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Race and the Victorians


Module description

'All is race. There is no other truth', wrote Benjamin Disraeli in his novel Tancred or the New Crusade. The aim of this module is to explore the meanings and uses of race in nineteenth-century Britain. Our starting point will be that racial concepts and theories tell us more about the societies that produce these ideas than they tell us about human nature and human biology. Racial theories have provided one way of thinking about and expressing the relationship between humanity, nature and society. They have provided one way of understanding the tensions between diversity and similarity, equality and hierarchy within humanity. The module will examine the development of racial ideas and racial science in the course of the nineteenth century as they arose in ethnography, anthropology, history and natural science. The largest part of the module will examine the ways in which racial ideas were central to debates over slavery and its aftermath, Ireland and Irish immigration, the Jewish Question, the British empire in India and Africa, and the identification of an underclass in British cities.