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Schiller on Broca’s Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian

Paul Broca is one of the most renowned scientists who developed the study of paleontology. His work was the beginning of the modern study of life. He is mostly acknowledged by his struggle in ensuring that the study of life was intensified and made more scientific and factual than just following the theories fronted by the government and the church. In his part of 1872 work, Annual Report of the Board of the Smithsonian Institution, he noted that it would be impossible to highlight the actual timelines that human beings evolved, but provided an outline of their development. These developments were marked by geological periods using the evidence of animals, many of them now extinct and the tools that man used at different stages. Broca’s work has been reviewed by different people over the years. They analyze it in different ways and rank his efforts differently. One of the renowned work that reviewed Broca’s life and journey throughout his work is Francis Schiller in his 1979 work, Paul Broca, founder of French anthropology, explorer of the brain. He provided an insight into Broca’s life and more so on family and personal motivation that drove him into indulging into human study. While he gave many interesting facts, his work was at times not factual and did not conform to Broca’s thinking. This article will show some of the mistakes that Schiller made while analyzing Broca’s work.

 Schiller expressed strongly that Broca must have been affected by the social perception about the supremacy of races. During his time, there was widespread debate over the intelligence of people according to their races. The French, for instance, were regarded as very good because their art and even general living seemed better. At the time, in the 19th century, Britain had just abolished slavery but the same continued to persist in America. Negroes were seen as a weaker race and most scientists believed that any cross between any race and the weaker race would result into a weaker offspring. Schiller argued that Broca could not have independently liberated himself from this social perception, yet he (Broca) left no mention that suggested so. His work in 1872 explained the origin of man and his relation to nature and did not even create a strong distinction between races. Further, Broca had been independent throughout his career and his persistence to create the Institution is a clear indication that he could force his own path. Despite the influence of the church and the government that limited the work of science he led a small group of scientists into establishing a movement that would make numerous scientific and factual conclusions regarding the origin of man. The explanation of excursions in his group’s 1872 report shows very focused individuals who were eager to get facts and use them to explain the world, rather than follow beliefs that were limited by church doctrines. When the government was strict over the content of their meetings, Broca and his friends used other methods such as the charisma of his group members to convince the authorities that their 19-member group was necessary and harmless. With this kind of thinking and hunger to use facts, it is nearly impossible for Broca to have been affected and changed his perception towards the inferiority of some races. This explains why he never asserted so in any of his texts.

Schiller provided a lot of literature that showed Broca’s opposition to monogenism and his position regarding the origin of man. He used a lot of text that expressed Broca’s support for polygenism. One of the examples he uses is linguistics, where he alleges that Broca questioned the commonality between languages such as Chinese and French. Furthermore, Schiller used Broca’s opposition to Darwinian theory as an example to express his opposition to monogenism. He further supported Broca’s opposition to this theory when he questioned the possibility of whites becoming black or blacks becoming yellow, which essentially suggested that they must have all had different ancestries. Broca was also opposed to the Biblical suggestion that human beings had a common ancestor, and that the theory was forced into other people due to the supremacy of the Hebrews and belief that other non-white races were inferior. However, Broca’s section in the report did not have any suggestion that there were different races during the stone-age. Although he notes that there was an abrupt change of the quality and finishing of the tools that were excavated during their study, which possibly wiped off the entire troglodytes using their better tools, he also notes that there was a dark period of unknown length and that was not supported by any information. He suggests that the stone-age man was replaced by a more refined man who was endowed with domestication of animals and crops for agriculture. Up to this point, Schiller and Broca agreed that there was a possibility that there was another origin of man elsewhere who was better equipped and would wipe out cro magnon. However, Broca appreciated a dark period that cannot be explained. Cro magnon had been improving his tools and improving on his hunting skills. Schiller neglected this fact completely, even though it was a notable mention that Broca used hypothetical terms explaining. He wrote that the ‘sudden and complete extinction of the troglodytes suggests the occurrence of a cataclysm, but such superposition is contradicted by geology’. This leaves the argument hypothetical and does not conclusively explain whether it was a new race or it was a transformation of the same cro magnon. Throughout his text in the 1872 report, Broca explained the development of just one lineage of human beings, the stone-age man or the troglodytes. Schiller also noted at some point that while explaining the impossibility of a common ancestry, Broca quoted other earlier reports but never quoted his work. Had he been as convinced as he always was, he would possibly have had a better and more imposing answer from his own research work or from the group he was working with at the time.

Schiller analyzed a lot of Broca’s work and used many sources. He explained the different perspectives of Broca and development of man including color, races, languages as well as his opposition to some of the previous scholars. While he did an excellent work in doing so, he glaringly failed to provide a good account over the relationship between man and his environment. Broca, in his report, explained the relationship between cro magnon, his tools and the animals that he lived with. He explained that troglodytes were inferior compared to the animals that lived around him such as the mammoth, the hippo, the reindeer and many other huge animals. In this regard, he had to improve on his skills in order to survive. The improvement of his tools was an indication of the dangers that he confronted every day and provided a strong springboard on which modern paleontology would be based. While Schiller noted the timelines, he concentrated on Broca’s description of the people and how they related to each other. Schiller had an elaborate explanation on why man improved his tools, showing their use in treatment (such as the incision that was found on the skull, presumed to be a treatment of head disease) he missed the aspect of the environment around cro magnon. The drive to improve tools and even create tools that made other tools was prompted by the diminutive nature of the then man and less likely by the diseases and their treatment. Logically, the improvement of such tools would not be as abrupt if they were not to be used for defense from external attacks rather than for their daily use. At the same time, Schiller did not provide very strong explanations over the skeletal morphology of the cro magnon, but dwelt more on other attributes such as skin color, eye color, and the language of the modern man as explained by Broca. While studying human paleontology, it would inexplicable to omit such important aspects. It would be incomplete, yet Schiller did not give it as much emphasis as Broca did in his work.

Schiller provided a very good account of Broca, his motivation and even his beliefs. He not only evaluated his work but also looked into his life as a person, evaluating any possibilities of non-factual information. He provided a widely researched account, used Broca’s previous work, as well as the views of other people in anthropology. The personal life of the researcher as well as the surrounding society in which he worked could have impacted his work, but Schiller portrays Broca as independent and objective. Despite using the impressive records, he made errors in his analysis as noted in this paper. Although some of his sources might be correct, the errors or omissions highlighted in this paper are in relation to the current text as found in Annual Report of the Board of the Smithsonian Institution. It is therefore important to note that Schiller may not have been completely wrong, but is deemed to be in the context  of the current report.

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