The Races of Men: 19th century racial theory


Robert Knox’s The Races of Men (1850) expressed the dominant view of the time in the West that race was a major determinant of culture, behaviour and character. Such views were used to support slavery and anti-Semitism. Knox himself was an anatomist and physiologist, and used his studies of black people in South Africa to build a theory of human history based on racial distinction.

Knox’s book grew out of a popular lecture tour, in which he proposed that the different races of people were in fact distinct species, with a range of aptitudes to different levels of civilisation. Knox himself held contradictory views: he was anti-Semitic, but attacked slavery. He also opposed British colonial policy, though supported the idea of colonial trade ventures.

Full title:
The Races of Men: a fragment
1850, London
Robert Knox
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Post Darwin: social Darwinism, degeneration, eugenics

Article by:
Carolyn Burdett
Fin de siècle, Visions of the future, Technology and science

Dr Carolyn Burdett explores how Victorian thinkers used Darwin's theory of evolution in forming their own social, economic and racial theories, thereby extending Darwin's influence far beyond its original sphere.

Related collection items