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Jens Amborg (Visiting Researcher, History)

Wed May 10th 2023, 12:00 - 1:15pm

"Making Race in the Haras: Horse Breeding and Buffon's Histoire naturelle" 

An "Embodiment" Paper

Please note that this is a pre-circulated paper. Those with Stanford-affiliated emails can access the paper here . For those outside of the Stanford community, email cmemsinfo [at] (cmemsinfo[at]stanford[dot]edu) to receive a copy of the paper. 

Response by Max Fennell-Chametzky, Ph.D. student in History at Stanford University.


Description of the talk: 

In 1665 a new royal institution was established in France, the haras nationaux or the national studs, whose purpose was to control all horse breeding in the kingdom and improve the domestic stock by importing foreign stallions. This paper explores how the concepts of degeneration and race were developed within this institution and how they in the eighteenth century came to shape the emerging ‘science of Man’ in natural history. More specifically, it focuses on how a highly pragmatic understanding of race in relation to horse breeding was turned into general principles of natural history in the works of the French naturalist Buffon, often seen as one of the most important eighteenth-century writers on race. While the concept of race prior to 1750 primarily had a socio-cultural sense designating groups of people according to religion, morals, custom or (noble) lineage, it did take on another set of meanings, including physico-biological ones, in relation to domestic animals. By exploring these meanings, and the contexts in which they developed, this paper aims to provide a better understanding of how race entered natural history as a general category explaining natural diversity and how it came to define human difference.