Colonialism and its Aftermath

From Rocks to Race: The Evolution of Griffith Taylor

book cover, imperial hygiene

Australian environmental historians and scientists refer commonly to the work of geographer Thomas Griffith Taylor (1880-1963), in particular his famous interwar arguments in favour of limiting population on the continent. Part of a larger biographical study, this paper links his well-known work on population and settlement to his less well-known set of ideas on racial differentiation and the evolution of humans. Trained as a geologist, Taylor inherited a disciplinary interest in 'the Antiquity of Man', shifting fully 'from rocks to race' in the 1920s, his years at the University of Sydney, when he undertook ethnographic fieldwork. He elaborated his theory of racial differentiation and hybridity for the rest of his life, arguing that it was his chief scientific contribution: greater than his work on Scott's Antarctic expedition or any other of his other geological studies. This paper traces the intellectual descent of these racial ideas, and their trajectory in Taylor's life, from endorsement by interwar German geopolitiker such as Karl Haushofer, to his growing internationalism and his idiosyncratic 'geopacifics', the post World War 2 use of his racial ideas in the interests of world peace.

Alison Bashford is associate professor of history University of Sydney. Her current projects are: a biography of Taylor, co-authored with Carolyn Strange; a world history of eugenics, co-edited with Philippa Levine; and a monograph on the world population problem in the twentieth century.

This is a CAIA and School of History and Classics joint seminar.

Date: 11am Friday 12 October
Where: Room 477A, Humanities Building