If you were to stroll through the ethnographic showcases at the Smithsonian or at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, the concept of progress there presented would appear remarkably modern. Progress at the fair was defined through technology and the ethnographic showcases were arranged to show how progression in inventiveness and technology was mirrored in the various ‘races of man.’ From mud huts to the most advanced engines and construction techniques, race and progress were staged as going hand in hand. Although a modern construct, the scientific idea of race and its staging in the World’s Fairs and in the
Smithsonian owed a large debt to the ancient Greeks and Romans. This talk explores the close connections between the ethnographic displays created under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institute at the direction of
Otis T. Mason at the turn of the twentieth century and the ancient theory of human diversity referred to frequently as environmental determinism, which received its earliest and most clear expression in the ancient medical
treatises of Hippocrates.