Video: Smashing Agassiz’s Boulder


In the late nineteenth century, Charles Darwin proposed that all humans share a common ancestor and that evolution likely began in Africa. He expected controversy over his revolutionary idea, even suggesting that Harvard professor Louis Agassiz might “throw a boulder” at him. Today, 157 years after On the Origin of Species was published, evolutionary biology has “smashed” Agassiz’s boulder and confirmed that modern humans can all trace their ancestry to Africa. Joseph Graves discussed accepted scientific facts on human ancestry and consider why these facts are difficult to communicate in our society.


Race, Representation, and Museums Series Lecture

Joseph L. Graves, Jr.

Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Biological Sciences, Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, North Carolina A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Presented 9/27/16 in collaboration with the Departments of Anthropology and Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University and the Project on Race & Gender in Science & Medicine at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, and Harvard Museum of Natural History


Smashing Agassiz’s Boulder

[00:00:05.17] My name is Jeffrey Quilter. I'm Director of the Peabody Museum. And it's my delight to welcome you to tonight for the first in our Peabody Lecture Series of the fall term, and of the 2016/2017 academic year.

[00:00:20.35] I'd like to began by saying that tonight's program is co-sponsored by the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, the Departments of Anthropology and Human Evolutionary Biology, and the Project on Race and Gender in Science and Medicine at the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. It's also brought to you by the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. We're particularly delighted to have with us Joseph Graves, Jr., Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Biological Sciences at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering at North Carolina A&T State University, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to give the first lecture in our Race, Representation, and Museums Lecture Series.

[00:01:07.93] I think you were all greeted with an opportunity to take one of these. If you saw the poster size on the front, the back actually has a program in the lecture series. I invite you to take one with you, so you'll know the upcoming talks. It is now my pleasure to introduce Dean Claudine Gay, Dean of Social Science for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Professor of Government of African and African-American Studies, who will say a few words about this lecture series, Race, Representation, and Museums. Thank you very much.

[00:01:41.13] Thank you for that introduction, Jeff. And thank you especially for the opportunity to welcome everyone to tonight's lecture, and the opening of the Peabody 150th anniversary celebration. Peabody Museum was founded by George Peabody, who was born in Peabody, Mass, but he made his fortune in London as a banker.

[00:02:03.68] And late in his life, he donated a considerable amount of his vast fortune to found, among many institutions, the Peabody Trust in Great Britain, the Peabody Institute and Peabody Library in Baltimore, and on October 8th, 1866, he committed $150,000 to a trust whose purpose was to establish the Peabody Professor Curator position to purchase artifacts, and to construct a building-- which is the handsome red brick building just down the street, where you'll go for the reception-- to house his collection. And it is the 150th anniversary of the Peabody Trust that we will be celebrating next week, and commemorating through a year-long lecture series.

[00:02:55.15] So Race, Representation, and Museums is a fitting theme for the anniversary celebration. From its beginning, the work of the Peabody-- and really, the work of the discipline of anthropology-- has shaped and been shaped by discourses on race and difference. So the Peabody was the first anthropological museum founded in the US. And while several major museums before the Peabody collected and housed ethnological materials, only the Peabody was created specifically for this purpose.

[00:03:30.51] And in its ambition to educate the American public about the scientific knowledge of the day, the Peabody has been both a creature of its time, as well as an instrument for change. And that duality is evident on questions of race and representation. So for example, in its early decades, which happened to coincide with the conquest of American Indians, it built a collection from Native American artifacts looted or taken as spoils from the battlefield, and then curated and exhibited in ways that affirmed the prevailing racist theories of cultural evolution, and served not merely to reflect, but to advance ideologies of difference in which Native Americans, Africans, were argued to be biologically and intellectually inferior to whites.

[00:04:26.18] Years later, the Peabody eventually emerged as a tool for challenging the same racist narratives, as powerful voices such as Franz Boaz issued damning critiques of cultural evolution, scientific racism, and the ethnological representations on display in museums like the Peabody. And the legacy of that critique is visible when you walk through the Peabody's galleries today. And since the passage of NAGPRA in the early 1990s, the Peabody has worked closely with recognized Native American tribes to return objects, including human remains and cultural items, to their countries of origin.

[00:05:07.01] So this very thumbnail, quick gallop through 150 years of history is obviously oversimplified in the extreme. And it's not meant to imply that criticisms of how the museum represents other cultures have all been put to rest. To the contrary, this whole lecture series is really an invitation to all of us to continue to interrogate the fraught history of museums, including the dubious moral provenance of their collections, how they respond to and reflect that history, and what their future holds both within the university context-- so here at Harvard-- as well as in the general public sphere.

[00:05:47.68] And this is the kind of difficult dialogue that, I think, befits a great museum. So I'm really pleased to see all of you here today to participate in that. Without further delay, I will turn the mike over to Dan Lieberman, who is the Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences and Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. And Dan has the privilege of introducing tonight's speaker, Joseph Graves.

[00:06:16.55] [APPLAUSE]

[00:06:23.47] Thanks, and it was the best 150 year history collapsed into five minutes I've ever heard. So I'm really extremely honored to introduce Professor Graves today as our speaker on this really vitally important topic. When we began discussing how to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Peabody, we had a meeting of the different chairs-- I see Gary Urton here-- of the relevant departments and units that live in the Peabody Museum, including the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Anthropology.

[00:06:57.07] And before I introduce Joe, I just want to say a little bit about how important I think this topic is, not only to my colleagues, but also to our students, because it's abundantly obvious-- you only have to have turned on the television last night-- that our society still has a really serious problem with the topic of race. And there are many, many reasons behind that. And I think one of them is-- and just one of them-- is that there are really profound concerns misconceptions about what race actually is.

[00:07:33.49] And sadly, as Claudia mentioned, the Peabody Museum, like many older institutions, has played a kind of ignominious role at times in this history. And today, that problem persists, because too many people don't understand what race is. And too many people don't understand that it's actually, when applied to humans, a scientifically indefensible concept, and that it really has no biological basis when applied to humans.

[00:08:03.15] That's a fact that everybody should know. But people who don't take our classes or come to the museum don't know that. And the result is, well, we see it around us all the time.

[00:08:17.52] So when we talked about starting the series, the very first person I thought of to begin this was Joe Graves, and you'll see why in a second. I should mention that Professor Graves has a really distinguished scientific career. He did his undergraduate degree at Oberlin College. Then he spent a little bit of time here at the University of Lowell, at the Center for Tropical Disease, where he tells me he actually came often to the museum here, and remembers working in the library underneath the portrait of Agassiz, who was staring down at him. We went today to pay homage to that painting.

[00:08:55.54] And then he did his PhD at Michigan and Wayne State. And after that he's taught at a number of institutions. He taught at UC Irvine. He taught at ASU in Arizona. And he moved to-- you can see now, he's a Professor of Biological Science and Associate Dean of Research at North Carolina A and T University and UNC Greensboro. He's also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

[00:09:28.26] Joe's background as a biologist is in Drosophila genetics. And he's published a lot of studies on the genetics of that classic model organism, working especially on the genetics of aging, and other interesting phenotypic characteristics. But he's also published-- and the reason we thought of him as a perfect anchor for this series-- is that he's published a lot of really splendid, thoughtful, scholarly papers about the biology and the history of race in science.

[00:10:02.37] And he's published two really important books. He has a book called The Race Myth, a popular book, but also a 2001 book called The Emperor's New Clothes, Biological Theories of Race in the New Millennium. And if you're interested in this topic, I can't recommend a better book. It's exquisitely written, and I think the best history of the subject of scientific racism ever written. I can't recommend it too highly.

[00:10:28.14] So we have, really, the perfect person to start off the series. And it's really a great pleasure to welcome Professor Joseph Graves. Thanks.

[00:10:36.29] [APPLAUSE]

[00:10:44.02] Wow. I actually don't even know where to begin. Let me first thank the hosts of this lecture series, which I think is extremely important and timely. The fact that Harvard University has invested so much of its resources in putting together this lecture series, I think, is a very good sign that the university is interested in doing serious work on this topic.

[00:11:15.62] Now having said all that, the title of my talk is "Smashing Agassiz's Boulder." Now, when I came up with this title, a number of people contacted me about what exactly did I mean by "Smashing Agassiz's Boulder?" So since my hosts have done a really eloquent introduction to who I am, I'm not going to spend any time on those slides, and I'm going to move forward to the substance of my talk.

[00:11:48.95] Now, right around the time after I left the Boston area-- that's me in the picture there-- next to the Science For The People. For those of you that don't remember Science For The People, it's a group of scientists that were interested in the impact that science had in society that came out of an earlier group called Scientists Against the Vietnam War. But one of the things that I could not help but become involved in, precisely because of who I was, was this question of how the research that I was engaged in and how the scientific enterprise impacted society.

[00:12:31.27] It was a thing that, like Agassiz's boulder rolling down the hill, I just simply couldn't get away from. And so here you see me at a demonstration in 1983 in Washington against the US intervention in El Salvador. And most of those people, by the way, that you see are all scientists who hold pretty prestigious positions now around the country, who will not be named because, obviously, they might not want you to know who they are. And you certainly wouldn't recognize any of us now. So I'm certainly not going to give away their names.

[00:13:06.41] But anyway, I start off my thinking on this subject with Thomas Kuhn's fundamental work on science and revolutions. And having been a person who actually participated in a recent scientific revolution, I have a very good sense of how these things actually operate. Now Kuhn's greatest insight was the idea that these revolutions are not only driven by the contest of the validity of the ideas involved, but also our contest between the scientists who believe those ideas.

[00:13:43.42] Now, I'm going to talk about exactly what I mean by that as we go forward in this discussion. But one of the things I think Kuhn did not spend a significant amount of time on was how scientific revolutions were influenced by the social relations of the scientists themselves, in particular relevance to the social significance of the paradigm in question. And that's what I hope I will develop in tonight's discussion.

[00:14:13.97] So I want to take you back to the middle of the 19th century, which is something I like to try to do with my students when I'm talking about how biological ideas get established, how they get tested, how they get validated. It's trying to put yourselves in the minds of the people of the time period in question with regard to a given issue. So for the 19th century, middle 19th century, the species question was by far, for the biological sciences, the most profound and vexing question.

[00:14:48.70] And that was where we start with this idea of how this becomes part and parcel of the entire discussion over the meaning and significance of race in that same society. So a little background here-- Charles Darwin was actually not the first person to advance an evolutionary theory of species. But what Darwin gives us-- and a discussion that focuses on the differences between Darwin and Lamarck actually focuses on the mechanism, natural selection.

[00:15:28.52] But one of the more profound differences between Darwin and Lamarck is the notion of common descent. So for Charles Darwin, natural selection was the means by which new species became adapted to their environment, and then later could become different from their ancestors and from closely related species. And so for him, the term he used was "descent with modification."

[00:15:52.28] Now, the earlier evolutionists, particularly Lamarck and his students, viewed evolution as being caused by process where lineages stayed unique. And so they thought that all species had an innate characteristic that forced them to improve. And now for Lamarck, that, as we know, was the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

[00:16:20.58] But the idea was that, through time, this innate capacity to improve would lead each of these lineages to go through a series of progressions of species, which you would see then in the fossil record. So for the Lamarckian view of evolution, the number of lineages stayed fixed. But for Darwin with descent with modification, the number of lineages could expand. They could contract, et cetera.

[00:16:46.47] Well, and again, I just said all that. But one of things I would like to point out also is that the Lamarckians also saw human races in the context of their general model of this innate improvement, but that these lineages were separate. And so for the Lamarckians, all of the groups that they would have described as races were not related to each other, and they had progressed at different rates. And so you could, again, arrive at the notion of European supremacy by the fact that Europeans had progressed faster than the other non-European races.

[00:17:27.93] So in 1856, Sir Charles Lyell, who was, at that point, the leading person in British science, was agonizing over the implication of his protege's-- Charles Darwin's-- species theory. He clearly understood the implications of common descent. Go back umpteen generations, and will blacks and whites find a common ancestor, itself the descendant of an ape?

[00:18:00.97] The idea would give shock to nearly all men. No university would sanction it. It would ensure the expulsion of a professor already installed.

[00:18:12.44] Now, if one understood 19th century English society, the question, of course, is raised, which of the things would be most shocking-- the idea that in the distant past humans and apes shared common ancestry, or in the not too distant past that Africans and Europeans shared a common ancestry? I think it's the latter that was more shocking.

[00:18:40.51] Now, the race concept and its social implications were an explosive point in the 1850's. For example, the Scottish physician Robert Knox achieved new notoriety by prophesying the coming race wars. And of course, one would ask the question, where had Robert Knox been? Because since the European transplantation of Africans from the African continent, it would seem to me that there was a race war going on, although one in which Europeans were rather safe, and Africans were the victims. But that's just me.

[00:19:16.66] Now, during this time period, Louis Agassiz's would change his view concerning species in human races, viewing them as separate creationists in his zones of creation theory. Now, Agassiz's original theory of human races saw them as all members of the same species. But he changes his views in the 1850's, and later on in this discussion, I'm going to give some clues as to why scholars think that Agassiz changed his views about humans. So in 1856, as Darwin prepared the publication of The Origin, he felt that "Agassiz will throw a boulder at me, and many others will pelt me." And hence the title of our conversation tonight.

[00:20:07.04] Now crossing the Atlantic, we have the Crisis of 1850. In the United States, the question of slavery and the humanity of the Negro were inseparable. The slavocracy was being maintained only by the means of violence and terror against the enslaved and their allies. And again, this is where people who are students of American history, I think, really underestimate exactly how much terror it took to maintain the slave society throughout the United States. And they understate the role which the non-slave states played in maintaining the slavocracy's ability to terrorize, and abuse, and exploit African labor.

[00:20:53.98] Now, despite this terror, enslaved resistance continued. There were work slowdowns. There was sabotage.

[00:21:01.49] There was arson. There was mass flight. There was rebellion. Domestic slaves often poisoned their masters armed revolt included Denmark Vesey's, Nat Turner's, and John Brown's raid in 1859.

[00:21:18.69] Yet the political power of the slaveholders was unchecked. The Compromise of 1850 which was negotiated by Tennessee-- I think it was Tennessee-- Senator Henry Clay, who allowed California to come into the Union as a "free state", New Mexico and Utah would be organized under the principle of popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty, of course, meant that the European-American residents of that territory would decide whether they would be a free or a slave state.

[00:21:50.92] This was included in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which set up a vigorous machinery of marshals, commissioners, deputies in the North to bring runaway slaves back to the South. On July 4th, 1852, Frederick Douglass's famous oration was in response to the Fugitive Slave Act. "What to the American slave is your 4th of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."

[00:22:28.54] The same political power was instrumental in determining the fate of Dred Scott. So as illustration of this, the 12th through 15th Presidents of the United States had pro-slavery sympathies. In fact, 13 of the first 16 us present were from slave-holding states.

[00:22:50.61] Now, as you probably all know, Dred Scott had been a slave in Missouri before 1834. His master took him to Illinois, which was considered free soil for four years, where he married, and had children. In 1838, he was returned to Missouri, and was again made a slave.

[00:23:08.66] In 1842, he sues for his freedom on the grounds he had been in the residence of the free soil of Illinois and Wisconsin. Scott won in the lower court. The Supreme Court of Missouri ruled against him in 1852. He lost the US Circuit Court, and appealed to the US Supreme Court.

[00:23:29.35] Of the nine justices on the Supreme Court, five were from the South. The majority decision was written by Chief Justice Roger B Taney. The main components of that decision were, Scott was not a citizen.

[00:23:44.95] Negroes were inferior to whites. Negroes were not differentiated from any other property-- cattle, chairs, et cetera. They could be reduced to slavery for their own benefit. They had no rights such as a white man was bound to respect.

[00:24:03.38] Now Dred Scott won the case. But again, for those of you who are students of American history, he only lived one more year after that decision, where he died of tuberculosis in 1858. Now, how does Louis Agassiz play into all these events that I just described, and why should Darwin have been afraid of Agassiz's boulder?

[00:24:28.69] Well, the simple fact was that he was a giant of European and American science community. Now as a biologist all of my career, I actually didn't realize how much Agassiz's work influenced the way that I learned and was trained in biology. And like someone who was avoiding reading about something that was going to be extremely painful and distasteful, I avoided reading Agassiz's biography for a very, very long time. In fact, it was when I was asked to give this talk that I finally decided, I think if I'm going to go up to Harvard and talk about this man, I better read his biography. And I was absolutely not amazed about how much of Agassiz's life had influenced my own, particularly in terms of the way that I've been trained and learned biology.

[00:25:24.67] So Agassiz was a giant of the cataloging phase of biological science, which was absolutely necessary to begin to develop real theories of how biology worked. And he, as many of you know, was really good at that, and he was also really good at helping the public understand how important it was to do this kind of work. And of course, the monument to his career was that Museum of Comparative Zoology whose portraits hung there when I was a graduate student trying to figure out what the heck I was going to do, and where I was going to go.

[00:25:59.43] So just some points that some of you may not know-- he was born in Switzerland. He earned his Doctorate in Philosophy in 1829, which was the term for people who were natural scientists. A year later, he earned his Doctorate in Medicine and Surgery in 1830.

[00:26:18.97] Now by the way, that was also quite common for natural scientists in that time period, which again amazes me. Because I can't imagine when I went through my PhD work in natural science that I would have then, a year later, gotten a degree from medical school. I just don't imagine how he could have done that, and how people in that time did it, but they did. In 1831, he went to Paris to start with Baron Georges Cuvier.

[00:26:45.36] So I thought that Darwin should be afraid-- very afraid-- of what Agassiz might do to his theory. Agassiz had also met Alexander von Humboldt in Paris. In 1837, Agassiz became a leading proponent of the Ice Age Theory. And his theory was that at the end of each geological period, sudden temperature decreases are accompanied by the demise of all existing life.

[00:27:12.56] This was called the Theory of Catastrophism, which could explain the pattern of fossils in the geological record, without it being the case of descent with modification. Because if there was a catastrophe at the end of each geological period, and that catastrophe wiped out all of the previously existing species, then the new geological period would be repopulated with species that were the direct intervention of the Creator. And so this was Agassiz's view of natural science-- that there was a direct intervention of a supernatural god who had created order.

[00:27:51.09] And that order would be found later in his theory of the zoological provinces, which included the zoological provinces of humans. Now in 1840, he presented his ice age ideas to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He published his monumental work, "Studies of Glaciers--" and that's English for the French there-- a few months later.

[00:28:17.65] Now, because he was so brilliant and so personable, he developed extremely influential patrons. So in 1845, Humboldt gets money for him from the King of Prussia, and Charles Lyell managed an invitation that contributes to making possible his visit to America. Now he's received, then, an invitation to give a series of lectures at the Lowell in Boston.

[00:28:51.52] He arrives in October of 1846. And his colleagues have organized a full itinerary for him. So he's going to visit New Haven, New York, Albany, Princeton, Philadelphia, and Washington.

[00:29:03.00] Now, in the winter of 1846 to '47, he gave his public lectures on the plan of creation, especially the animal kingdom. In 1848, he publishes Principles of Zoology, in which he outlines his zones of creation theory. Now, this slide sort of contrasts Agassiz and Darwin. I know it's not a complete and total comparison, but I think these are relevant.

[00:29:32.66] So in terms of their geological views, Agassiz was a catastrophist. Darwin was a uniformitarian. In terms of anthropocentrism, Agassiz saw humans as the center of creation, whereas Darwin thought that humans were one of many species.

[00:29:50.62] With regard to species, Agassiz believes there are distinct periods and zones for each species. Darwin's view was descent with modification. Agassiz's political values are conservative. Darwin's are progressive. Now, let me be really clear about this-- that I am talking about the context of the middle 19th century in terms of progressive-- relative to the people of his time.

[00:30:20.90] Now, Agassiz's travels before coming to North America were mainly-- in fact, entirely-- Europe, whereas Darwin had the opportunity to see the world and the variety of people in the world much more closely on the voyage of HMS Beagle. Personalitywise, Agassiz was gregarious, and he was the prototype of what the public intellectual should be, whereas Darwin was rather introverted. Darwin was entirely capable of scheming with regard to his scientific work, but he didn't really do his scheming to a public audience.

[00:30:57.30] Now, with regard to the human races, Agassiz comes to believe that they are, in fact, separate creations, and therefore, separate species. Darwin maintained from the beginning that there was one human species. In terms of racial hierarchy, Agassiz sees Europeans as supreme. Darwin writes about human races, again, as having similar emotions and similar intellects. Now again, the asterisk tells us that he wasn't entirely above the Eurocentrism of his time period, but he certainly understood that human beings were far more alike than they were different.

[00:31:37.79] Slavery-- both of them had abolitionist's views. They differ in large ways, because Agassiz's abolitionism was of the Jeffersonian/Lincoln variety, which was they saw abolition as a means to better the European-American population. They didn't do it, or didn't express it, for the purposes of the fact that it was simply immoral to keep other people as slaves, and their view was the best solution with abolition was the removal of the African-descended population from North America. Whereas Darwin's view of abolition was honed in a family that were members of, and in fact, the founders of the British Anti-slavery Society. So we have a very, very different approach to what abolition meant to these two men.

[00:32:34.74] And also, to set the scene for the science of the 19th century with regard to race, here's a table from my book, The Emperor's New Clothes, that summarizes the main naturalist's examination of particularly the Negro relative to the European. And while there are several people who say, as such as Blumenbach, von Liebniz, and Bernier, who say there's no real objective means to rank the human races in any way. There are also those who clearly come out-- like Georges Buffon, Petrus Camper-- that Africans are inferior to Europeans. But what they all agree on, while they're not so clear about the influence of environment versus heritable traits, they all agree that there is one species of human in the 18th century.

[00:33:35.71] Now, here's an example of Petrus Camper's work showing skull angles between the orang, who's amazingly drawn to look like a human who's almost African, and a European with the 90-degree angle, and the sloped angle of the African. Now, why anybody would think that a 90-degree angle is a measurement of perfection, I don't know. Of course, Petrus Camper thought that. Now, one of the things that's clear, however, in this figure, is that there is no implied descent relationship between the orang and the humans.

[00:34:18.26] Now we move forward to the 19th century. Again, we see some major changes in how naturalists view the Negro relative to the European. And we see for one, there are many more naturalists claiming the African is inferior to the European. The general consensus is that these traits are heritable, the result of parent offspring-- that is, offspring resemble their parents.

[00:34:50.85] Now remember, these folks didn't have a well-developed theory of genetics yet. So I can't say that this was genetically determined, because they didn't understand what that was. They say that there's really no environmental component to this, and they are uniform in their belief that the human races are, in fact, separate species.

[00:35:13.85] Now there are some notable exceptions that I'm going to talk about in a few seconds-- Bachman, Smith, Prichard, and Lawrence. So the recounting of Louis Agassiz's guttural repulsion to persons of African descent has been well described, most famously in Stephen Jay Gould's Mismeasure of Man. And I'm sure most of you and they are many be in the audience have read his account of this.

[00:35:44.64] Now, I'm going to do a quick aside. Stephen Jay Gould had an important influence on my career. I first met him when I was a graduate student at the Marine Biological Laboratory, and I had the opportunity to go out to lunch with Dr. Gould after his talk.

[00:36:02.24] And of course, those of you that might remember him know that he was an amazing intellect. And to us graduate students, we were just mortified at how smart this man was. And so for many of us, our careers going forward were influenced by his writings. I have every one of his books in the Essays of Natural History, and I'm read them all from cover to cover. And that book, The Mismeasure of Man, was what really got me interested in this whole question of how biology has influenced our understanding of human race questions.

[00:36:38.62] Now going back to this talk, Agassiz's role as an ideologue of the crisis over race and slavery in the United States is generally not well known. So people know that Agassiz found black people repulsive. But they don't know that that then spurred him to develop a public intellectual career around the inferiority of the African, and what should be done with the African.

[00:37:04.49] So I strongly recommend his modern biographer, Christoph Irmscher's book on Agassiz. And he argues in that that his decision to become immersed in the race controversy in the United States was a calculated move on his part that had two goals. One, because of the revulsion that we talked about. But also, he understood that this was the best way to facilitate take his development as America's leading person in science, because of the importance of the race issue as a central theme in American society in the 1850s. So it would sort of be like me today deciding, OK, I'm going to get involved in the CRISPR/Cas-9 controversy over the editing of human embryos, such that I can become the leading person in American science.

[00:38:06.91] So he's making that kind of calculated decision. He also had the opportunity while he was in Philadelphia to visit the skull collection of Dr. Samuel Morton.

[00:38:20.65] Again, Morton's career and attitudes are well-described in Gould's book, but many of you may not know that Dr. Samuel Morton was considered America's greatest man of science at this time. And so for Agassiz, in association with the person who was the present greatest man of science, certainly would have been beneficial to his overall plan.

[00:38:46.27] In 1847, he's invited to visit the medical school in Charleston, South Carolina. And there he discuss race with members of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Charleston. Now both John Bachman and Thomas Smyth were unconvinced by Agassiz's polygenism.

[00:39:08.15] John Bachman was a Lutheran minister. He was also a quite skilled naturalist. He had collaborated with Audubon on his Birds of America and on the second version, he'd pretty much written that entire volume. He was also a slaveholder, and therefore considered himself an expert on race, particularly the Negro.

[00:39:30.73] Now one of Agassiz's claims to buttress his notion of the separateness of the human races as species was the infertility of human hybrids. In other words, Agassiz predicted that the so-called mulattos that were created by the unions of European males, in the main, with African females were less physiologically capable, and more genetically sick compared to either pure race, the European or the African. And so for Agassiz's theory, these individuals would essentially die out.

[00:40:14.30] So Bachman's retort to Agassiz, being a slaveowner person who knew quite well how well the so-called mulattos were doing in South Carolina relative to other slaves of pure African descent, was that this was just nonsense. There was absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea that so-called hybrids were inferior to pure Africans.

[00:40:42.35] Now around the same time, we're also seeing a split in the theological debate over slavery and race. Agassiz was a creationist. But he was not a fundamentalist or biblical literalist.

[00:41:01.72] And so he argued that Genesis only tells us about Adam and Eve as the progenitors of the Caucasian race. And he points to, of course, the well-known story of Cain and Abel. Cain slays Abel and is driven out of the Garden of Eden.

[00:41:24.02] So he has to go somewhere. But when he goes there, in the land of Nod, there are people. "And Cain knew his wife." Well, where did she come from? So Agassiz and others began to argue and resurrect an idea that actually goes back to Giordano Bruno-- the notion of the pre-Adamite races-- that God had actually created separate zones of human beings, and that Adam and Eve were just the progenitors of the Caucasian race.

[00:41:58.40] So I think I just said all that, so we're just going to move on. But one of the things that became clear right away was that Agassiz's public stances on race were already getting noticed across the pond. So Darwin writes, "Agassiz's lectures in the US, in which he has been maintaining the doctrine of several species, much, I dare say, to the comfort of the slaveholding Southerns."

[00:42:34.49] After the meeting in 1850, Agassiz toured some South Carolina plantations at the invitation of Dr. Robert W. Gibbs. Agassiz was soon convinced, given his naturalist training, that he could identify the tribal and ethnic origin of the slaves he observed. So he could look at an African and say oh, that person's an Ibo. That person's a Fula. That person's a Gullah. That person is a Guinea, and so forth.

[00:43:03.60] After the departure from South Carolina, Gibbs arranged for daguerreotypes, which were the first photographs, to be made of the enslaved people that Agassiz observed. These portraits were arranged to display to individuals as typical zoological specimens. So I'm actually showing one of the more decent portions of the portrait.

[00:43:29.31] But the individuals were displayed like you would display a cow, or a horse, or a pig. Interestingly enough, these daguerreotypes were first rediscovered here at the Peabody Museum in 1975. So in The Emperor's New Clothes, I dub these individuals "The Four Horsemen of American Polygeny"-- Samuel G. Morton, the physician and empiricist, Josiah Nott and George R Gliddon, the main propagandists of polygenism, and Louis Agassiz, who was their chief theorist. Now as we know-- or as you've probably heard-- Nott and Gliddon, as chief propagandists, produced two books-- Types of Mankind, published in 1854 and Indigenous Races of the Earth in 1857. Nott was acclaimed throughout the South for his lectures on Niggerology, and that's the term they used.

[00:44:36.42] One of the things I have always noticed about Types of Mankind, for those of you who haven't seen this work, again, he actually did a really good job of portraying the individuals that they were naming as type representatives of people from around these zoological zones. At the center of this middle piece is, of course, Georges Cuvier. Cuvier is the only person in this diagram who has a name. Everybody else is a specimen.

[00:45:10.80] But putting all that aside, if you were to look at that centerpiece what you actually see is the continuity of the human species. It's actually quite clear to a person looking at it, from an evolutionary lens, that you can see the continuous change of the physical characters that are represented in this work. Of course, if you think that these are special, separate creations, then you don't see that relationship. So I do recommend-- and I'm sure you have it in your library-- that you go back and take a look at Types of Mankind, and take a look at it with the modern view of how people are.

[00:45:55.51] So for some reason, Frederick Douglass didn't show up, and I don't know why. So anyway, it's probably not well known that Frederick Douglass actually argued against The Four Horsemen. So in his essay, "The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered," he points out the fundamental pillar of polygenism and slavery was the idea that the Negro was not part of the human family. For example, the law in slave states did not distinguish between Negroes and other domestic property. Slaves were considered chattel by law by the mid 18th century, and also reified with the Dred Scott decision.

[00:46:37.23] Douglass also took on Morton's claim in his Crania Aegyptica. For Morton, none of the accomplishments of ancient Egypt could be attributed to Negroes. Douglass advanced the idea that Egypt was a multiracial society, lacking the skin color prejudice that existed in his day in Europe and America. He pointed out the fundamental error of the exaggeration of the differences between the Negro and the European. If, for instance, a phrenologist or a naturalist undertakes to represent in portraits the differences between the two races, the Negro and the European, he will invariably present the highest form of the latter, and the lowest type of Negro.

[00:47:26.27] So Darwin dodges the boulder. On November 12th, 1859, Darwin sent off complimentary copies of The Origin, to Harvard both Asa Gray and to Louis Agassiz. He had decided not to address human evolution in The Origin of Species. Surprisingly, there was no immediate clerical uproar over the book.

[00:47:48.98] And as you all know, the book sold out in 24 hours. There had to be another printing within the first week. But not surprisingly, it would be Thomas Henry Huxley, also known as "Darwin's bulldog," who would begin the fight over the relationship between humans and apes in an essay he publishes in Natural History Review in 1861.

[00:48:10.52] This is a plate from John P Jeffries' A Natural History of the Human Races, which was published in 1869. And now, some naturalists are beginning to see an evolutionary transition from the African to the European. And so again, using the Camper skull angles, we go from the primitive African to the more advanced, 90-degree skull angle European.

[00:48:38.05] By 1871, Darwin was ready. And he's ready for one major reason. And that is, since the publication of The Origin of Species, he has now become one of the leading figures in British science. He's quite secure in his position.

[00:48:54.48] He's not afraid that Agassiz or anyone can topple him. And so he's now ready to present his views. And his views are shocking to the 19th century Europeans.

[00:49:07.73] First off, Darwin doubts whether human races were real. He described the racial multiplication problem, in which naturalists of this time period identified between two to 63 races. And he explains why this is true.

[00:49:23.82] It's true because they can't agree upon what characteristics are actually taxonomically important. And so depending upon who you are-- if you think dark skin, light skin, two races. Or if you think it's skull, if you think it's body proportions, et cetera, et cetera, you can come up with different taxonomic schemes.

[00:49:41.16] And therefore, since you can't agree on what's important, you get between two and 63 races. Interestingly enough, when structure analyses first came out in 2002, depending upon how you counted structure clusters, you came up with 2 to 63. Amazing coincidence there, but that's another talk for another day.

[00:50:04.18] So now Darwin calls human races "protean" or "polymorphic." He points out that most of the physical differences noticed by naturalists could not have any significance. If so, they would have been removed by natural selection.

[00:50:20.94] Darwin invoked sexual selection to explain some of the racial features of human beings. "It seems at first sight a monstrous supposition that the jet blackness of the Negro has been gained through sexual selection. But this view is supported by various analogies. And we know that Negroes admire their blackness." I've always admired mine.

[00:50:48.44] So to understand, really, how we smashed Agassiz's boulder, we really need to know about the things that Darwin and Agassiz never knew. At the time, neither scientist had a workable theory of heredity. This actually begins with the discovery of Gregor Mendel's work, or rediscovery, around the turn of the 20th century.

[00:51:09.27] The neo-Darwinian synthesis begins and unites natural selection theory with population genetics over the early 20th century. And we start finding fossil finds of what are clearly human ancestors in Africa. So to summarize stuff that Darwin never knew is this chart.

[00:51:32.31] We have population genetics beginning at this turn of the 20th century. The neo-Darwinian synthesis comes to its head in 1936 to 1947, and particularly two quite important theoretical developments-- Julian Huxley's description of clines in natural selection, and Sewell Wright's development of F statistics, in which you can look at the genetic variation within and between groups in 1951.

[00:52:00.90] 1942, we see the publication of Ashley Montagu's classic, Race, Mankind's Most Dangerous Myth. 1944, we understand that DNA is the material of heredity. '67, we see the earliest Homo sapiens fossils, again found in Africa. 1972, protein electrophoretic studies of human genetic variation-- Lewontin, Nei, and Roychoudhury.

[00:52:29.40] And I've pointed out numerous times that when these studies first came out, most of the criticism was directed at Richard Lewontin, even though Roychoudhury and Nei found the exact same results that he did. And again, a lot of it had to do with the resistance to Lewontin's political ideas, not to the actual science that he did. From 1970 to now, we have DNA genetic markers that study human genetic variation.

[00:52:56.71] In '82, we developed coalescence theory. That allowed the publication of Rebecca Khan's mitochondrial DNA and mitochondrial Eve study in 1987. Most importantly to us, 1988 to 1900's first African-American PhDs in Evolutionary Biology. And two of them are in this room-- Doctor Scott Edwards.

[00:53:20.73] So we joke that when we go to conferences, we can't be on the same elevator. So with Paul Turner, we always take separate elevators. You go first. Because if the elevator crashes, there we go. Now in a serious vein, we actually are going to be doing a conference in early 2017 to begin the scholarly study of this first generation of African-American evolutionary biologists, which is long overdue.

[00:53:49.89] So some other developments that are really important for us to be able to actively understand human genetic variation is the development of easy DNA sequencing, which Illumina does in 2006. And the amount of information we know now in genomics has gone up exponentially over the last 10 years. And that's in virtually every field of biological science.

[00:54:20.37] So quickly, for those of you who wonder how we can so quickly dismiss biological races in the human species, one of the reasons why we can do that is because we can't demonstrate a means to classify humans unambiguously into groups using either physical characters or genetic characters. And so this study shows using 24 different anthropological traits-- a tree of relatedness for different human groups. So as I quickly point out, none of you would be surprised that French and Swedish people look like each other more than they do people who are described as Eskimos.

[00:55:07.95] But you should have some pause that Eskimos look more like Swedish and French people than they do North American Indians, or that North American Indians look more like French and Swedish people than they look like South American Indians in this diagram. And I can go on. So clearly, what happens when we try to use physical traits to classify people into human groups, it fails. It doesn't reconstruct the known genetic relationships between these groups.

[00:55:38.72] The reason that happens is because natural selection acts on different combinations of physical traits differently. And so let me give you an example of that. Here is changes in the frequency of an allele at the vitamin D binding locus that is directly related. I think I can walk away, right? I still have the mike. It's directly related to latitude.

[00:56:06.06] So one version of the allele is at high frequency near the Equator. And as you move away from the Equator, the frequency of that allele drops, and another allele's frequency goes up. That's found on chromosome 12.

[00:56:24.38] Here we have a gene which gives resistance to the Schistosome parasite. This is associated with the presence or absence of water, which is not in any way related to latitude. And so variation for the vitamin D binding locus on chromosome 12, and variation for the Schistosome resistance gene on chromosome 5 are not going to be associated with each other.

[00:56:52.55] Other examples-- human skin color variation-- there's more variation in skin color on the African continent, which goes across more amounts of latitude. Again, this is a Mercator projection. So Asia and Europe really aren't that big.

[00:57:12.13] Africa is actually much longer than these. But you see far more skin color variation in the continent of Africa than you see anywhere else in the world. You also see groups that are not African who have skin color just as dark as Africans.

[00:57:29.62] Skin color is not associated with height. Height is determined by factors generated by Allen's rule. Organisms from northern climates tend to have larger bodies with shorter extremities, while those from warmer climates tend to have small bodies with longer extremities.

[00:57:48.33] Well, here's Kenyan Watusi. And here's a person described as an Eskimo. You can tell, these people are different.

[00:57:55.80] But here are Mbuti pygmies from central Africa. Here's a European investigator who is much taller. So skin color and height don't correlate with each other. And so this is true for a whole variety of physical traits.

[00:58:12.81] And so now, in the 21st century, we understand that humanity-- our modern species-- separated from these archaic humans quite some time ago, before 200,000 years ago. And most of our time as a species was spent in sub-Saharan Africa. And so recent estimates are that humans didn't leave Saharan Africa until about 70,000 years ago.

[00:58:45.48] And so if our species is around 200,000 years old, then that means that 130,000 of those years were spent in sub-Saharan Africa. And so this migration out of Africa is relatively recent. And during that time, when humans arrived in Europe, they met some hominids that they still could mate with.

[00:59:05.67] And so we got some genes from the Denisovans, and we got some genes from the Neanderthals, who both went extinct. But sub-Saharan Africans also got genes from archaic humans. And so we're sort of the same group, because we're a young species.

[00:59:23.06] We haven't been around very long. We don't have a lot of genetic variation. And we, again, have a whole series of fossil remains that show the first Homo sapiens sapiens in Africa, and no nowhere else.

[00:59:41.56] So there are four lines of evidence, then, for African origin. Oldest Homo sapiens sapiens fossils are found in eastern Africa. Coalescent analysis of mitochondrial DNA generated from all living females root to Eastern Africa. Coalescent analysis of Y chromosome sequences of all living males root to Eastern Africa. Coalescent analysis of nuclear genes root to Eastern Africa.

[01:00:10.93] I'm going to end with this point. Well, given what I just said, does our species have biological races? We have some idea of how we came to believe that.

[01:00:21.26] So I showed this slide to my classes, and ask the students to tell me where this individual is from. And they'll usually say, oh, yeah, I know that guy. I saw him on the bus the other day.

[01:00:34.79] But this person is a native Solomon Islander. He's not an African at all. And phenotypically, you can't distinguish him from a sub-Saharan African. But this is that individual who's actually from a place that's the farthest in genetic distance from sub-Saharan Africans, and again, showing the fallacy that physical traits allow us to define people.

[01:00:58.00] And so the issue that still haunts us is the conflation between socially constructed or defined race and biological conceptions of race, which seem to be, again, the Agassiz curse messing up my slide. But the point that I have always made is that socially defined race arbitrarily utilizes aspects of morphology, geography, culture, language, religion, but always does so in the service of a social dominance hierarchy. In other words, socially defined race has no reason to exist other than to prop up existing social relations.

[01:01:37.94] And this was developed in European Western society in the 15th century moving forward. This is different from biological conceptions of race. And this should be up here, which can be generated from a number of means.

[01:01:55.67] The first were creationists. And we didn't talk about Linnaeus in this talk, but we did spend a great deal of time on Louis Agassiz. Or they could be evolutionary, starting with The Descent of Man, selection in relation to sex, and modern population genetics, which goes from the 1930s onward.

[01:02:16.82] So in conclusion, in the mid 19th century, the species question was the greatest scientific problem of the age. Biology as a natural science was, in the main, an enterprise conducted by persons of European descent. This means that the species question could only be approached from European social and cultural biases, and also for European reasons. So this might have been a different study if other people in the world had engaged in it. But in fact, this is what we have historically.

[01:02:51.34] Now, for Agassiz, species were fixed, hierarchical, and did not share descent. To Darwin, species were fluid, nonhierarchical, and the result of descent with modification. With regard to how the species questions impacted our understanding of humans, these two intellectual giants approached this problem with different biases. Agassiz wanted to placate the racist interests of the American slaveholders, whereas Darwin had been raised in an anti-slavery family.

[01:03:26.06] However, using Agassiz's own words, Nature never lies. And Nature sided with Charles Darwin. Yet if modern science had so conclusively demonstrated both the common descent of all life and of all humans, why are the implications of this for human biology not understood by large sectors of the American public? Why do we have so many who believe that biological races exist, and are responsible for the fundamental attributes of human beings?

[01:03:57.70] Now at an esteemed intellectual bastion like Harvard, I know you are all sitting there going, Doctor Graves, we don't believe that nonsense. But the American public does. And I know. I just did a major survey of racial beliefs of the American public that hasn't been published yet, out of the grid, Genomics, Race and Identity at Duke.

[01:04:19.93] And the majority of Americans believe that races are real. They believe that races determine fundamental characteristics of people. So while here that may not be true, our society in the main believes that.

[01:04:35.11] So of all the industrialized nations, America has been the most resistant to evolutionary theory. This shows in the virtual absence of it in the biology curriculum in large sections of our nation. In my 2002 essay, "Why We Should Teach Our Students About Race," I discussed the implications of this for our collective struggles around our inability to discuss and act on racism.

[01:05:04.41] And I submit to you that until we are willing to discuss human evolution, and its mechanisms, and its implications for human biological variation, we are going to be stuck with this problem going forward in the 21st century. So with that, I'm going to end. Agassiz was incapable of hitting me with a boulder, but he worked rather well on my slides. So with that--

[01:05:34.49] [APPLAUSE]

[01:05:38.35] I will end, and take any questions from the audience if we have time.