Race and the Experimental Method in the Early Royal Society

By Cristina Malcolmson.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

By 1700, members of the Royal Society were publicly debating the possibility of multiple human races. This paper considers the relationship between the emergence of polygenesis in the first scientific society in England and the development of the experimental method. Questions about skin color accompanied major aspects of this method, including Robert Boyle’s study of optics, the Society’s sets of queries meant to test the findings of travel narratives, and the Society’s museum. The focus on “matters of fact,” intended to free data from traditional theories, also allowed members to ignore their engagement in a colonial structure that made polygenesis most convenient for them. This engagement included individual and corporate investment in the slave trade.

Keywords: Race, Experiment, Royal Society, Colonialism

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.227-242. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.621MB).

Prof. Cristina Malcolmson

Chair and Professor of English, Humanities, Lewiston, Maine, USA

Cristina Malcolmson is Professor of English at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. She has published two books on the religious poet George Herbert, a collection of essays on Renaissance Poetry, and two articles on studies of skin color in the Royal Society. Her current project examines race and gender in the early years of the Society.