September 4, 2023 | Jerry Bergman

Racist University Brain Collection Exposed After Almost a Century

Another evil fruit of Darwinism
exposed at long last

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

One of the most influential early Darwinian racists of the last century was Aleš Hrdlička (1869-1943). As a curator of America’s leading museum of natural history for four decades, Hrdlička was a central figure in the international anthropology movement of the early twentieth century. Until recently, he had escaped a book-length treatment about his life.[1]

The most definitive study of Aleš Hrdlička and his support of Darwinism and Racism.

Trained as a medical doctor, Hrdlička in 1894 quit his private medical practice and was employed at the New York College for the insane, where he became interested in eugenics. His next position was as a field anthropologist studying the different races under the direction of Harvard University anthropologist Frederic Putnam.[2] He founded, and became the first curator of, the physical anthropology department of the U. S. National Museum, (now the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)), a position he held for the next 37 years.

Bones and Brains

Under Dr. Hrdlička’s leadership, the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History became the world’s largest scientific repository of human remains focusing on documenting evidence of human evolution.

Most of the different skeletal collections he and other researchers owned were housed in universities.[3] The University of California, Berkeley, anthropology museum holds the bones of 9,000 indigenous individuals, the University of Illinois 7,503, the University of Kentucky 4,504, and the U. S. Department of the Interior 2, 970.[4]

The Smithsonian Institution also collected hundreds of brains from indigenous peoples as part of their early-20th century effort to promote the study of Darwinism.

The main motivation for the brain collection was to document the racist belief that some people were lower on the evolutionary ladder than other people.[5] The late Harvard professor Steven Jay Gould coined the term “scientific racists,” for those who attempted to base their racism on science, especially on Darwinism.

Eugenics

In 1926 Dr. Hrdlička  became an advisory member of the American Eugenics Society.[6] He collected what today is called a “wet” collection,  i.e., soft tissue, especially human brains, in an effort  to document that some races were more highly evolved than others.[7]  Hrdlička eventually collected hundreds of brains from more than 80 countries. The most “inferior” race, according to Hrdlička, was the Blacks (or Negroid ‘race’).[8] And the basis of this conclusion was based firmly on Darwinism.[9]

Other scientific racists believed that the most primitive human races, lower even than African Blacks, were the Hottentots and Australian aborigines.[10] Charles Darwin agreed with this assessment and concluded that the “European view [was] that . . . so-called Hottentot women provided a ‘somewhat primitive, grotesque nature of black female sexuality.’”[11] Darwin used the term “Hottentots” in derogatory ways at least seven times in his writings.[12]

Belated Confessions

The  modern movement to expose the racism of the American past has resulted in locating numerous racist-eugenic examples. The Washington Post added that the movement has uncovered many “century-old, racially based injustices that have plagued communities in our backyard and around the world.”[13] Among the many egregious examples it has uncovered include Harvard University’s bone collection. This university alone has thousands of skeletons collected “from the most marginalized and powerless groups” back in its racist days.[14]

Summary

Committed Darwinist and racist Aleš Hrdlička served as Curator of Physical Anthropology at the prestigious Smithsonian Institution from 1904 to 1941. This fact illustrates how entrenched Darwinian racism was in American society in the early part of the last century. It also illustrates the harm that Darwinism has caused to American society. Unfortunately, some valid scientific discoveries were misused due to this entrenched racism. One example was the discovery of blood groups around 1900. This fact was used to galvanize not only myths about blood and race, but also provided a new line of anthropological support for eugenics in the 1920s and 1930s.[15] While people groups do share some similarities, genetics proves we are all one human race. This should have been obvious from the fact that all humans are interfertile (see 29 March 2021 commentary).

The entire chapter of scientific racism is now recognized as a profound embarrassment. It was only one of many examples of the tragedy of rejecting the Genesis teaching that all races are descended from the first couple, Adam and Eve. “Race” does not exist because all humans are of one race, the human race.

Darwinian racism continues at the Smithsonian to this day. Large exhibits portray dark-skinned hominins as less evolved. Photos by DFC, Oct 2021.

References

[1] Brandon, Mark. The Perils of Race-Thinking: A Portrait of Aleš Hrdlička. Central European University Press. 2023.

[2] Spencer, Frank. History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia. Garland Science, New York, NY, 1997, p. 503.

[3] Alex, Bridget. A skeleton’s story: The dark history of university bone collections. Discover 44(5): 32-41, September/October 2023.

[4] Alex, ref 3, 2023 p. 37.

[5] WashPostPR. New investigative series from The Washington Post reveals the Smithsonian’s “Racial Brain Collection;” https://www.washingtonpost.com/pr/2023/08/14/new-investigative-series-washington-post-reveals-smithsonians-racial-brain-collection/, 14 August 2023.

[6] Dungca, Nicole, et al. The Smithsonian’s ‘Bone Doctor’ scavenged thousands of body parts. The Washington Post; retrieved 16 August 2023.

[7] West, John G. Smithsonian’s racist brain collection exposed by Washington Post. Evolution News & Science Today; https://evolutionnews.org/2023/08/smithsonians-racist-brain-collection-exposed-by-washington-post/, 17 August 2023.

[8] Brandon, Mark. The Perils of Race-Thinking: A Portrait of Aleš Hrdlička. Central European University Press, Budapest, Hungary, p. 139.

The most definitive study of the misuse of blood groups to defend racism.

[9] Brandon, 2023, pp. 4,5, 8,  109, 191, 201-202, 220,

[10] Gould, Stephen Jay. The Mismeasure of Man. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY, pp. 118-119.

[11] Holmes, Rachel. The Hottentot Venus: The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman (Born 1789-Buried 2002). Bloomsbury Publishing, London, England, p. 14.

[12] Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. John Murray, London, England, 1871, Volume 1: pp. 216, 218, 220, 225; Volume 2: pp. 334, 343, 352.

[13] WashPostPR. New Investigative series from The Washington Post reveals the Smithsonian’s “Racial Brain Collection.” The Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/pr/2023/08/14/new-investigative-series-washington-post-reveals-smithsonians-racial-brain-collection/, 14 August 2023.

[14] Alex, 2023, p. 35.

[15] Boaz, Rachel. In Search of “Aryan Blood” Serology in Interwar and National Socialist Germany. Central European University Press, Budapest, Hungary, 2012.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,800 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 60 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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