Enlightenment Race Science in the Colonies: Edward Long and the History of Jamaica


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  • Speaker: Suman Seth, Cornell University
  • Host Department: Science, Technology, and Society Program (STS)
  • Date: 01/13/2014
  • Time: 4:00PM - 5:30PM

  • Location: 1014 Tisch Hall

  • Description:

    Edward Long, a West Indian planter and slave owner, published his History of Jamaica in 1774.  Long was a polygenist, believing that the different races of Man did not share a common origin. However, his polygenism looks strikingly different from that more familiar to historians of 19th-century race science. First, unlike later race scientists, Long balked at materialism. Second, Long presents us with a (rare) case of an 18th-century writer on race science located outside the European metropole, in a region that also contained a majority black population. As a direct result, I argue, one finds a fundamental ambivalence in his writings on race and natural history. Where metropolitan figures increasingly stressed racial fixity, Long’s text emphasized differences between newly-arrived and creole slaves, seeking to provide a solution to a most pressing problem of the sugar islands: slave insurrection.