This timeline traces how prejudice has affected who we are, how we govern and what we believe. For centuries science and politics have influenced how we think and feel about those who have been considered different, inferior, or threatening. Consider whether you think these attitudes continue to resonate today.
Naturalists and scientists develop theories about human 'races' and racial hierarchies in order to justify the enslaving of millions of African people and the seizing of Indigenous territories worldwide. By the 18th century these ideas about human difference have become a cornerstone of European thinking, shaping attitudes towards 'non-white' cultures.
Atlantic slave trade begins, peaking in the 18th century. Britain outlaws slavery in 1807. The last recorded slave ship arrives in the USA in 1859. ‘The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.’ Reverend Richard Furman, Baptist Minister, USA, 1838.
One of the first attempts by Europeans to document human variation is published by French physician Francois Bernier. He relies on categories based on physical characteristics such as skin colour.
Swedish botanist Carolus (Carl) Linnaeus divides humans racially by continent (Americanus; Asiaticus; Africanus; and Europeanus). Linnaeus' classifications included ‘Homo ferus' (wild men) and 'Homo monstrosus' (semi-mythical monsters).
Captain James Cook claims Australia for Britain under the doctrine of terra nullius, a Latin term meaning land belonging to no one.
Captain James Cook landing at Botany Bay, 1770. Created 1872.
Source: National Library of Australia
Anti-racist ideas are promoted by continental European writers such as French philosopher Denis Diderot.
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach divides the human species into five races in On the Natural Variety of Mankind. Europeans use information from missionaries and slave traders to 'understand' African and American Indigenous communities.
The largest massacre in Victoria (then Port Phillip District) of Aboriginal people is inflicted upon the Gunditjmara people at Convincing Ground near Portland.
The theory that human races have separate origins is popularised by physician and surgeon Josiah Clark Nott and Egyptologist George Robins Gliddon in Types of Mankind. The argument was refuted by Charles Darwin in 1871 in Descent of Man.
Illustration from The Mismeasure of Man by Josiah Clark Nott and George Robins Gliddon, using a descending hierarchy from white ‘civilised’ man to chimpanzee to prove a polygenist race theory, 1854.
Source: State Library of Victoria