This paper draws on material from the dissertation books of the University of Edinburgh's student societies and surviving lecture notes from the university's professors to shed new light on the debates on human variation, heredity and the origin of races between 1790 and 1835. That Edinburgh was the most important centre of medical education in the English-speaking world in this period makes this a particularly significant context. By around 1800 the fixed natural order of the eighteenth century was giving way to a more fluid conception of species and varieties. The dissolution of the ‘Great Chain of Being’ made interpretations of races as adaptive responses to local climates plausible. The evidence presented shows that human variation, inheritance and adaptation were being widely discussed in Edinburgh in the student circles around Charles Darwin when he was a medical student in Edinburgh in the 1820s. It is therefore no surprise to find these same themes recurring in similar form in the evolutionary speculations in his notebooks on the transmutation of species written in the late 1830s during the gestation of his theory of evolution.
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DOI 10.1017/s0007087420000217
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The Great Chain of Being.Arthur O. Lovejoy - 1937 - Science and Society 1 (2):252-256.
Edinburgh Lamarckians: Robert Jameson and Robert E. Grant.James A. Secord - 1991 - Journal of the History of Biology 24 (1):1 - 18.
Darwin, Vital Matter, and the Transformism of Species.Phillip R. Sloan - 1986 - Journal of the History of Biology 19 (3):369-445.

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