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Measuring the Master Race: Physical Anthropology in Norway, 1890-1945

Measuring the Master Race: Physical Anthropology in Norway, 1890-1945 Jon Røyne Kyllingstad
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-909254-54-1 £17.95
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Measuring the Master Race by Kyllingstad,which explores the various theories and debates held by Norwegian anthropologists and eugenicists on the concept of a superior Nordic race in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is an important contribution to [Physical anthropology's history] research . . . Measuring the Master Race, the first monograph to open up Norwegian anthropology to the English-reading audience, will be of interest to anyone working on the history of anthropology and racial science.
—Iris Clever, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 24.1 (2018): 204-205

[...] the book is both well researched, well written and enlightening.

— Poul Duedahl, Historisk Tidsskrift, 115.2 (2016): 223-226

[Kyllingstad's] excellent new book . . . is essential reading for students of Scandinavian physical anthropology and related topics, such as Scandinavian prehistory and eugenics, and Norwegian national identity. Yet this fascinating book will be of great interest to a much broader audience as well. It is an important contribution to the history of racism and racial science, and its lessons are pertinent to current philosophical issues to do with 'race'. . . Measuring the Master Race will be a compelling read and a valuable resource.
— Adam Hochman, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2015.09.003

The notion of a superior ‘Germanic’ or ‘Nordic’ race was a central theme in Nazi ideology. But it was also a commonly accepted idea in the early twentieth century, an actual scientific concept originating from anthropological research on the physical characteristics of Europeans. The Scandinavian Peninsula was considered to be the historical cradle and the heartland of this ‘master race’.

Measuring the Master Race investigates the role played by Scandinavian scholars in inventing this so-called superior race, and discusses how the concept stamped Norwegian physical anthropology, prehistory, national identity and the eugenics movement. It also explores the decline and scientific discrediting of these ideas in the 1930s as they came to be associated with the genetic cleansing of Nazi Germany.

This is the first comprehensive study of Norwegian physical anthropology. Its findings shed new light on current political and scientific debates about race across the globe.

The Norsk Teknisk Museum (Oslo) and NORLA - Norwegian Literature Abroad have generously contributed towards the publication of this volume.

Measuring the Master Race: Physical Anthropology in Norway, 1890-1945
Jon Røyne Kyllingstad | December 2014
276 | 27 b&w illustration | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781909254541
ISBN Hardback: 9781909254558
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781909254565
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781909254572
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781909254589
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0051
BIC subject codes: JHMP (Physical Anthropology), 1DN (Northern Europe, Scandinavia), JPFQ (Fascism and Nazism); BISAC: HIS010010 (HISTORY / Europe / Eastern), HIS037070 (HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century), SOC024000 (SOCIAL SCIENCE / Research); OCLC Number: 1176347622.

List of Illustrations

1. The Origin of the Long-Skulled Germanic Race
2. The Germanic Race and Norwegian Nationalism
3. The Germanic Race and Norwegian Anthropology, 1880-1910
4. Norwegian Nationhood and the Germanic Race, 1890-1910
5. Racial Hygiene and the Nordic Race, 1900-1933
6. Halfdan Bryn and the Nordic Race
7. The Schreiners and the Science of Race
8. From Collaboration to Conflict: The Racial Survey of 1923-1929
9. Science and Ideology, 1925–1945
10. The Fall of the Nordic Master Race

Selected Bibliography

Jon Røyne Kyllingstad is senior curator at the Norsk Teknisk Museum (the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology). Jon researches the history of science and medicine, with a special interest in ideas about nation, culture, evolution and race. He has published extensively on the history of Norwegian physical anthropology and, together with Thor Inge Rørvik, he has written a history of the University of Oslo, Universitetet i Oslo 1870-1911 (2011). He is currently investigating the rural history of Norway in the interwar period.

Staff page: http://www.tekniskmuseum.no/museet/kontakt-oss/91-utstillings-og-samlingsavdelingen/112-jon-kyllingstad
Research profile: http://www.ethnicityandrace.com/researchers.html

Chapter 1:  The rise of physical anthropology and the idea of the Nordic race.

The book starts by describing the rise of the concept of human races, with a focus on the so-called Germanic, Teutonic or Nordic race. Scandinavian linguists, archaeologists and anatomists played a leading role in this, notably the Swedish anatomist Anders Retzius, who in the 1840s invented the cephalic index; a method to classify people into short-skulled (bracycephalic) and long-skulled (dolicocephalic) races.

After the great controversies over Darwinism and human origins in 1860s, physical anthropology emerged internationally as an institutionalized discipline, concerned with hierarchical racial typologies based on anthropometry and evolutionary theories. The cephalic index became widely used, and it helped create the concept of a distinct northern European race of tall, blond and long-skulled people. Such a view was widely but not unanimously espoused by scientists, and also became a powerful part of the creation of North-European and [white] North-American national identities. 

Chapter 2: The Nordic race and the Norwegian people

In the 1840s, Norwegian archaeologists, historians and linguists claimed that the ancient Norse culture had been introduced by a superior race of Germanic Iron Age invaders. This idea strongly influenced Norwegian national identity for two decades, before losing credibility in the 1870s and 80s. However, it was revived in the 1890s to coincide with a burgeoning Norwegian tradition of research in physical anthropology. Following the lead of French and German anthropologists, Norwegian researchers performed comparisons between the head shape of contemporary army conscripts and the shape of Medieval and Iron Age skulls. They concluded that the Norwegians were a racially mixed people, but with a significant core of the long-skulled Germanic race. This was seen as both the biological root of the nation, and as a mentally superior element in the contemporary population. 

Chapter 3: Racial hygiene and the Nordic race

An organized eugenic movement arose worldwide at the start of the 20th century. While the eugenicists generally agreed that biological evolution was negatively affected by modern society, and that human "degeneration” had to be actively controlled, the eugenics movement was otherwise politically and scientifically divided. Many eugenicists were concerned with the biological "quality” of individuals and populations, without much attention to racial classification. However, others, particularly in Germany, Scandinavia and the USA, saw the protection of the Nordic race as their primary goal. Thus, strong connections emerged between physical anthropology and eugenics.

The Nordic brand of eugenics had a mixed response on the part of the Norwegian scientific community. The leading Norwegian eugenicist, Jon Alfred Mjøen, advocated the superiority of the Nordic race, but was opposed by leading Norwegian experts on human biology, who nevertheless endorsed the anthropologist Halfdan Bryn even though the latter held similar views. 

Chapter 4: Norwegian anthropology in the early 1920s: Science and ideology

Bryn, along with the anatomy professor Kristian Schreiner and his wife Alette Schreiner, were the only professional anthropologists in interwar Norway. All three embraced an "evolutionary” world-view where different human groups represented different levels of mental evolution, and supported strong eugenic measures to limit perceived threats to the biological evolution of the human race. However, there were important differences in their approach: Bryn was preoccupied with the idea of racial differences in Europe, saw racial mixing as a problem and propagated eugenic measures to maintain the purity of the Nordic race. The Schreiners downplayed racial variations among Europeans and supported a racial hygiene focused, not on "races”, but on individuals with "inferior” and "superior” genetic traits. Their racial research was not part of a eugenic project, but closely linked to the archaeological and linguistic exploration of national prehistory.

For many years, however, these differences of opinion did not create tensions. While indifferent to the idea of a superior Nordic race, the two Schreiners accepted it in principle as a legitimate, though unproven, scientific concept. 

Chapter 5: The racial survey of Norway 1920-1929 - From cooperation to conflict

In the 1920s, Kristian Schreiner and Bryn cooperated closely on a large, state-funded racial survey of Norway, including extensive anthropometric measurements of a complete cohort of army conscripts, in line with German physical anthropology. During the 10-year project on the analysis and publication of the resulting data, Bryn fell out drastically with the Schreiners over methods and interpretations. The scientific conflict was interwoven with ideological differences regarding the idea of a superior Nordic race and threatened the very scientific credibility of the antagonists.

Chapter 6.  Nazism and the Nordic race – A changed ideological context

The controversy about race within Norway was fuelled by the increasingly polarized worldwide debates on race. From the mid-1920s onward, Bryn - inspired by German and US-American racist literature - became more outspoken about the primacy of the Nordic race. He joined a network of like-minded anthropologist and eugenicists in Germany and in the international eugenics movement. In the late 1920s, the Schreiners (in line with the majority of Norwegian academics) publicly denounced the Nordic racial doctrines. By the time of Bryn’s death in 1933, both he personally and the idea of the Nordic master race had began to fall into disrepute among Norwegian academics, while gaining increasing scientific respect in Germany.

Many of Bryn’s likeminded friends and colleagues became involved in the racial policy of the Nazi-regime, while the Schreiners became steadily more alienated by German anthropology. Following the German occupation of Norway in 1940, Kristian Schreiner was imprisoned for his resistance to the Nazification of the University of Oslo. After the War, he not only denounced the whole idea of the superiority of the Nordic race, but rejected even the existence of such a race.

In conclusion, from the 1890’s onwards the concept of a Nordic master race became an important part of Norwegian national identity, as well as a valid scientific idea among Norwegian academics. However, with the rise of Nazi Germany, the Norwegians began to distance themselves from the concept, which gradually became regarded as pseudo-science.