On the margins of international science and national discourse: national identity narratives in Romanian race anthropology

Richard McMahon

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This article examines the local reception and manipulation of ideas at the edge of an international cultural network. Poorly institutionalised interwar Romanian race anthropology was a weak voice in both the formulation of domestic nationalist discourse and in internationally centralised scientific race classification. The author discusses how its scientific methodologies, models, institutional links and citation practices, and the national identity and origin narratives it proposed, reveal an imaginative, but never entirely satisfactory negotiation between interacting cultural worlds of local nationalist tradition and international science, and powerful competing traditions within both. While nineteenth-century French influence helped entrench ideas of national racial synthesis deeply in Romanian nationalist tradition, fin-de-siecle German influence promoted a hypernationalist concentration on ultra-native Dacian ancestors. Romanian race scientists creatively mixed French-style syntheses, sometimes even importing France's ethnic Celts, with the ethno-racial purity obsession and Nordic supremacism of the new, scientifically prestigious interwar German raciology. The latter was particularly strong in the newly acquired, formerly Hapsburg province of Transylvania, which had stronger traditional German links, including in scientific training. Attempts to synthesise these two traditions were varied and inventive, often proposing racial class differences in which peasants could be a romantic reservoir of prolific national biology, but also a natural underclass to dynamic urban Nordics. However, the major incompatibilities between German and Romanian nationalist traditions, including their different ethnic Others, inhibited the emergence of a single dominant nationalist narrative in raciology. Romanian race scientists instead achieved this in blood-group anthropology, in close alliance with other nationalist scholarly traditions like ethnography. Survey results allowed them to claim, in harmony with Romanian nationalist traditions of Latin descent, that Hungarian and Russian national rivals were inferior Asiatics and that the contested territory of Transylvania was Romania's biodynamic core. Even this narrative remained at odds with Romanian hyper-nationalist traditions of Dacian descent, however.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-120
JournalEuropean Review of History
Issue number1
Early online date4 Feb 2009
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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