Early nineteenth-century ethnologists viewed the American
Indians through a prism of intellectual arguments inherited from
European Enlightenment thinkers. From that perspective, the Indians
were seen as an inferior race whose primitive existence stemmed
from an adverse environment, and whose "progress" depended on the
civilizing effects of education and an altered physical
The evolution away from that view, in the face of new physical
evidence and changing cultural perceptions, is the theme of this
in-depth study of five ethnologists whose research and writing
paralleled the development of nineteenth-century ethnology in the
United States. The five major figures were Albert Gallatin, Samuel
G. Morton, Ephraim G. Squier, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, and Lewis
Much more than biology, this study explores the social and
intellectual context within which these scientists proposed their
theories, as well as the significance of those theories for the
crucial issues of Indian advancement, intermarriage and origins. It
is also a history of the emerging profession of ethnology, in which
scholars debated the Indian's potential for civilization, organized
professional societies, and sought avenues to publish their unusual
Distinguished anthropologist Raymond D. Fogelson says of this
groundbreaking work by Robert E. Bieder: "It covers in
comprehensive and comprehensible fashion the backgrounds that
produced a distinctive American ethnology and its later
professionalization. Subsequent research will be footnotes to
Bieder's magnificent effort. The scholarship is impeccable. It is
one of those books of lasting value."
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