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Dark Vanishing: Discourse of the Extinction of Primitive Races, 1800 - 1930.

Brantlinger, Patrick

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ISBN 10: 0801488761 / ISBN 13: 9780801488764
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2003. Physical Anthropology, Anthropological theory, Colonialism. Cornell University Press. 248p., very good - fine paperback. Bookseller Inventory # 502330476

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Title: Dark Vanishing: Discourse of the Extinction ...

Binding: Soft cover

About this title


Patrick Brantlinger here examines the commonly held nineteenth-century view that all "primitive" or "savage" races around the world were doomed sooner or later to extinction. Warlike propensities and presumed cannibalism were regarded as simultaneously noble and suicidal, accelerants of the downfall of other races after contact with white civilization. Brantlinger finds at the heart of this belief the stereotype of the self-exterminating savage, or the view that "savagery" is a sufficient explanation for the ultimate disappearance of "savages" from the grand theater of world history.

Humanitarians, according to Brantlinger, saw the problem in the same terms of inevitability (or doom) as did scientists such as Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley as well as propagandists for empire such as Charles Wentworth Dilke and James Anthony Froude. Brantlinger analyzes the Irish Famine in the context of ideas and theories about primitive races in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. He shows that by the end of the nineteenth century, especially through the influence of the eugenics movement, extinction discourse was ironically applied to "the great white race" in various apocalyptic formulations. With the rise of fascism and Nazism, and with the gradual renewal of aboriginal populations in some parts of the world, by the 1930s the stereotypic idea of "fatal impact" began to unravel, as did also various more general forms of race-based thinking and of social Darwinism.

From the Inside Flap:

"In Dark Vanishings, Patrick Brantlinger richly documents his thesis that the discourse of inevitable extermination played a key role, and almost always—certain appearances to the contrary notwithstanding—a pernicious one, in the unholy nineteenth-century nexus of racialism and imperialism that fostered aggression against many defenseless peoples. An important, passionate, and compelling work of scholarship."—Christopher Herbert, author of Victorian Relativity: Radical Thought and Scientific Discovery

"By tracing a single strand in the complex web of British and American writings about race, Patrick Brantlinger’s Dark Vanishings reveals a surprisingly consistent, widespread, and long-lived consensus that ‘savage’ races were fated to become extinct. Brantlinger reveals the persistence of this claim, often made in regretful and elegiac modes, across centuries, continents, and political persuasions. Dark Vanishings also challenges us to face the history of our desire to enlighten and restructure what we consider outmoded cultures."—Catherine Gallagher, University of California, Berkeley

"The strength of Dark Vanishings lies in Patrick Brantlinger’s ability to place wide-ranging and impressive scholarly readings in the frame of ideological critique. The topic of the ‘vanishing’ of dark races builds on the substantial body of texts dealing with British nineteenth-century imperialism and is therefore of immediate interest to scholars in such disciplines as Victorian studies and postcolonialism."—Deirdre David, Temple University

"Patrick Brantlinger shows brilliantly and comprehensively how extinction discourse underwrote genocidal practices, supported eugenics, promoted social Darwinism, and founded modern anthropology as a science of mourning. One of the most impressive aspects of his book is its ability to trace the uniformity of extinction discourse across a number of ideological and political contexts."—John Kucich, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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