International Encyclopaedia
of the Histories of Anthropology

Société d’anthropologie de Paris (1859- )

Founded in 1859 by Dr. Paul Broca, the Société d’anthropologie de Paris (SAP) is the first learned society in the world to claim to be based on anthropology, defined as the natural history of man. Although the scientific programme was intended to be generalist, it was essentially prehistory, physical anthropology, anthropometry and craniometry that attracted the attention of its members, mainly doctors. The audience and success of the SAP were very important until the 1880s, with the nascent Third Republic favouring Broca’s private satellite scientific institutions, placing them under the banner of anticlerical and positivist republican science. The SAP created a journal, the Bulletins de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris (1859), renamed Bulletins et mémoires de la SAP in 1900. In 1872, the Revue d’anthropologie and the Musée d’anthropologie were created, followed in 1875 by the École d’anthropologie de Paris by Broca and the group of scientific materialists. That group grew within the School and the Society after the death of the founder in 1880. The Society was managed by Paul Topinard from 1880 to 1886, Charles Letourneau from 1886 to 1902 and Léonce Manouvrier from 1902 to 1914. After the First World War, the Society declined, lagging behind major scientific discoveries in the field of emerging genetics; it was deliberately ignored by the major protagonists of the institutionalization of French ethnology in the 1920s and 1930s, who blamed it for an overly biologizing and racialist approach to man. It had a small “revival” with Henri-Victor Vallois, Secretary General from 1939 onwards and the CNRS covered the costs of publishing its journal in 1947. SAP still exists, its field of study now being biological anthropology.

Keywords: Physical anthropology | French Ethnology | Scholarly sociability | Second half of the 19th century | 20th century | France | Learned Society | Broca, Paul