Human or Animal? On the Discussions around the Ancestry of Humanity in Polish Journals of the Second Half of the 19th Century

The aim of the article is to illustrate the discussions in Poland on the ancestry of humanity, which were inspired by Charles Darwin and his followers. The theory of evolution has changed the way of thinking about humans, who were previously treated as the ‘crown of creation’. The core of this text is the analysis of the reception of Darwin’s theses through the prism of the disputes over human’s lineage, and thus the development of science in the nineteenth-century Poland. Those issues were reflected in Polish journals in science and popular science during the partitions. The breakthrough in thinking about humanity consisted in departing from the creationist concept recognizing the will of the Creator in the creation of the world, and in questioning the dogma of the permanence of species. Under the influence of Darwin’s theory, and not without controversy, a conclusion was drawn about the crucial role of natural factors in the creation of human world and its diversity. The most controversial thesis was the acknowledgement of humans’ kinship with the ape. It aroused opposition in conservative spheres. Darwin himself did not introduce such a direct lineage. However, his followers were often tempted to put forward often controversial concepts, which were also reflected in Polish journalism through the reception of western science.
It should be noted that popular science magazines were an important source of information from the world of science and had a significant impact on the perception of the theory of evolution by the mass audience. They often simplified the information about Darwin’s theory and presented the stage of the research in a competent way. Recognized Polish scholars were among authors of these journals. As a result, all the different information sources greatly contributed to popularizing Darwin’s theory in the Polish society.

see the article on the SHS website