Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




In the mid-nineteenth century, a group of American scientists known collectively as the “American School” of ethnology challenged the validity of the biblical story of creation. They proposed that, contrary to the teaching of Genesis, there had been a number of separate divine acts of creation, leading to the appearance of more than one human species within the genus homo. They ranked the species, also known as varieties or races, in terms of relative superiority, with the Caucasian in the highest position of all.

I argue in my thesis that the rise of the American School was a defining moment in American history as well as in the history of American science. The debate on race and slavery dominated political as well as philosophical thought in the antebellum United States. Victorian society’s desire for conclusive scientific explanations for the weighty issues of contemporary life added meaning to the society’s first serious attempt to justify its actions based on scientific evidence and the first attempt by science to offer such support for social policy.


Born digital thesis, 146 p.



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