Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

German physician, naturalist, physiologist, and anthropologist (1752 – 1840)
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Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (11 May 1752 – 22 January 1840) was a German physician, naturalist, physiologist and anthropologist. He was one of the first to explore the study of mankind as an aspect of natural history. He used comparative anatomy to classify human races, of which he listed five.

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
Born(1752-05-11)11 May 1752
Died22 January 1840(1840-01-22) (aged 87)
Alma materUniversity of Jena
University of Göttingen
Known forcomparative anatomy
Scientific career

Blumenbach's classification of races

Blumenbach's five races

Blumenbach divided the human species into five races in 1779. Later he based them on the anatomy of the human skull. Blumenbach's work included the description of sixty skulls published as Decas craniorum (Göttingen 1790–1828). This was a founding work for other scientists.

He called the five races (1793/1795):

He did not think other races were inferior to the Caucasian race, and were potentially good members of society.

Anatomical study led him to the conclusion that 'individual Africans differ as much, or even more, from other individual Africans as Europeans differ from Europeans'. Furthermore he thought that Africans were not inferior to the rest of mankind 'concerning healthy faculties of understanding, excellent natural talents and mental capacities'.[1]

"Finally, I am of opinion that after all these numerous instances I have brought together of negroes of capacity, it would not be difficult to mention entire well-known provinces of Europe, from out of which you would not easily expect to obtain off-hand such good authors, poets, philosophers, and correspondents of the Paris Academy; and on the other hand, there is no so-called savage nation known under the sun which has so much distinguished itself by such examples of perfectibility and original capacity for scientific culture, and thereby attached itself so closely to the most civilized nations of the earth, as the Negro."[2]

These ideas were far less influential. His ideas were adopted by other researchers and encouraged scientific racism.[3] Blumenbach's work was used by many biologists and comparative anatomists in the nineteenth century who were interested in the origin of races: Wells, Lawrence, Prichard, Huxley and William Flower are good examples of his influence on human biology.

Regarding human origins, Blumenbach believed the first humans had originated in Asia.[4]


  1. Hitt, Jack 2005. Mighty white of you: racial preferences color America’s oldest skulls and bones. Harper’s, July, 39–55.
  2. Blumenbach, Johann Friedrich; Bendyshe, Thomas (1865). The Anthropological Treatises of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. Anthropological Society. p. 312. ISBN 9780878211241.
  3. Fredrickson, George M.; Fredrickson, Fredrick Richard (2002). Racism: A Short History. Princeton University Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-691-00899-8.
  4. Blumenbach 1817. The Institutions of physiology. John Elliotson