Cover image for Dark vanishings : discourse on the extinction of primitive races, 1800-1930
Dark vanishings : discourse on the extinction of primitive races, 1800-1930
Brantlinger, Patrick, 1941-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Ithaca, N.Y. : Cornell University Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
x, 248 pages ; 23 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN380 .B73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GN380 .B73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Patrick Brantlinger here examines the commonly held nineteenth-century view that all "primitive" or "savage" races around the world were doomed sooner or later to extinction. Warlike propensities and presumed cannibalism were regarded as simultaneously noble and suicidal, accelerants of the downfall of other races after contact with white civilization. Brantlinger finds at the heart of this belief the stereotype of the self-exterminating savage, or the view that "savagery" is a sufficient explanation for the ultimate disappearance of "savages" from the grand theater of world history.

Humanitarians, according to Brantlinger, saw the problem in the same terms of inevitability (or doom) as did scientists such as Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley as well as propagandists for empire such as Charles Wentworth Dilke and James Anthony Froude. Brantlinger analyzes the Irish Famine in the context of ideas and theories about primitive races in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. He shows that by the end of the nineteenth century, especially through the influence of the eugenics movement, extinction discourse was ironically applied to "the great white race" in various apocalyptic formulations. With the rise of fascism and Nazism, and with the gradual renewal of aboriginal populations in some parts of the world, by the 1930s the stereotypic idea of "fatal impact" began to unravel, as did also various more general forms of race-based thinking and of social Darwinism.

Author Notes

Patrick Brantlinger is Rudy Professor of English and Victorian Studies at Indiana University

Reviews 1

Choice Review

With the beginning of European overseas colonization, a belief developed in the inevitable extinction of the aboriginals of America, later extended to those of Australia and New Zealand. Brantlinger (English, Indiana Univ.) describes this as "proleptic (i.e., anticipatory) elegy," a belief that lasted until the early 20th century, when aboriginal populations began to grow. His discussion is limited by his sources (mainly printed books of the time) and the regions examined--the territories that became the US, Australia, and New Zealand--augmented by a few references to Pacific Islanders and an interesting section on Ireland that nicely illustrates the paradox that racism can have nothing to do with race. Other than a passing reference to Las Casas, Brantlinger avoids discussion of Latin America, whose indigenous population surely suffered more casualties than any, nor does he look at Canada, where Newfoundland provides a clear example of extinction of the Beothuks, or the Caribbean islands, where Indian populations were wiped out. His treatment of the "scientific" and literary sources provides interesting material linking "extinction discourse" with imperialism and racism, yet the idea of their "fatal impact" on aboriginals died long before the end of empire. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Most levels/libraries. J. E. Flint emeritus, Dalhousie University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
1. Introduction: Aboriginal Mattersp. 1
2. Pre-Darwinian Theories on the Extinction of Primitive Racesp. 17
3. Vanishing Americansp. 45
4. Humanitarian Causes: Antislavery and Saving Aboriginalsp. 68
5. The Irish Faminep. 94
6. The Dusk of the Dreamtimep. 117
7. Islands of Death and the Devilp. 141
8. Darwin and Afterp. 164
9. Conclusion: White Twilightsp. 189
Notesp. 201
Works Citedp. 223
Indexp. 243