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Ridpath's History of the World

Chart 2
Chart 2: Back

Ridpath and Race

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When writing his History of the World, Ridpath utilized numerous visual aids in order to demonstrate the value of recent scientific research to the understanding of history.  One area of supreme interest to Ridpath and other Western intellectuals was the development of the various human races.  After Charles Darwin published The Descent of Man in 1871, many Americans and Europeans argued that the division of the races was a result of natural selection.  Coinciding with the surge of European imperialism in the last three decades of the 19th Century, scientific theories of race were used to justify the domination of colonial peoples in Africa and Asia.

Although Ridpath was progressive for his time, he could not escape the intellectual environment in which he lived.  These two images provide evidence of how late-19th Century concepts of racial hierarchy shaped his writing.  The first image is a painting based on Thomas Henry Huxley’s (a famous English biologist sometimes known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”) research into the origins of the races.  Although Huxley explicitly rejected notions of racial hierarchy, Ridpath’s use of his racial categories demonstrates that he considered Northern Europeans more advanced than other races.  Note the layout of the painting, which places the “Scandinavian” racial type at the center of the other races.  Also, notice the placement of the “Italican,” or Southeastern European, racial type at the margins, in the upper right corner.  Even within Europe, English and American historians tended to view Southern Europeans as less than fully white.

The second image is a chart devised by Ridpath to trace the origins of all major ethnic groups back to a common ancestor.  Once again, the spatial organization of the chart is useful for determining Ridpath’s views on race.  First, all white European groups are placed at the very top of the chart, with Asian and African groups on the bottom.  Along the horizontal axis, the European groups span the entire width of the chart, while the African groups barely reach the middle.  This disparity is clear evidence that Ridpath believed white Northern Europeans to be more developed than Africans.  From a 21st Century perspective, this layout makes little sense as historians, anthropologists, and biologists consider Africa far more ethnically and genetically diverse than Northern Europe.

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