McKee Library’s From the Vault display this semester looks at the works of Georges Cuvier and his ties to colonial exploitation.
About the Display
Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier, also known as Georges Cuvier, was a French naturalist and zoologist. Cuvier was a major figure in natural sciences research in the early 19th century and was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology through his work in comparing living animals with fossils. Unfortunately, Cuvier’s work on racial studies encouraged scientific racism and contributed to the colonial exploitation, ridicule, and commodification of black people.
Alongside other French naturalists, Cuvier subjected Saartje Baartman, a South African Khokhoi woman exhibited in European freak shows as the “Hottentot Venus”, to examinations and commissioned a nude painting of her while she was very ill. Upon her death at only 26 years old, Cuvier dissected her body, focusing on her genitalia, buttocks, and skull shape. Her pickled remains were displayed in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1970 and were only returned to South Africa in 2002.
We invite you to visit McKee Library to view this display, which will be available through the Fall 2021 semester. For questions regarding McKee Library’s special collections, please contact Deyse Bravo.