Vincent Roy-Di Piazza: "Black bodies and Linnean racial science"

  • Datum: –15.00
  • Plats: Engelska parken 6-3025 (Rausingrummet)
  • Arrangör: Institutionen för idéhistoria
  • Kontaktperson: Otto Sibum
  • Seminarium

Vetenskapshistoriska seminariet

Forskningspresentation av Vincent Roy-Di Piazza, Oxford University & Karolinska Institutet. 


In February 1744, the Swedish anatomist Abraham Bäck (1713-1795), better known as Carl Linnaeus’s best friend, dissected the corpse of an unknown Black man in Paris. In contrast to the widespread exploitation of the enslaved dead in North America, the remains of Black individuals were rare in the medical cadaver trade of eighteenth-century Europe. The scarcity of Black remains did not only increase their medical market value in the Old World: it conferred accrued authority to the anatomists who managed to access such remains. Before the rise of nineteenth century forensic anthropology, the history of scientific racism has long been traced back to a decisive mid-eighteenth-century turn, characterized by the emergence of human classification hierarchies influenced by Linnean taxonomy. Through the overlooked case study of Bäck’s research, this article explores the little-known role of Black human remains in eighteenth century Linnean racial science. While historiography has long dismissed Linnean human taxonomy as theoretical and devoid of empirical basis, this article argues for a more nuanced argument. Based on untapped archival sources, this paper shows that empirical research on Black human remains not only existed within Linnaeus’s closest circles, but that such remains played a decisive role in his late humoral turn. Empirical research was not at odds with the perpetuation of dismissive views: the poor hygienic conditions of such dissections often prompted anatomists to project their own prejudiced views in the face of equivocal artifacts.