Earnest A. Hooton and Physical Anthropology

Earnest Hooton

Earnest Hooton

On November 20, 1887, Jewish-American physical anthropologist Earnest Hooton was born. Hooton investigated human evolution and racial differentiation, classified and described human populations, and examined the relationship between personality and physical type, particularly with respect to criminal behaviour.

Earnest Hooton earned his Ph.D. in 1911 on “The Pre-Hellenistic Stage of the Evolution of the Literary Art at Rome” at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. After a period of studying in England, Hooton taught at Harvard University. He further became Curator of Somatology at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

Throughout his career, Hooton became known for his research projects in physical anthropology at a time when the field consisted most of anatomy and focused on physiological variation between individuals. He started using comparative anatomy in order to divide humanity up into races. He described the morphological characteristics of different “primary races” and the various “subtypes”. Through his work, Earnest Hooton played a significant role in establishing racial stereotypes about black athleticism and black criminality of his day in terms of an anthropological framework. For instance, he became part of a research commitee focusing on the anatomy of blacks. In 1927, the commitee supported a comparison of African babies with young apes and published findings in order to prove that “the negro race is phylogenetically a closer approach to primitive man than the white race.”

Further, Hooton supported the idea that no scientific basis existed correlating mentality with racial variation. He came to the conclusion that “no type produces a majority of individuals from either end of the scale. While there may be specific racial abilities and disabilities, these have not yet been demonstrated. There are no racial monopolies either of human virtues or of vices.”

During the 1930s, Earnest Hooton wrote the article Is the Negro Inferior, which was published by the Crisis magazine. In it, he discussed racial differences. He defined race as a matter of inheritance and claims that differences between races have made the basis of racial differences. He stated that “We are likely to infer that the people who have been producing different manners than us belong to inferior races than us.” This is, according to Hooton, because humans assume the native measure of culture as a standard and declare outcasts as inferior. He further claimed that culture became a measurement of individual intelligence and according to Hooton, this is where racial segregation starts. When intelligence tests around that period indicated that white people were smarter than blacks, Hooton explained that an experiment bias could be the reason for that. Hooton became known for his publication, especially Up From the Ape, Young Man, You are Normal, and Apes, Men, and Morons. 

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