Out of Asia: A Global History of the Scientific Search for the Origins of Humankind, 1800-1965
From approximately 1800 until 1950, most evolutionists—as well as anatomists, philologists, and other men of science—agreed that the human race began in Asia (with the notable exception of Charles Darwin, who preferred Africa). Since the 1950s, however, essentially all paleoanthropologists have agreed that Homo sapiens evolved on the African continent. In my dissertation, I trace the intellectual and cultural genealogies of the ‘out of Asia’ and ‘out of Africa’ hypotheses of the geographic origins of humanity, framing both as sites for making knowledge claims about race, identity, human equality, and the history of humankind. In explaining this transition, I track the problem of human origins through diverse contexts, including nineteenth-century theories of race and language, early twentieth-century expeditions for the “missing link” in Java and Mongolia, interwar geological surveys in Kenya and Tanzania, and UNESCO’s postwar quest to define a deracialized, unified, and peaceful humanity.
The history of paleoanthropology has been strongly influenced by studies of material culture, and the methodological turn towards studying the creation of fossils as scientific objects—a methodological choice that renders invisible the theoretical frameworks that underpinned the acquisition and interpretation of the fossils. By elucidating the theoretical frameworks that guided where expeditions went, how research funds were distributed, and how fragmentary evidence was interpreted in a variety of ways, I offer a radically new interpretation of the history of paleoanthropology in the past two centuries.
A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.
All are welcome and encouraged to attend.