Why White People are Called Caucasian (Illustrated)

Why White People are Called Caucasian (Illustrated)


– [Announcer] This program is presented by University of California Television. Like what you learned? Visit our website or follow
us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest UCTV programs. (upbeat electronic music) – I’m Waldo Martin, Professor
of History here at Cal and a member of the Jefferson
Memorial Lectures Committee. We’re pleased, along with
the Graduate Council, to present Professor Nell Irvin Painter this year’s speaker in the Jefferson Memorial Lecture Series. The Jefferson Memorial Lecture Series was established in 1944 through a bequest from Elizabeth Bonestell and her husband, Cutler L. Bonestell. A prominent San Francisco couple, the Bonestell’s cared deeply for history and had hoped that the lectures
would encourage students, faculty, scholars, and
those in the community to study the legacy of Thomas Jefferson and to explore values inherent
in American democracy. Past lecturers, Ambassador
Jean Kirkpatrick, Senator Alan Simpson, this is a text, Representative Thomas
Foley, Walter LaFeber, Archibald Cox, have delivered
Jefferson Memorial Lectures on early American history,
about Jefferson himself and on American institutions
and policies in politics, economics, education, and law. Personally, I am honored
and humbled to introduce Professor Painter,
Edwards Professor Emeritus of Princeton University. Professor Painter is one
of the most important and influential historians of our time. Her list of distinguished publications, academic and scholarly awards, and honorary degrees dazzles. As a scholar and public intellectual, Professor Painter has helped
transform how we think and write about 19th and
20th century US history. Her wide ranging and stimulating body of historical scholarship has ranged across African American
history, Southern history, working class history, women’s history, cultural history, social history, and for good measure,
intellectual history. Her scholarly range is stunning. Her scholarship itself is exemplary. Because of her powerful
work, we now see 19th century black immigrants, black
working class radicals and communists, the late
19th and early 20th century, sojourner truth, enslaved
women, and yes, white people in fresh and revealing ways. Those of us who make it
a point to read her work, including her strikingly
perceptive essays, articles, and reviews delight
in her historical sensibility, her erudition, her rigor, her insight, and her inviting prose. Those of us who know Nell personally marvel at the commitment to teaching and to the training of future
historians and scholars. Both of these have earmarked
her path-breaking career, a career that took her to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of
Pennsylvania, before Princeton. Many of her former graduate
students have gone on to illustrious scholarly
careers in their own rite. Nell’s mentorship is not only
exceptional, but legendary. A genuinely cool and deeply humane person, Nell has modeled intellectual generosity, graciousness, and rigor. At critical points in the careers of many historians, like myself, Nell has provided not
only verbal encouragement and sage advice, but she has also provided substantive and helpful
criticism, necessary criticism. For that, her mentorship
and the inspiring example of her work and her career,
we are all indebted. Nell Irvin Painter, as
they say where I come from, a proud and brilliant black
woman pointed the way. Today, having retired
from her Princeton gig, Nell Irvin Painter is reinventing herself, becoming an exciting visual artist, sporting a 2009 BFA from Rutgers and a 2011 MFA from the Rhode
Island School of Design. With her BA in anthropology from Berkeley, her MA in African History from UCLA, and her PhD in American
History from Harvard, she knows a thing or
two about credentials. Not bad, as my down
home friends would say, for a true home girl, a graduate from Oakland Tech’s
gifted and talented program. This afternoon, Professor
Painter will be speaking on and illustrating why white
people are called Caucasian. Nell. (audience applauding) – [Nell] Thank you. Thanks, Waldo. That was terrific.
– Thank you. – Thank you, sir.
(audience applauding) Well, thank you so much, Waldo. It is really lovely,
it’s wonderful to be back in the Bay area. I haven’t been here since last year. My father, who’s now
94, who spent his career in Lewis Hall was the Chief
Technician of Chemistry, last year came to New Jersey, so we haven’t been coming back
as often as we did before. I wanna thank the
Jefferson Lecture Committee for bringing me here from Newark and for giving me the
chance to talk to you and see old friends and some new friends. So, this afternoon, my
talk has three sections. One is an autobiographical
section, fairly short. I wanna tell you something
about my process. The second part is the
actual body of the lecture with the illustrations, which
I made especially for you. And then, the last section is very brief. It has just one image, which
the Georgian National Museum very kindly let me use without
making me pay for permission. So, the question of why are
white people called Caucasian lies at the foundation of my 2010 book, The History of White People. People ask me, why did
you write that book? I said, I wanted to understand why white people are called Caucasian. I started working during the Chechnya wars of the late 20th century and I thought, why are American white
people called Chechens. And so, the book came out of that. So, the book took many hundreds of pages. It’s a very visual book ’cause I wrote it while I was in art school, but it’s fundamentally a history book rooted in an archive of words. Its research came out of the
Princeton University Library and I actually dedicated the book to the Princeton University Library. In the book, Johann Friedrich
Blumenbach, 1752 to 1840, who plays a central role
in the question I’m asking also has nearly an entire chapter, but his role in my presentation
to you this evening, he is really somewhat smaller and that has to do with my process of putting together this talk. So, as Professor Martin told you, I spent five years in
Art School at Rutgers and at the Rhode Island School of Design and there I learned to see, to really, really see, and the
process of making an image, whether you make it with
your hand, which I do, or you make it with your
computer, which I also do, and the images that I’m going
to show you this afternoon are digital images that
I made in my computer, but whether you do it
one way or the other, manually or digitally, you
have to fill the space. That means seeing into all that space and that process profoundly
altered what I could see in what I had written, actually, and what I had already
studied to write a book. So for instance, the skulls
now occupy a much more important place than before
because I looked at them and I looked for them
with an artist’s eye, not simply looking for words. So, the artifacts that reached science, I now see as particular
artifacts belonging to particular people and
that reached to science through the hands of particular people. So, my image-centered approach
has the great advantage of embodying, not just
quoting or analyzing; scientific utterance,
embodying scientific utterance, because usually in historical writing, the people who entomb scientific truth, they remain relatively unknown. Usually you can’t see them, you can’t see what they’re wearing, you can’t see how they stand, you can’t see their jewelry, for instance, but in today’s lecture, written
and produced by an artist as well, an historian,
I hope to make you see as many people in this story as possible into real people in actual places and particular circumstances,
even those whose destiny was to appear as parts of a taxonomy, as type de ceci, type de cela as types of millions of people, really. They turn out to be particular individuals whose intimate experiences place them in the path of science. So, that’s my
autobiographical introduction telling you about my
process and how my process influenced what I’m
going to show you today. So, my topic, the question
why are white people called Caucasian is a
pretty simple question and it’s crossed a lot of people’s minds. It’s crossed more people’s minds
than have actually said it. How many of you have wondered about that? Put your hand up if you… Okay. How many of you have said it out loud, have actually said to somebody, why are white people called Caucasian? So, many fewer. So, this has come up
pretty often this year. Here’s a general question, why are white people called Caucasian? And here’s the question for 2013. Now, where exactly is the Caucasus or is it are the Caucasus? Look for the red Google
marker between the Black and the Caspian Seas,
that shows you the place we’re looking for or the
places we’re looking for and they’re right on the
border near Europe and Asia. Now, anthropologists have
known what Caucasians look like in terms of taxonomy, type de Caucasus or something like that, and these images come from William Z Ripley’s
Races of Europe, 1899, which was the bible of race thinking in the early 20th century, was the bible for the
federal government in the era of closing down immigration from southern and eastern Europe, so those people standing
behind my Brooklyn revelers, those people are or were Caucasians. Now, a word on naming. In both the popular literature
and the scientific literature the names of the people and
the places slide around, so we talk about Caucasian,
we talk about Circassian, we talk about Georgian, and those terms function almost interchangeably
outside of Russia, but in the historical period, that is before the 20th century, before the late 20th century, those people were synonyms
of the most beautiful people in the world; and if you ask Georgians,
that is from the Republic of Georgia, if you ask them now, is it true Georgians are
the most beautiful people in the world? What do they say? Yes.
(audience laughing) I haven’t met Circassians
and I haven’t met people from the Caucasus who
themselves Caucasians, so I don’t know their answer. Within Russian, however,
Caucasians are the subject of negative stereotype
and, as a young American living in Moscow explains
in this snippet of a video. – Well basically, what I wanna talk about is what is the deal with
the Caucasians in Moscow? And I’m not like a racist
person or anything, especially ’cause I’m black. Like, how am I gonna be racist in Russia about other people? But it’s not even that. I mean, like, all right, let me explain. There’s always a huge group of them and it’s like, they don’t
socialize with the Russians there. It’s hard to explain. Like, I have a great Caucasian friend. He lives in Russia. Sorry, I forgot what countries he’s from. He’s probably watching
this video right now, but yo, it’s early in the morning, I was drinking last night,
I’m sure George understands; but I have a great friend
named George, he’s Caucasian and he doesn’t even like the
average Caucasian in Russia. Now, from what I hear from people is that they’re dangerous,
they carry knives, they carry guns and all this stuff and maybe that is and maybe that isn’t, but I just wanna know that deal ’cause apparently, from
what I hear from a number of Russian people that
Caucasians are disliked more than blacks in Russia, like African black, and I’m like holy crap, you know. They’re hated more than us? I didn’t think that was possible. (audience laughing) – The view from Moscow. Now, in February 2014, the winter Olympics will begin in Sochi,
which is the black series or in the western Caucasus and you are going to be
hearing more about Sochi this afternoon and also in February. Meanwhile, back in the United States, scientific literature freely
employs the word Caucasian as a term taken for granted
to mean white people or non-black people or
non-people of color. So, it’s a word that’s still circulating and it still circulates
because it still circulates. It has a place in American jurisprudence. For instance, Judge
Anthony Kennedy’s opinion for the Supreme Court of the United States in Fisher versus University
of Texas at Austin in June of this year. Kennedy mentioned without
pausing that the petitioner, that is Abigail Noel
Fisher, who is Caucasian. Kennedy’s statement prompted
a New York Times reporter to ask, has Caucasian lost its meaning? And this article was on
the sixth of July, 2013. I’m actually quoted in it. The reporter, Shaila
Dewan, notes in her piece and this is her quote: in 1889, the editors of the
Oxford English Dictionary noted that the term Caucasian had been practically discarded. 1889. She continues: but they spoke too soon. Blumenbach’s authority had given the word a pseudo-scientific sheen
that preserved its appeal. Even now, the word gives
discussions of race a weird technocratic gravitas,
as when the police insist that you step out of your
vehicle instead of your car. There is a short answer to my question. Short, but opaque. In the late 18th century
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, an 18th century German
scholar assigned the name to people living in western Europe to the River Ob in
Russia to northern Africa and to India, called them Caucasians. So, large group of people. Blumenbach enjoyed a scholarly reputation that gave his designation enormous heft and it got picked up very quickly. Although the term Caucasian
now has many synonyms, including white, it
retains a certain currency by dent of repetition. So, the short answer
is that skull, you see. The fuller and longer
answer is complicated and it entails the history
of scholarly exchange, Russian Imperialism, and
notions of human beauty. So, the short answer first. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, the father of physical anthropology, the father of scientific anthropology, call the people in Europe over to India, well into Russia and
north Africa Caucasians because they were the most
beautiful in the world and here you have Blumenbach and the skull that inspired the designation and Blumenbach says, also
for the determination of the really most
beautiful form of skull, which in my beautiful typical head of a young Georgian
female always of itself attracts every eye,
however little observant. So, the author of De Generis
Humani Varietate Nativa, written in Latin, Blumenbach had 82 skulls and this made him an
expert in human taxonomy. He made a fivefold designation
taxonomy of human types, he called them varieties, and he arranged them from left to right. Now, this is now a
hierarchical arrangement. Some of you may know
Stephen J Gould’s book, The Mismeasure of Man. Do you know that book? Yeah. So, Gould shows a triangle
with the Caucasian skull at the top. That’s not the way Blumenbach laid it out. Blumenbach was a believer
in the unity of mankind. He was a black bibliophile in the sense that he collected books by black authors. He really believed in
the unity of mankind. So, he arranged the skulls
according to difference. So, at the two ends were the
Mongolian and the African and he thought of them as the extremes. In the middle is the beautiful one. It’s the gorgeous median
and that’s the Caucasian. And then, the ones beside the Caucasian are the American and the Malay because he thought those
were the intermediate races. In short, Blumenbach’s
most beautiful skull, the one in the middle, gave
this large group of people, which we can call white people
but includes many others, the name Caucasian. Now, a fuller answer. We need to look at Russian Imperialism and English Imperialism,
scholarly networks and slavery. Slavery, which gave rise to
the figure of the Odalisque, that is the beautiful, white slave girl as a figure of quintessential beauty. So, this is about beauty
not only of skulls, but also of slave girls, but whose skulls were
these and how did they get to Blumenbach in Germany? The skull that made white people Caucasian was a gift of Georg
von Asch, 1729 to 1807, a Russian of German
background who had studied at Blumenbach’s Gottingen University and Asch was considered
one of the great fathers of the Gottingen Library
and all their collections. So, one of the five skulls embodied Blumenbach’s human varieties… I’m sorry, of those five skulls, two of them came from Asch-. Asch also sent skulls and
books and all sorts of things. So, here we have Asch giving
the skull to Gottingen. Now, Asch gave lots of
skulls to Blumenbach. Of the 82, something like
20 or 25 came from Asch-. Who was this man? He had some nice clothes. That’s one thing we know. He was a medical doctor who served in Catherine the Great’s armies when Catherine the Great
launched Imperialism at the expense of the Ottoman
Empire and others, as well. She was a Russian of German background, as many of the aristocratic Russians were, and Asch- served her Imperial designs. In the 1780s and 1790s, Catherine was taking over the Caucasus. She began with Georgia as a
protectorate of Russia in 1783 and remember, the beautiful
skulls was from Georgia. The Russian conquest of
the Caucasus took a century and entailed ethnic cleansing and genocide and to this day, every
time Russian power falters, Caucasians make a break for independence. So, two of Blumenbach’s
five skulls from Asch-. Two of Blumenbach’s five
skull scame from a wealthy and influential, ultimately
knighted English naturalist named Joseph Banks, 1743-1820. Banks had taken part in
Captain Cooke’s first voyage to the south seas in the 1760s, early 70s, and actually, for California. You probably all think
that eucalyptus are native to California, right? – [audience] No. – Where do they come from? – Australia.
– And who brought them there? (multiple responses)
Banks. I mean, he didn’t bring them here, but Banks was one of those
people who saw things that would be useful in one place and said, why don’t you
take them somewhere else? So, we can thank Banks
for eucalyptus and acacia. He was a very wealthy young man and as a young man, he
corresponded with Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy,
and he actually employed one of Linnaeus’s students as
his personal little Linnaeus. So, he headed the Royal
Society for many years and he sent Blumenbach the
skulls that Blumenbach labeled American and Malay. The Malay one was from Tahiti and Banks sent his men in the bounty over to Tahiti to dig up breadfruit. He said breadfruit would
be a very useful thing to have in Saint Vincent in the Caribbean. Good thing to eat, cheap. So, he sent his men out
to dig up the breadfruit. They spent months and
months and months doing that and during that time, they made liaisons with local women and one of
the reasons for the mutiny on the bounty was having to leave Tahiti to go to Saint Vincent
with the breadfruit. So, Banks was also a connoisseur of skulls and he sent the American
skull and the Malay skull, so now we’ve accounted for
four of the five skulls. The fifth skull, which
was labeled Ethiopian, came from a professor at
the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and
I have not been able to identify him beyond the
name that Blumenbach gave and spelled it Steph-Jo-Van-Guntz. Can’t find him, but we know
that the skull is female and that he called it Ethiopian. Blumenbach did not provide the names of four of his five skulls. He called them typical skulls,
but he kept careful records, careful enough that the
individuals begin to emerge if we look more closely and
bring together the images and the words. So, the Mongolian skull is
the only skull with a name. It’s called Mongolian. Blumenbach calls it Mongolian, but we know that the owner
of it lived in Siberia. This is one of Asch’s skulls. The Ethiopian we know
was the common-law wife of a man who brought her
from west Africa from Africa to the Netherlands and,
considering the traffic, probably she was from Ghana,
what we now call Ghana, and we know that she died in
Amsterdam in her 28th year. The American lived in the
Caribbean island of Saint Vincent and this is the Saint Vincent where Banks had close friends, including
the head of the royal garden, so we know that the Carib
chief’s bones were dug up for Banks and then, sent to Blumenbach. And then, the skull labeled
Malay belonged to a Tahitian, most likely one of the
wives or girlfriends of the sailors whom Banks had sent to dig up breadfruit trees. The one in the middle, the Caucasian, a Georgian woman, very young
by the look of her teeth. Do any of you know what
used to happen to women when they became pregnant? What happened to their teeth? Lots of cavities and fewer teeth. So, before the age of
fluoride and good dentists, when women got pregnant, they
very often lost their teeth. This woman has all her teeth. This is a very young woman who’s fate was exceedingly unhappy. A young Georgian female, after
her venereal sudden death, send to the Theatrum
Anatomicum for legal obduction. That is to say, after she
died of venereal disease, a scientist boiled her down
and sent her skull to Asch and Asch sent it to
Gottingen to Blumenbach. The Georgian’s death through sex and Blumenbach’s linking
of Caucasians with beauty belongs to a longer tradition. I don’t know when the tradition started, I know it goes back to the
17th century in western Europe, I suspect it may be of
Ottoman or Iranian beginnings. Now, remember Blumenbach’s
hymn to the beauty of his Georgian skull? Really, the most beautiful form of skull in which my beautiful typical head of a young Georgian female. In this regard, Blumenbach
joined a tradition dating back to the 17th century that called Caucasians,
Circassians, or Georgians the most beautiful people in the world and this, at least in
that part of the world, is a tradition that lives on. (upbeat hip hop music) Nice looking people, huh? And young. (audience laughing) One of the earliest Europeans to attempt to categorize people by body
type was Francois Bernier, 1625 to 1688, a French
physician and traveler who became the personal
physician of the Mughal Emperor of India for 12 years. In the image that I’ve made
for you, Bernier sits down below there by the bush under his more illustrious compatriot, Jean Chardin. Bernier’s 1684 publication
Nouvelle Division de la Terre par les Différentes Espèces
ou Races Qui L’Habitent is considered the first
post-classical classification of humans into distinct races. In Nouvelle Division de
la Terre, he had referred to the beauty of
Circassian women as assumed by all the travelers. All the travelers. In a 1667 letter from Shiraz, Persia, Bernier describe the
burning of widows in India. At this point in his career,
he was evidently going around watching widows being
burned because he described several of the burnings:
older ones, younger ones, and so forth, and at one
burning he was together with Jean Chardin, who was another illustrious French traveler who
was also a jewelry merchant. It was Chardin’s description
of beautiful Georgians that Blumenbach quoted
in his book as proof that Circassian beauty or Georgian beauty was agreed upon by scientists. Chardin’s Journal du
Voyage du Chevalier Chardin en Perse et aux Indes
Orientales par la Mer Noire et par la Colchide, 1689, this book is the authority
that Blumenbach refers to when he speaks about Georgian beauty. For Chardin, the blood of
Georgia is the most beautiful in the Orient and I would
have to say in the world, for I have never noticed
an ugly face of either sex in this country and some
are downright angelic. Nature has endowed most
of the women with graces not to be seen in any other place. I have to say it is
impossible to look at them without falling in love with them and this is a quote from Chardin and Chardin is together
with contemporary Georgians, that is Georgians of our
time and also the most famous Georgian of the 20th
century, Joseph Stalin. Now, by the time Blumenbach
wrote in the late 18th century, Chardin’s view was commonplace and the world’s most illustrious
philosopher, Immanuel Kant, agrees with Chardin and with Blumenbach. In observations on the
feeling of the beautiful and the sublime of 1763, Kant says, Circassian and Georgian maidens have always been
considered extremely pretty by all Europeans who
travel through their lands and Kant goes on to repeat something that appears over and over and over again in this literature, that the Caucasians, the Georgians, the Circassians
sell their children, particularly their girls to the Turks and to the Arabs and
the Persians for reasons of what we would call eugenics, that is to beautify the race, and then Kant and all the
others slime the Turks by saying they really needs in. (gasps from the audience) Exactly. Now, much better known in
the English speaking world was a traveler and Cambridge professor named Edward Daniel Clarke, 1769 to 1822. Clarke wrote Travels in
Various Countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa, first published in 1810, but republished and revised
and republished and revised, republished in the United States, as well. So, Clarke was a much
better known authority in the United States
on this issue than Kant or Chardin or Bernier;
and for Clarke, again, as an eye witness, he also
testified that the women of the Caucasus are the
most beautiful in the world. He was a tutor in Jesus College
in Cambridge University, a member of the Academy
of Sciences in Berlin, and the Cambridge Philosophical Society, and many other learned
societies that formed an important scholarly network. So, in Clarke’s work, the
notion of Circassian beauty or of Georgian beauty
is taken for granted. Now, what is this lady? This is 1850s, a Circassian
beauty in the United States. This is Barnum’s American Museum and in the 1850s and 60s,
Barnum showed several women all with afros as Circassian beauties, the most beautiful women in the world and for American audiences,
examples of white purity. Now, why the headdress or why the hair? I mean, we know why the hair. She had hair like this
and she let it grow. (audience laughing) But, why was this
associated with Circassians? This is the headdress
of Circassian warriors, so the woman in New York,
her hair echos the headdress. Now, over and over
again in the authorities I’ve mentioned to you,
the idea of the beauty of Caucasians is linked with the idea of the slavery of Caucasians. So, before the Atlantic slave trade to the western hemisphere shaped our ideas about what slave trades are all about, there was a slave trade
from this part of the world, that is the Caucasus,
Ukraine, Crimea, and so forth, and that trade goes back
before the reaches of time. This is Herodotus. Herodotus writing in the fifth century BC, writing about the enumeration
of taxes and tributes paid to the Persian kingdom, collected from the lands it had controlled and the lands even far
away in the distance. He said that a voluntary
contribution was taken by the Colchians, that is the Georgians, and the neighboring tribes
between them and the Caucasus and it consisted of,
and still consists of, that is in the fifth century BC, every fourth year 100 boys and 100 girls. This was before Herodotus could even see the beginnings of it. I should add Herodotus
also mentioned the tribute from the southern most part of the edges of the Persian world
and that was for people called Ethiopians and what
they owed was gold and ivory. People were not mentioned. So, the Black Sea slave
trade was the slave trade in the western world
until the 15th century when the Ottomans captured Constantinople and cut the Black Sea
off from western Europe. At that point, 15th century,
the Atlantic slave trade becomes the western slave trade. So, let’s go back to Jean
Chardin for a moment. His famous words of
1689 actually described a familiar experience in
the Black Sea in the 1660s. This was Chardin, who
was in the cameo there. Chardin was actually on a
voyage to India to buy jewelry, but he couldn’t go his
usual way, the southern way, so he went through the
Caucasus, which he hated. He hated it. But in the Black Sea area,
he describes a situation where he was on a boat
with captives, with slaves, and he talks about one
particular woman who was 25 with a smooth, even, lily white complexion and admirably beautiful features. I have never before seen such
beautifully rounded breasts. That beautiful woman
inspired overall sensations of desire and compassion. Now, it turned out that on
that voyage and on that boat was a Greek trader and Greeks handled that long-standing Black Sea slave trade. So, Chardin tells us what people cost. He says in crowns. I have translated it into pounds, so you can get a sense of
what we’re talking about. Pretty girls aged 13 to 18
went for about 60 pounds, plainer girls for less, women went for about 36 pounds, children from nine to 12 pounds, men aged 25 to 40 for about 45 pounds, those older, only about
24 pounds to 30 pounds. The Greek merchant whose room was next to Chardin’s on the boat
bought that beautiful woman with the baby at her
breast for about 36 pounds. Daniel Edward Clarke, our Cambridge don, also located Circassian
beauty, or Caucasian beauty, in the enslaved. The Circassians frequently
sell their children to strangers, particularly to Persians and Turkish Seraglios. The most beautiful prisoners
of both sexes go there. He speaks of one particular
Circassian female who was 14, who was conscious
of her great beauty, who feared her parents would sell her according to the custom of the country. How much? The women selling generally
from 25 to 30 rubles a piece, somewhat less than the price of a horse. The beautiful young slave
girl became a figure and she had a name, Odalisque. She combines the powerful
notions of beauty, sex, and slavery. In American and European art, in the 19th century particularly, she looks like the white girl next door, but she is a slave, so you
can do with her as you will. Ingres, Jerome, Powers,
and Matisse specialized in Odalisque paintings. The figure of the
Odalisque faded from memory as the Black Sea slave trade
ended in the late 19th century and the Atlantic slave
trade overshadowed that from the Black Sea. Today, the word slavery
invariably leads to people of African descent. Americans seldom associate
the word Odalisque with slavery in the Americas
and, parenthetically, today many American painters
use Odalisque figures, Mickalene Thomas for
instance, has done a series of what she calls American Odalisque, but the phrase and the
figure of the Odalisque has lost its association with slavery and now, in American art
history and in contemporary American art, Odalisque simply refers to a beautiful woman, usually unclothed. Now, in North and South American history, the Odalisque-like figure
appears in the guise of the beautiful quadroon, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for instance, Eliza and her son, Harriet
Beecher Stowe’s work. The Caucasus and Russian Imperialism, although the Odalisque
association of Caucasian beauty and white slavery has
slipped out of memory, the Caucasus continues
as a region and revolt against Russian control. Caucasians have not forgotten
the ethnic cleansing they suffered in their 100
Years War against Russians, which cost at least half
a million Caucasian lives and you will see part of this
in part of the recent video, which mentions the slaughter of Caucasians in A Place Called Sochi. (speaking in a foreign language) Whenever Russian power
has seemed threatened, the Caucasian borderland has pulled away. After the second World War,
Joseph Stalin exiled millions of Circassians to Dagestan and Kazakhstan, places that came up in the story of the Boston Bombers last spring. As the Soviet Union broke apart, Chechnya struck out for independence and, more recently in 2008,
Georgia and Russia played a part in US policy discussions. In conclusion, Caucasian is only one term for people of European descent. The word used depends on the context and the route taken as its opposite, who’s speaking to whom, when,
where, and for what purpose? The use value of Caucasian
depends on its use, not on any basis in biological fact. The term Caucasian for white people grows from three main roots. One root lies in the
history of Imperialism, especially the Russian
campaigns of Catherine the Great and her army, and the German
trained medical doctor, Jorg von Asch, who sent so
many specimens to Blumenbach. British Imperialism also played its part in the person of Joseph Banks. One root lies in notions of beauty, Caucasians as the most
beautiful people in the world. And one root lies in
the idea and the ideal of enslaved women as especially beautiful, as in the Odalisque. Yes, the term Caucasian for
people of European descent is not only outmoded, it
is always been contingent. It didn’t work in pre-Holocaust Europe where divisions were drawn
between gentiles and Jews and Jews were racialized, even though they were of European descent. It didn’t work in
societies like the Balkans where religion divided people. So, you can use it if you want, but understand that it’s only
as scientific as its use. When researchers start using Caucasian to mean white Americans, the term will no longer be recognized. Now, a coda. On Thursday the 17th of October, 2013, the New York Times ran a front page story entitled Skull Fossil Suggests
Simpler Human Lineage, illustrated by skull five, another sensational Georgian skull. Dmanisi, Georgia, the
skull was one point eight million years old. This skull was found
along with four others, a group find unusual in archeology. Usually, skulls are found alone, leading anthropologists to
classify each different one as a different species. Each single skull usually
became the embodiment of a different group of humans, as was in the case with
Blumenbach’s five skulls. Each of his individual skulls,
the skulls of girlfriends or victims of sexual
assault became the figure for an entire classification of people. The group of skulls recently
found in Georgia, however, is leading to a reverse conclusion. Even though skull five and
each of the other skulls look different from one another, they’re all taken to
belong to the same group. The point of skull five’s
story is that ancient skulls, yes, differ from one another
not because they belong to different hominid species
as previously assumed, but because they belonged
to different individuals. Even people who had been dead
for more than a million years were individuals, not species. So, here we come full
circle from Blumenbach’s 18th century skulls, notably his beautiful female skull from Georgia, Blumenbach’s skulls had
belonged to individuals, but he classified them as racial types. In October 2013,
anthropologists finally realized that each individual is singular, that each skull’s owner
has its own life history. Thank you. (audience applauding) (upbeat electronic music)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *