Bitterly Triumphant: The Biologisation of National Character in the Twentieth-Century East Central Europe

Maciej Górny

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/APH.2015.111.02

Abstract


In early twentieth century racial ideologies and racial anthropology penetrated the traditional concepts of national specificity. It was a rule all over Western Europe, though Germany was clearly the leader both in ideological and institutional terms. In East Central Europe this development was accelerated by an increased intel­lectual influence of German universities. First World War marked the peak of these processes. Racial anthropology was expected to deliver a scientific interpretation of the continental conflict. In East Central Europe it was equally an argument in support of ethnic and territorial claims. The article discusses eight examples of regional theories based on discursive connections between race and nation: Hungary, Ukraine, Serbia, Poland, Finland, Romania, Lithuania, and Bohemia. Their authors were experts: professional anthropologists, geographers, ethnologists and medical scientists. Generally it can be argued that all of these theories were successful. A considerable part of them (notably the Serb, Polish, Finnish) contributed to the construction of ‘national unity’ of the newly formed states. Others, despite their failure to do so, were instrumental in the formation of national movements and strengthened the idea of national peculiarity. Almost all of them succeeded in entering the mainstream of the European racial sciences in the interwar period. Consequently, their authors made considerable careers in the academia. But in long run the post-1945 evolution of physical anthropology marginalized racial theories. After the collapse of the Third Reich what had been the mainstream of physical anthropology gradually turned into a scientific and ideological Sonderweg. The experts dealt with in this article caught up to the art of modernity that unexpectedly run out of fashion.

Keywords


racial anthropology; First World War; East Central Europe; Germany; national character; modernization

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