sister”: Comparative Natural History and the Question of Human Species in the Eighteenth Century

One form that the naturalization of the human took in the late eighteenth century is what was called ‘the natural history of man.’ It comprised comparative anatomy; ‘physical geography,’ which attempts to identify the environmental factors that shape human behaviour; human variation, such as racial variation, and its significance; and the external marks of character, notably physiognomy, craniology, and phrenology. Crucial to these comparative exercises are the questions of whether there is any continuity between apes and humans, what the standing of seemingly half animal/half human feral children is, whether there is a continuity between human races or whether they have separate origins, whether physical differences between men and women extend beyond their reproductive organs, and more generally whether significant differences are due to environmental or intrinsic factors. The ‘natural history of man’ was essentially comparative, and this distinguished it from all earlier forms of natural history. So too was the fact that it did not consider human beings in terms of their essential qualities, but rather as the product of a series of differentiae.

Stephen Gaukroger is Emeritus Professor of History of Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Sydney. Professor Gaukroger’s recent research has focused on the emergence and consolidation of a scientific culture in the West in the modern era. This research has resulted in three volumes: The Emergence of a Scientific Culture: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1210–1685 (Oxford, 2006), The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680–1760 (Oxford, 2010), and the recently published The Natural and the Human: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1739–1841 (Oxford, 2016). A forth volume is currently in progress. His work has been translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Serbian.

4.00pm Thursday 14 April
Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower,
University of Queensland, St Lucia
For further information, please contact or 07 334 69492


Seminar Room, Level 4, Forgan Smith Tower