How Human Zoos Relate To European Imperialism

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Human Zoos were created in the 19th century to display African Americans that were believed to be related to the descents of monkeys and apes. They put indigenous people from across the world on display like a giant human zoo, coined the name. Human Zoos became popular because they were a way to test Darwin’s theory that humans had evolved from ape-like ancestors. Over the years, Human Zoos became controversial because they were forcing humans into cages and treating them with a lack of respect. During the same century, European Imperialism spread across the world. Imperialism in Europe led to a spike in competition among nations and created many conflicts. Human Zoos relate to the legacy of European Imperialism because both dealt with the act of taking over one's land/people to benefit themselves, both deal with eugenics, and both deal with concerns of discriminating and mistreating cultures.

Human Zoos relate to European Imperialism in that both deal with the act of taking over one’s land and/or people to benefit themselves. In Human Zoos, people named Pygmies were taken from other countries including Africa, and taken to the United States where they were put on display at the St. Louis Day at the world’s fair. William Mcgee, the nation's leading scientist, was the mastermind behind the act and believed it would get people's attraction (5:10-5:37). They were put behind fences and poked at by the people that visited them, and they were also pressured to compete in athletic performances to show they are better than whites. Mcgee kept relating them to apes and monkeys because he was backing up Darwin’s theory that humans had evolved from ape-like ancestors (6:25-6:35). They were treated unfairly and knew they were. On the flip side, in European Imperialism there was colonization happening where Europeans were taking over countries and making a new system there. In the 19th century, the prime reason for European Imperialism was to take over China for economics. During that time, there was a demand for goods including tea and silk.

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Another reason Human Zoos relate to European Imperialism is that both deal with the concept of eugenics. Eugenics is the study of people under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally. In Human Zoos this is seen at the International Congress of Eugenics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. There were no live humans put on display but it was kind of like a human zoo because “it put human racial groups under the microscope to judge their worth to society.” There were black and white babies from the womb put on display to compare the mental stamina of different races (32:07-32:53). One of the most horrifying uses of eugenics policies took place in Nazi Germany when they “sterilized more than 300,000 supposed hereditary defectives in the name of eugenics” and gassed the disabled at medical facilities. In these killing centers, the Nazis perfected methods they would later use to exterminate Jews (42:30-42:56). In relation, in European Imperialism Europeans were trying to figure out the world around them in a scientific way. Eugenics was created by Sir Francis Galton, he believed that the human race could be improved through breeding. Eugenics was applied to other races but also to the poor in Europe.

The final reason that Human Zoos relate to European Imperialism is that both bring up concerns about discriminating and mistreating other cultures apart from their own. In Human Zoos one of the most popular cases of being mistreated is OTA Benga. Ota Benga was purchased from a slave market, he had pointed teeth that made him so unique and he was put on display at a fair. After a long time of being on display, he was taken to Africa with Samuel Verner who eventually brought him back to America. He was taken to the Bronx Zoo to put on display. Eventually, an agreement was made that OTA Benga would be moved to Howard Colored Orphan Asylum and then to a seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia. 10 years later OTA Benga shot himself to death. (14:00-26:00). Another scenario in Human Zoos was about a group called Alt-right. In a 2017 study, more than 400 members revealed that they viewed blacks, Mexicans, and other racial and ethnic groups as less evolved and closer to humans ape-like ancestors than whites (51:49-52:25). In European Imperialism Anti-Miscegenation laws were created because many were against marriages between whites and African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans. In the 1920s, eugenics was used to make some of the laws more stringent.

Dealing with the act of taking over one's land/people to benefit themselves, eugenics, and dealing with concerns of nationalism and mistreating cultures are the three reasons Human Zoos relate to the legacy of European Imperialism.

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