Cultural, Historical, And Biological Notions Behind The Classification Of Race

1788 Words Dec 16th, 2016 8 Pages
All modern humans are classified under the species Homo sapiens, yet cultural values inform us to perceive races as somewhat distinct subspecies. Race has deep seated ties to human history, as seen with the atrocities of colonialism and with racial purification plans exemplified in the Holocaust. While there are vast differences in human biological variation, from skin color to hair color to physical features, genetics has shown that there is actually more variation within a specific race than between them. Why then do humans so readily seek to define differences between each other? Through historical as well as contemporary examples, this essay seeks to explore the cultural, historical, and biological notions behind the classification of race.
The Definition of Race In antiquity, race was not the fully formed definition that is has come to mean in modern times. While there was contact between races, many times the understanding of what these human variations meant were tied to a specific cultural context. For example, in ancient Rome, writers who traveled or heard stories of others’ travels tied the differences in humans to their mythological beliefs, stating that some humans had “heads in their chests, or one leg, or no nose,” (Marks 2011: 236).
It was not until the age of maritime trade that people began to form classifications behind human variation. When Europeans were coming in contact with individuals who were not only physically but also culturally different,…

Related Documents