Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

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Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

May 11, 1752-January 22, 1840

Born in Gotha, Germany in 1752, Blumenbach went on to Jena to study medicine. He completed his doctoral training at Gottingen in 1775. Just a year later, he was appointed as an extraordinary professor of medicine. His study of the history of man showing the value of using comparative anatomy and his classification of the five varieties of man were two important contributions made by Blumenbach (1911 Edition). He wasted no time in becoming one of the most influential members of the fields of comparative anatomy, zoology, physiology, anthropology, and craniology, in fact, Blumenbach is considered to be the founder of anthropology as well as craniology. In his construction of this new field of physical anthropology, he used the methods of natural historians, and applied those methods to the human species (Keith 106). Objectifying the study of mankind, Blumenbach collected numerous specimens from various races. Skulls, skin, hair and pictures were among the items collected. From each item, the location, as well as race of the item, was known and recorded. Prior to Blumenbach's systematized assortment of specimens, the only collections "consisted of miscellaneous oddities preserved in the 'cabinets' of noble houses, for the idle amusement of the curious." (Keith, 106). Blumenbach' s more complete collection allowed intensive study into the racial history of mankind, which is just what he wanted to do. Blumenbach was also the first to study the actual form of skulls (Retzius 283).

The book, On the Natural Variety of Mankind, was Blumenbach's main contribution to the field of anthropology and comparative anatomy. In this book he discusses the chief varieties of mankind, the causes of degeneration, the differences between man and other animals, the differences, and causes of differences, between varieties of man, and various other issues related to the existing varieties of the species of man. Blumenbach asserts that climate is an important contributing factor in racial differences. In fact, he states specifically, "climate is the principal cause of the racial face," (Blumenbach 229). Diet and customs were also important contributions, according to Blumenbach. He even went so far as to say that the Ethiopians’ flattened facial features were caused by the practice of mothers carrying their infants on their backs while working, and thus pressing the infants face into the mothers’ backs (Schiebinger 393).
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