Studies of Skin Color in the Early Royal Society

Boyle, Cavendish, Swift

Studies of Skin Color in the Early Royal Society LOOK INSIDE
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  • Cristina Malcolmson, Bates College, USA
  • Series: Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity
  • Arguing that the early Royal Society moved science toward racialization by giving skin color a new prominence as an object of experiment and observation, Cristina Malcolmson provides the first book-length examination of studies of skin color in the Society. She also brings new light to the relationship between early modern literature, science, and the establishment of scientific racism in the nineteenth century. Malcolmson demonstrates how unstable the idea of race remained in England at the end of the seventeenth century, and yet how extensively the intertwined institutions of government, colonialism, the slave trade, and science were collaborating to usher it into public view. Malcolmson places the genre of the voyage to the moon in the context of early modern discourses about human difference, and argues that Cavendish’s Blazing World and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels satirize the Society’s emphasis on skin color.
  • Contents: Introduction; Race and the experimental method in the Society; Discussions of race and the emergence of polygenesis in the Society; Boyle, Biblical monogenesis, and slavery; Race, gender, and the response to Boyle in Cavendish’s Blazing World; Race, gender, and the imagination in the Philosophical Transactions; Gulliver’s Travels and studies of skin color in the Society; Conclusion: The Royal Society and Atlantic studies; Appendix: Jonathan Swift's debt to Margaret Cavendish; Bibliography; Index.
  • About the Author: Cristina Malcolmson is Professor of English at Bates College, USA.
  • Reviews: PRIZE: Shortlisted for the British Society for Literature and Science Book Prize 2013

    '… offers an original, nuanced, and deeply compelling investigation into the pre-history of modern understandings of race. … Combining a meticulous attention to 17th century theories such as pre-Adamism and polygenesis with a careful regard to the institutional trappings of the new science, this study reveals how material practices, such as colonialism, gender politics and of course the brutalities of the slave trade, were bound up with the scientific practice of Boyle and others.'
    Patricia Cahill, Emory University, USA

    'Studies of Skin Color is an impressive addition to Ashgate’s excellent "Literary and Scientific Cultures of Early Modernity" series, demonstrating in depth for the first time the significant connections between seventeenth- and eighteenth-century science, commerce, colonialism, and slavery; and, perhaps more importantly, the unique capacity of literary works to interrogate such bonds.'
    Greg Lynall, University of Liverpool for The British Society for Literature and Science

    'I have already recommended this volume to colleagues working in the field of history of medicine and scientific biography, but would further commend it to historians of science, gender, race and early modernists more generally.'
    Jonathan Reinarz, Director of the History of Medicine Unit at the University of Birmingham, Centaurus: An International Journal of the History of Science and its Cultural Aspects

    'This is a refreshingly diverse array of sources and interests … a fascinating and critical look at Boyle and the Royal Society in the co-constitution of empiricism, colonialism, and race.'
    Sixteenth Century Journal

    'Malcolmson's book is noteworthy for its clear argument, its excellent use of literary sources, its creative gender analysis, and its status as a metropolitan history in light of Atlantic studies. … a variety of scholars will be interested in her work.'
    Seventeenth-Century News

    'The book is well printed … generous, expansive scholarship of this kind opens up a new way to look at Cavendish and other women writers of the seventeenth century.'
    Renaissance Quarterly

    '… excellent and meticulously researched monograph …'

    'Studies of Skin Color in the Early Royal Society is a remarkable accomplishment … for not only does it convincingly demonstrate that questions of human origins and racial variation dominated early natural philosophy, but it exhibits the extraordinary array of domains into which debates over monogenism and polygenism were promiscuously drawn.'
    Journal of Historical Geography
    'The value of this volume lies in Malcolmson’s thorough presentation of compelling evidence and insightful close readings that expose the Royal Society’s complicity in the spread of racialized discourse and racist thought. … Cristina Malcolmson provides the cold, hard, and often damning facts of science’s perversion by political and economic interests, complicating the relationship between monogenesis and polygenesis and detailing the multiple, conflicting, and constructed theories of racial difference.'
    Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies