Until the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, the prevailing theory on 'the species question' was that humans were made up of five separate species, created at different times and in different places. This view – known as the 'polygenic theory' – was particularly favoured by naturalists of the early nineteenth-century 'American School' as it provided a scientific justification for slavery. Darwin's Origin demolished this view.
Organisms and Personal Identity fills a gap in recent studies on the history of race and science. Focusing on both the classification systems of human variety and the development of science as the arbiter of truth, Brown looks at the rise of the emerging sciences of life and society – biology and sociology – as well as the debate surrounding slavery and abolition.
Introduction: Ecce Homo or Slavery and Human Varietry
1 Classification and the Species Question
2 Polygenesis and the Types of Mankind
3 Darwin in Context: Science Against Slavery
Conclusion: The Authority of the Sciences of Life
"Brown has tackled a complex subject with tools that could lead to valuable new insights."
– British Journal for the History of Science