A guide-book to the study of Man and Civilization

WHEN the first edition of Ratzel’s Volkerkunde was published in 1885-88 it at once took its position as a guide-book to the study of Man and Civilization. To those beginning anthropological work it offered the indispensable outline sketches of the races of mankind, especially of the savage and barbaric peoples who display culture in its earlier stages, thus aiding the great modern nations to understand themselves, to weigh in a just balance their own merits and defects, and even in some measure to forecast from their own development the possibilities of the future. So good a judge as Professor Virchow wrote of the work on its first appearance, that since the time of Prichard and Waitz no such extensive attempt had been made to represent our knowledge of the lower races of mankind, immensely augmented as this has been by the researches of travellers, the exhibition of savages in Europe, and the information opened to the public by the great museums. The present English translation is from the second German edition of 1894-95, revised, and condensed from three to two volumes.

The Value of Illustrations

Special mention must be made of the illustrations, 1160 in number, which in excellence surpass those which had hitherto come within the range of any work on Man intended for general circulation. These, be it observed, are no mere book-decorations, but a most important part of the apparatus for realising civilization in its successive stages. They offer, in a way which no verbal description can attain to, an introduction and guide to the use of the museum collections on which the Science of Man comes more and more to depend in working out the theory of human development. Works which combine this material presentation of culture with the best descriptions by observant travellers, promote most the great object of displaying mankind as related together in Nature through its very variation. The Rev. J. G. Wood’s Natural History of Man and Dr. Robert Brown’s Races of Mankind have in this way done much to promote anthropology.

Classification of Peoples

The bodily differences between races can only, it is true, be represented by descriptions and well-chosen portraits, minute physical classification belonging to a region only accessible to anatomists. The classification of peoples by their languages can only be illustrated by examples chosen from the grammar and dictionary, so as to make plain the conclusions of comparative philology without the elaborate detail of a linguistic treatise. But a fuller though less technical treatment of the culture-side of human life lies more readily open. The material arts of war, subsistence, pleasure, the stages of knowledge, morals, religion, may be so brought to view that a compendium of them, as found among the ruder peoples, may serve not only as a lesson-book for the learner, but as a reference-book for the learned.


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