‘Abraham Bäck and Linnean racial science’

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Vincent Roy-Di Piazza (Karolinska Institute, Stockholm)

In February 1744, the famous Swedish physician Abraham Bäck (1713-95), also known as Carl Linnaeus’s best friend, dissected the corpse and skin of an unknown Black man who had recently died at the Hôpital de la Charité in Paris. Black cadavers were rare in eighteenth century Europe, and opportunities to dissect them were few. Dark-skinned corpses were even rarer in countries which did not have colonial possessions nor directly partook in the slave-trade, as was the case of Sweden during the Age of Liberty (Frihetstiden, 1719-72). Based on recently rediscovered archival materials, this talk will explore the little-known research, experiments, and views of Bäck on Black human remains and Blackness, arguing they played a crucial role in shaping Linnaeus’s own views about human taxonomy.

The seminar in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology is convened by Alex Aylward (University of Oxford), Hohee Cho (Wolfson College), Mark Harrison (University of Oxford), Catherine Jackson (Harris Manchester College), and Sloan Mahone (University of Oxford)