Race, polygenesis and equality: John Crawfurd and nineteenthcentury resistance to evolution

Gareth Knapman*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    The nineteenth-century Orientalist and ethnologist, John Crawfurd, publicly rejected Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1868. Crawfurd was a leading advocate of polygenesis but also a supporter of racial equality. In 1820 he published his History of the Indian Archipelago, where he advocated granting household suffrage to all races in the British colonies. After finishing a career in the East India Company in 1828 he became the foremost expert on South-East Asia in Britain. Crawfurd became a regular writer on ethnology and Asian affairs for the Examiner newspaper and in the 1860s he was President of the Ethnological Society of London. Accounts of nineteenth-century anthropology in Britain characterise debate around race as falling into two camps: advocates of monogenesis and advocates of polygenesis. In the United States of America, advocates of polygenesis were often associated with advocates of slavery and racial inequality. Recent research has demonstrated that Charles Darwin’s hatred of slavery drove him to write Origin of the Species to demonstrate the unity of the human species and reject the polygenesis position. This paper explores Crawfurd’s ideas and demonstrates that a belief in polygenesis in the nineteenth century did not necessarily equate with a belief in racial inequality.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)909-923
    Number of pages15
    JournalHistory of European Ideas
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2016


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