International School History - European Schools

S6 History Last update - 05 May 2023 Official European School History S6 Syllabus: English, French, German
Video - A history of racism

This series chronicles the shifts in the meaning and significance of the ideas of ‘race’ and ‘racism’ in Britain, Europe and North America. It shows how ideas of racial difference evolved in response to historical events – notably Europe’s imperial conquests and the process of colonisation – adapting to the social-political forces that were unleashed by these events. It also gives a detailed reconsideration of the concept of racism, and identifies the impact that the idea of ‘race’, and the fact of racism, has had on science, culture, society and history around the world.

1. The Colour of Money

An examination of prevailing attitudes towards human difference in the writings of some of the major philosophers and historians of antiquity, including Herodotous, Aristotle, and Plutarch. The episode also assesses the implications of Old Testament dogmas concerning the pre-destined attributes of the different ‘races’ (specifically, the idea that the major racial groups were supposedly the descendants of Noah’s sons - Ham, Shem and Japheth – and that Black people were victims of ‘The Curse of Ham’). The development of the idea of ‘race’ is traced as a pseudo-biological category throughout the English Tudor period (particularly the literary application of the concept in Shakespeare). Significant changes in ideas about race are identified that coincided with the event that would shape racial ideas for centuries: the Columbian adventure in the ‘New World’ and the subsequent development and institutionalisation of the Transatlantic Slave Trade – an event that led to the dehumanisation, exploitation and inferiorisation of Africans - and the outright extermination of Native Americans.

2. Scientific Racism

The 19th Century use of racial categories as credible scientific concepts is the main focus of this episode, which covers the French aristocrat Count Arthur de Gobineau’s considerable contribution to the history racist ideas.

The British social theorist Herbert Spencer had also drawn upon developments in 19th Century science to produce a theory which became known as ‘Social Darwinism’ – an attempt to apply Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to the study of human societies. These ideas were later developed by Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton. He was a polymath, who had achieved successes as a meteorologist, inventor, psychologist and anthropologist and traveller - but he was also one of the founding fathers of European eugenics. By the 1880s, Galton was a leading advocate of the policy of compulsory sterilisation – a necessary intervention, he believed, to prevent those of ‘inferior genetic stock’ from ‘breeding’.

3. Savage Legacy

Some of the 20th Century’s early genocides, particularly those in Armenia and the Belgian Congo, represented a new, mechanized phase of state-sponsored racial slaughter. During the genocide in the Congo, 10 million African people – almost half the entire population – were butchered by King Leopold’s men. For the first time, details of the massacres were made known to people in Europe. These accounts were so lurid and horrifying, that some Europeans, perhaps for the first time, started to wonder who were the ‘civilised’ - and who were the ‘savages’.

The film concludes with an examination of racism today. Across Europe, racial attacks are on the rise. Neo-fascist parties across Europe command more electoral support than at any time since the War. Despite the carnage of the Holocaust, millions of Europeans are prepared to countenance the election of parties with explicitly and unapologetically racist policies.



About I Contact Richard Jones-Nerzic