3quarksdaily: The Invention of Race
We tend to imagine that our racial classifications map onto natural kinds in the world, that in carving humanity up into 'Caucasoid', 'Negroid', etc., we are, so to speak, carving nature at its joints. In fact, these categories are recent inventions.
In an important sense it is the 17th-century French writer François Bernier who may be considered the founder of the modern science of race. He is the first to use the term ‘race’ to designate different groups of humans with shared, distinguishing traits. He describes his innovation in the Journal des Sçavans of 1684 as follows: “So far, Geographers did not use any other criterion when mapping out the earth but that of the different countries or regions to be found on it. What I noticed in men in the course of my long and frequent travels gave me the idea to divide the Earth otherwise.”