Dark Vanishings Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races 1800-1930

Patrick Brantlinger
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Dark Vanishings Discourse on the Extinction of Primitive Races 1800-1930

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Brantlinger here examines the commonly held 19th-century view that all "primitive" races around the world were doomed sooner or later to extinction.
"Patrick Brantlinger's argument in Dark Vanishings is straightforward: from 1830 onwards, economists, pioneering anthropologists, natural scientists and literary writers believed that 'primitive' peoples were doomed to extinction... Belief in the inevitability of the natives' fall assuaged guilt about the depopulating effects of colonialism... A significant achievement in Dark Vanishings is Brantlinger's partial, conditional rehabilitation of the race theorists, Robert Knox and Alfred Wallace. Brantlinger shows that, although frequently ludicrous and ill-willed, such writers' works need to read with care, as they influenced still-extant concepts about First World superiority."-Times Literary Supplement "Dark Vanishings should interest historians of ethnology and of cultural anthropology in general... Of particular importance is the question of whether the notion of race, however defined, forged Europeans into racists... The bibliography has value for historians of biology, of economics, and of English literature, not the sort of bedfellows one might have expected before reading Dark Vanishings. Sociologists of science, sure to find in Brantlinger's narrative a sociology of racism in the guise of science, round out the group of scholars who will benefit from reading Dark Vanishings."-Isis "Dark Vanishings should be of interest to anyone who is interested in the history of ideas, globalization and internationalization, and anthropology, or anyone who is a student of race and ethnic relations. The depth of it adds to some of the ideas treated, as well as Brantlinger's endnotes, in and of themselves, make it well worth the time it takes to read it."-Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology "The 'dark vanishings' of Patrick Brantlinger's most recent book are the presumed extinctions, especially self-extinguishings, of people not deemed to be, or not deemed to be capable of being, civilized, of those who cannot participate in Western Progress. Dark Vanishings is obviously required reading for anyone interested in Victorian studies of race and empire."-English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 "In Dark Vanishings, Patrick Brantlinger richly documents his thesis that the discourse of inevitable extermination played a key role, and almost always-certain appearances to the contrary notwithstanding-a pernicious one, in the unholy nineteenth-century nexus of racialism and imperialism that fostered aggression against many defenseless peoples. An important, passionate, and compelling work of scholarship."-Christopher Herbert, author of Victorian Relativity: Radical Thought and Scientific Discovery "By tracing a single strand in the complex web of British and American writings about race, Patrick Brantlinger's Dark Vanishings reveals a surprisingly consistent, widespread, and long-lived consensus that 'savage' races were fated to become extinct. Brantlinger reveals the persistence of this claim, often made in regretful and elegiac modes, across centuries, continents, and political persuasions. Dark Vanishings also challenges us to face the history of our desire to enlighten and restructure what we consider outmoded cultures."-Catherine Gallagher, University of California, Berkeley "The strength of Dark Vanishings lies in Patrick Brantlinger's ability to place wide-ranging and impressive scholarly readings in the frame of ideological critique. The topic of the 'vanishing' of dark races builds on the substantial body of texts dealing with British nineteenth-century imperialism and is therefore of immediate interest to scholars in such disciplines as Victorian studies and postcolonialism."-Deirdre David, Temple University "Patrick Brantlinger shows brilliantly and comprehensively how extinction discourse underwrote genocidal practices, supported eugenics, promoted social Darwinism, and founded modern anthropology as a science of mourning. One of the most impressive aspects of his book is its ability to trace the uniformity of extinction discourse across a number of ideological and political contexts."-John Kucich, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Patrick Brantlinger is James Rudy Professor of English (Emeritus) at Indiana University. He is the author of many books, including Dark Vanishings, Fictions of State, Rule of Darkness, and Bread and Circuses, all from Cornell.


Patrick Brantlinger here examines the commonly held nineteenth-century view that all "primitive" or "savage" races around the world were doomed sooner or later to extinction. Warlike propensities and presumed cannibalism were regarded as simultaneously noble and suicidal, accelerants of the downfall of other races after contact with white civilization. Brantlinger finds at the heart of this belief the stereotype of the self-exterminating savage, or the view that "savagery" is a sufficient explanation for the ultimate disappearance of "savages" from the grand theater of world history. Humanitarians, according to Brantlinger, saw the problem in the same terms of inevitability (or doom) as did scientists such as Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley as well as propagandists for empire such as Charles Wentworth Dilke and James Anthony Froude. Brantlinger analyzes the Irish Famine in the context of ideas and theories about primitive races in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. He shows that by the end of the nineteenth century, especially through the influence of the eugenics movement, extinction discourse was ironically applied to "the great white race" in various apocalyptic formulations. With the rise of fascism and Nazism, and with the gradual renewal of aboriginal populations in some parts of the world, by the 1930s the stereotypic idea of "fatal impact" began to unravel, as did also various more general forms of race-based thinking and of social Darwinism.
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