FOLK – From racial types to DNA sequences

Photos and objects

NB: Click to see the entire photos.

Educating the people I

Educating the people I


The Kristiania working men’s institute was founded in 1885 with the aim to disseminate useful knowledge and offer new cultural experiences. During the first 25 years since its establishment, the institute held 5,826 lectures with about 888,000 attendees.

These glass slides come from the lectures on human evolution and racial research by the military doctor Carl O.E. Arbo (1837–1906).

Photo: C.O.E. Arbo / The Norwegian Musuem of Science and Technology.
Educating the people II

Educating the people II


The Kristiania working men’s institute was founded in 1885 with the aim to disseminate useful knowledge and offer new cultural experiences. During the first 25 years since its establishment, the institute held 5,826 lectures with about 888,000 attendees.

These glass slides come from the lectures on human evolution and racial research by the military doctor Hans Daae (1865-1926). 

Photo: Hans Daae / The Norwegian Musuem of Science and Technology.
Blumenbach's system

Blumenbach's system


German anatomist and professor of medicine Johann F. Blumenbach (1752–1840) offered one of the first descriptions of generic human types.

In the book «Abbildungen naturhistorischer Gegenstände» (1810), he expanded the biological classification system of Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus («Systemae Naturae», 1735).

Blumenbach’s system connected geographical origins with morphological appearance. He attributed these variations mainly to climate and argued for all humans belonging to the same species. But to him, the most beautiful people were those living in the Caucasus Mountains. The "Caucasian race" refers to these people.

Photo: Håkon Bergseth, NTM / Oslo Cathedral school old library.
“Mr Bullock’s exhibition of Laplanders”

“Mr Bullock’s exhibition of Laplanders”


In 1821, a British collector, William Bullock, hired a Sami family to care for a small reindeer herd he brought with him to London. In 1822, he exhibited the family along with the animals and cultural objects in his museum, the Egyptian Hall.

More than 58,000 people visited the exhibition during the first few months from the opening, while it later toured Ireland and Scotland. The press described it as both entertaining and educational.

Photo: Thomas Rowlandson, "Mr Bullock's Laplander exhibition" / National Library of Norway.
Phrenological “national” skull

Phrenological “national” skull


Phrenology, with its emphasis on classifying skull shapes and on the connections between biological and character traits, was a precursor to physical anthropology. Although later seen as a pseudo-science, it enjoyed high prestige among early anthropologists.

This skull was part of a series of 33 casts sold in Stockholm by the Institute of Technology in 1834–35. The founder and leader of the institute, Magnus Gustav Schwartz (1783–1858), was one of the main Swedish phrenologists.

Photo: Håkon Bergseth, NTM / University of Oslo: Institute for Basic Medical Sciences.
Von Luschan's chromatic scale

Von Luschan's chromatic scale


The 36 glass tiles in this scale represented the shades of skin color and allowed for racial classification. Its inventor was the Austrian anthropologist Felix von Luschan (1854-1924).

Although criticized as subjective and imprecise, the scale was used internationally from 1900 until the mid-twentieth century.

Photo: Håkon Bergseth, NTM / University of Oslo: Institute for Basic Medical Sciences.
Occipital goniometer

Occipital goniometer


This instrument was used for measuring skulls to determine the angle of the back of the head. It was invented by French physician Paul Broca (1824–1880), the most influential physical anthropologist of the 1860s and 1870s.

The Norwegian pioneer Carl O. E. Arbo was one of many who traveled to Paris to learn this subject in the 1870s.

The instrument was produced by the firm of R. & H. Mathieu in Paris in collaboration with Broca.

Photo: Håkon Bergseth, NTM / University of Oslo: Institute for Basic Medical Sciences.
Alette and Kristian Schreiner: Partners in science and in marriage

Alette and Kristian Schreiner: Partners in science and in marriage


The married Schreiners’ joint microscopic studies of cells contributed to the great breakthrough in chromosomal research and genetics at the turn of the 20th century.

Kristian Schreiner’s (1874–1957) appointment as Professor of Anatomy in 1908 began the pair’s strong commitment to physical anthropology. He initiated a series of excavations from Sami graves, and sought to describe and analyze the skull collection in large and expensive books published in the 1930s and 1940s.

Alette Schreiner (1873–1951) concentrated on the physical characteristics of the living Norwegian population.

Photo: Unknown photographer / University of Oslo: Museum of Cultural History, Section for Museum of University and Science History.
Halfdan Bryn: The foremost anthropologist in 1920s Norway

Halfdan Bryn: The foremost anthropologist in 1920s Norway


Halfdan Bryn (1864–1933) was a military doctor and continued the tradition of physical anthropological research on conscripts. He initiatied the major national race survey of 1920–21.

However, it took many years to analyze the enormous amounts of data collected and along the way, the authors disagreed on how to interpret the findings.

One of the main reasons was that, during the 1920s, Alette and Kristian Schreiner distanced themselves from Bryn as he became increasingly invested in extreme notions of racial superiority Photo: Jens Carl Frederik Hilfling-Rasmussen / NTNU UB.
The large-scale survey of recruits

The large-scale survey of recruits


All young Norwegian men who did military service in 1920–21 underwent physical-anthropological measurements of body type, head shape, eye color and hair color. Many were photographed.

Recruits were popular research subjects in many countries. They were readily available, and were considered a representative sample of a nation’s population. Recruit photos and measurements were used to divide the national population into racial types, and were published internationally.

The race survey participated in a transnational science that sought to divide humanity into racial types and explore their evolutionary history.

Photo: Åsa Marie Mikkelsen, NTM / Halfdan Bryn and Kristian Emil Schreiner in Bryn & Schreiner, Die Somatologie der Norwege nach Untersuchungen an Rekruten. Oslo i kommisjon hos Dybwad, 1929.
Martin’s eye color chart

Martin’s eye color chart


This eye color chart was developed by the influential anthropologist Rudolf Martin (1864–1925).

In spite of standardized methods of description, eye colors do not tend to fall into natural racial types. The scientists conducting the Norwegian race survey fundamentally disagreed about how best to categorize the eye colors of their Norwegian subjects.

Photo: Håkon Bergseth, NTM / University of Oslo: Institute for Basic Medical Sciences.
Eugen Fischer’s hair-color scale

Eugen Fischer’s hair-color scale


This internationally standardized method for observing and describing hair colors was used in the Norwegian race survey in 1920–21.

Hair colors are found in many shades and cannot be placed into natural categories. This created problems when hair colors were used to classify races. What degree of blondness characterized the Nordic race? Such questions created conflicts when it came to analyzing the data collected in the race survey.

Photo: Håkon Bergseth, NTM / University of Oslo: Institute for Basic Medical Sciences
To Tysfjord to study the “Lappish” racial type

To Tysfjord to study the “Lappish” racial type


As part of the national race survey, anthropologists Alette and Kristian Schreiner conducted a local study at Hellemo in Tysfjord in 1921. Kristian Schreiner had also visited Hellemo in 1914, assuming it had a relatively unmixed Sami population.

By comparison with contemporary populations elsewhere and with human remains from past populations, they attempted to identify an assumed “Lappish” racial element and highlight the origin, migration, and settlement of this racial type in Norway.

The purpose was not to rank people in a race hierarchy. But the Schreiners’ perception of the Sami as racially primitive affected their research and their encounter with the locals.

Above: Portait of Inger Nikolaisdatter Tjikkom (b. 1879), with her children Sara and Peder. She was widowed in 1914. The photo was taken in 1914 by doctor Johan Brun, Schreiner’s associate during the survey.

Photo: Johan Brun / University of Tromsø: Tromsø museum and Árran Lulesami Center.
To Setesdal to study the “Nordic” racial type

To Setesdal to study the “Nordic” racial type


Valle in Setesdal played a significant role in the large-scale race survey of Norway. Based on previous anthropological studies in that place, researchers expected to find a nearly pure Nordic racial type in the population.

The race survey only included measurable physical characteristics, but the research was influenced by ideas about the Nordic race’s assumed psychological characteristics.

Alette Schreiner identified Torleif Aakre as a prototypical Viking, and described him as intelligent, vital, poetic, healthy, and handsome.

Above: Portrait of Torleiv Bjugsson Aakre (1880–1972). He got married to Gyro Bjørnsdatter Harstad (1880–1929) in 1908 and had four children. Torleiv was interested in history and wrote articles about Setesdal in the press.

Photo: Kristian Emil Schreiner / University of Oslo: Institute for Basic Medical Sciences and Norsk Folkemuseum.
Race hygiene/eugenics

Race hygiene/eugenics


Race hygiene or eugenics was an international movement with a major impact in scientific circles.

Eugenicists feared for the future. They believed modern society kept people alive who otherwise would have lost the struggle for existence. Therefore they sought to reduce births among “inferior individuals.”

People were judged according to their hereditary characteristics. This was not necessarily linked to ideas about racial difference. However, many eugenicists in the USA, Germany, and Scandinavia aimed to protect the “Nordic race” against race-mixing and to help it grow at the expense of “inferior” races.

This is a eugenics propaganda poster from the UK (ca 1935). Click to see the whole poster.

Photo: Galton Institute/Eugenics Society Archives, Wellcome Institute Library.
Jon Alfred Mjøen, racial hygienist

Jon Alfred Mjøen, racial hygienist


In the interwar period, Jon Alfred Mjøen (1860–1939 was the foremost Norwegian spokesman for racial hygiene. In 1906 he founded Vinderen Biological Laboratory, where he researched topics including the genetics of musicality and criminality.

Han supported the idea of a superior Nordic race and argued that race-mixing could lead to hereditary inferiority. He built his arguments partly on his studies of rabbit heredity and of what he considered race-mixing between the “Lappish” and “Nordic” races.

Mjøen was an internationally known racial hygienist with many supporters and opponents within the eugenics movement. Halfdan Bryn supported Mjøen’s view of race-mixing. Kristian Schreiner was dismissive.

These slides come from one of his lectures on eugenics.

Unknown photographer, Jon Alfred Mjøen / NTM.
Nazism and race science

Nazism and race science


In the center of Nazism stood the idea of a racially superior Nordic-Germanic people who had the right to expand at the cost of other races. Together with an intense hatred of Jewish people, this conception was a fundamental motivation for the Nazi genocide.

But this way of thinking did not form in a vacuum. The Nazis built on ideas that had long been in circulation across national boundaries and to some degree had its origins in scientific discussions. The German academics who were invlolved in shaping the Nazi racial policies had close collaborations with fellow thinkers in other countries.

When the Nazis took power in 1933, they were met with strong opposition but also found support by scientists, who were willing to place their skills and knowledge in the service of the new regime.

Scandinavia was considered the cradle of the so-called Nordic-Germanic race, while Norwegian racial anthropology was diligently quoted in Nazi propaganda literature. In this photo from 1945, we see Jewish children who survived Auschwitz. 

Photo: Unknown photographer/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Belarusian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography.
Anti-racism in science and society

Anti-racism in science and society


Racial discrimination around the world, and accumulating scientific evidence, prompted scientists, activists, and politicians to speak out against racism. Starting in the 1950s, UNESCO began issuing formal statements on race. These became a symbol for postwar anti-racism.

The «Statements» pointed to popular misunderstandings and political abuses of the concept of race. They also introduced a new way of regarding races as populations with differing gene frequencies. The authors were leading science experts in the relevant fields. Despite diverging opinions, they all agreed that humans belonged to the same species, «Homo sapiens», and that human groups did not differ in their innate capacities for intellectual and cultural development.

Many biologists continued to study races defined as genetically distinct populations. These Stamements contributed to an understanding that racial categories were not to be found in nature but were instead products of cultural and social conventions, and therefore open to change.

Photo: UNESCO Courier July-August 1950 / UNESCO.
International anti-racism

International anti-racism


The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal declaration of human rights (1948) which was a reaction to the atrocities of previous world wars. The same year, however, the South African government introduced apartheid. Nazi racial science was also a target of UNESCO’s anti-racist campaign, but the contentious issue of continued segregation in the USA was avoided. In the USA, however, opposition to racial discrimination was growing and in the 1960s parts of this movement joined forces with the peace movement and the new wave of feminism. In 1964 and 1965, the Civil Rights Act banned all discrimination and segregation in public and the Voting Rights Act aimed at ensuring that African-Americans could exercise their voting rights. Apartheid came to an end in the early 1990s.

In the photo, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are waiting for a press conference on 26 March, 1964.

Photo: Marion S. Trikosko / United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division.
Race to the genome

Race to the genome


Designing and developing cheaper and faster DNA sequencing technologies was one of the primary objectives behind the Human Genome Project as it emerged in the early 1990s. The overall aim was to complete mapping of the human genome and the identification of all the genes it contains.

An international consortium of more than 2,000 scientists from 20 labs and three continents was established. The private company Celera Genomics competed with the consortium and in February 2001 the two groups published their first draft sequences of the human genome in the journals Nature and Science.

In April 2003, the consortium had successfully completed by sequencing 99% of the human genome. The biomedical applications of the project for individuals and society were heavily emphasized throughout, and critics raised concerns related to the overall genetic hype and the emphasis on genetic explanations.

They also pointed to possible genetic privacy breaches, discrimination, and patenting, as well as to the extremely high cost of the project.

Photo: Håkon Bergseth / NTM.
Reading DNA sequences

Reading DNA sequences


The biochemist Fred Sanger (1918–2013) and his colleagues developed a new technique to determine the order of DNA bases in 1975. Radioautography was used to visualize it.

By the end of the 1970s, they had been able to sequence the genome of a whole organism. The Human Genome Project used Sanger’s methods to determine and assemble the sequences from many small fragments of human DNA.

Photo: Håkon Bergseth / NTM.
Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP)

Human Genome Diversity Project (HGDP)


The Human Genome Diversity Project was started in 1991 with the aim of illuminating how humanity spread from its origins in Africa and populated the globe. The project collected blood samples with a specific focus on indigenous peoples, whom the researchers perceived as isolated for a long time and dying out.

The project generated scientific controversy over its ethical, methodological, and theoretical premises. Several anthropologists argued that the very idea of genetically isolated indigenous peoples was an empirically unjustified holdover from the racial ideas of the colonialist era. By systematically looking for genetic differences between culturally defined groups, critics argued, the project could ultimately provide support for racial prejudices.

In 1993, the World Congress of Indigenous Peoples labeled it the “Vampire Project”. Indigenous groups worldwide demanded the project be halted on the grounds of disregard for their worldviews, possible patenting and exploitation of their genomic material, and lack of informed consent.

Photo: Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, (2005). "The Human Genome Diversity Project: past, present and future", Nature Reviews Genetics 6, 333-340.
From skulls to faces

From skulls to faces


The remains of this woman were found in a typical Norse burial in Nord-Trøndelag, Norway, in 1927. The many well-preserved grave goods dated to the 9th century CE. The anthropologist Kristian Schreiner described the cranium as being of “Nordic” type.

In 2015, DNA analysis showed a lineage rare in Europe but common in Turkish populations and the Black Sea region. In 2017, DNA from her skull was used in research studying Viking populations at the Center for Geogenetics in Copenhagen.

In 2018, Face Lab, at Liverpool John Moores University, combined DNA with archaeological and anthropological data to produce this facial depiction.

Photo: Face Lab, Liverpool John Moores University, UK / NTM.
Unearthing Sami remains

Unearthing Sami remains


In July 1915, doctor Johan Brun arrived at the Sami area of Neiden, in Finnmark, Norway. Kristian Schreiner had commissioned him to excavate skeletons from closed cemeteries with permission by the Norwegian authorities.

Brun set camp outside the Russian Orthodox Chapel but the locals protested the opening up of graves around the chapel. As Brun reported, he excavated in adjacent land after negotiations with a local landowner and uncovered a supposedly older burial ground. The skeletons were transferred to the University of Oslo.

Brun’s visit in Neiden was part of a larger endeavor to collect skeletal material from Sami burials for physical anthropological research. In 1999, the university acknowledged that the collecting had taken place unethically and transferred administrative control over all Sami remains to the Sami Parliament.

In 2011, the remains of 94 people were reburied in Neiden, Norway.

Photo: University of Tromsø: Tromsø museum and Árran Lulesami Center/Johan Brun.