Invention of Race
Artifice Embodied: Perfecting Renaissance Nature and the Invention of Race examines the history of how inheritance came to be understood through race during the foundation of biology. A neologism coined at a moment when humanity appeared capable of perfecting nature, “race” first referred to animal stock honed through breeding.
To those who invented it, race was not inflexible but the fragile result of reproductive work. This research traces early modern breeders’ self-conscious struggle to produce and maintain race and natural philosophers’ preoccupation with its artifice.
Race is a historically contingent marker of difference, but it is by no means coextensive with alterity. Physiognomy provided one dangerous, knotted strand of modern race’s history. An ancient theory elaborated by self-proclaimed magus Giovanni Battista Della Porta in the sixteenth century, physiognomists argued that the mind and body were not separate, but deeply intertwined.
In the words of ancient and Renaissance physiognomists, “experts on animals are always able to judge of character by bodily form: it is thus that a horseman chooses his horse or a sportsman his dogs.” Animal bodies provided tools for delineating – and often inventing – human difference.