Racial Science and Nationalism in Eastern Europe, 1890-1930: Ukrainian and Jewish Cases

Racial Science and Nationalism in Eastern Europe, 1890-1930: Ukrainian and Jewish Cases

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Sofiya Grachova

Harvard University

July 22, 2014

Center for Urban History, Lviv

A hundred years ago, both scientists and the public widely believed that humans fell into multiple races, distinguished from each other by their origins, physical and (some argued) mental peculiarities. Anthropologists conducted measurements on living people and skeletons to establish which physical types were prevalent among particular population groups; ethnographers tried to correlate racial groups with language and customs; historians appropriated anthropological data to shed light on the pre-historic past of their nations. Eastern European Jewish and Ukrainian intellectuals, from the turn of the twentieth century until World War II, utilized racial science to construct national identities and cultural hierarchies which supported particular political claims. This talk discussed the works of the Jewish physical anthropologists Samuel Weissenberg (1867-1928) and Arkadii Elkind (1869-?), as well as their Ukrainian colleagues Fedir Vovk (1847-1918) and Ivan Rakovsky (1874-1947), to show how they produced and interpreted the knowledge about physical diversity among Ukrainians and Jews to promote competing nationalist ideologies.

Sofiya Grachova

is finishing her PhD in History at Harvard University. Besides her dissertation, "Pathologies of Civility: Jews, Health, Race, and Citizenship in the Russian Empire and the USSR (1830-1930)," she is interested in intellectual and cultural history, especially the history of medicine and ethnography, in Eastern Europe and beyond. Her research has been supported, among others, by the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.

The lecture was part of the Fifth Summer School of Jewish History and the Multiethnic Past of Central Europe.