Beneath the "Thin Veneer of Civilization": Evolution, Masculinity, and Race in the Early Twentieth Century United States

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Massie, Guy Joseph Edward




By the turn of the twentieth century, many Anglo-Saxon American men of a middle class background began to define their identities by appealing to evolutionary thought. Homo erectus nordicus, they believed, was the greatest physical and mental specimen among the races of the world. Yet this narrative of evolutionary greatness through a history of Spencerian struggle in the natural world, defined by popular and scientific literature, seemed at odds with modern civilization. Their grand narrative of natural history stressed the need to engage with nature to embrace one’s authentic identity as a
man, in contrast to the degenerative influences of civilization—which had been compromised, they believed, by the unnatural, growing cultural authority of women and immigrants. I argue that these evolutionary narratives of white masculinity portrayed the white male body as powerful yet vulnerable to degeneracy, setting an alarmist agenda for reclaiming a conservative cultural identity for the nation.


United States History
History of Science
Gender Studies




Carleton University

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Theses and Dissertations

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