Around the turn of the century, especially in Anglo-American intellectual communities, this term was used with near religious reverence by some in the scientific discussion of eugenics--which was, at the time, not so much a "Sieg Heil! Burn the Darkies!" topic as a rather misinformed extension of Darwinist theory, only really colored with racism average to the upper-middle class of the period (which was, still, significant by modern standards).

The human protoplasm was the term for man's genetic pool, in essence the sum of all his genes for better and worse. Eugenic theory expressed the urge to improve the protoplasm by either reducing negative populational factors ("negative eugenics", the source of most of the violently racist aspects of the theory) or by ensuring that the best genotypes mate with one another ("positive eugenics", as it was called). Because of the intense, perhaps fanatical dedication of some of its followers to the study, the term was given everything but holy significance in writings produced between about 1890 and 1930, including those of Sir Francis Galton, Karl Pearson and the like.

Pro"to*plasm (?), n. [Proto- + Gr. form, fr. to mold.] Biol.

The viscid and more or less granular material of vegetable and animal cells, possessed of vital properties by which the processes of nutrition, secretion, and growth go forward; the so-called " physical basis of life;" the original cell substance, cytoplasm, cytoblastema, bioplasm sarcode, etc.

The lowest forms of animal and vegetable life (unicellular organisms) consist of simple or unaltered protoplasm; the tissues of the higher organisms, of differentiated protoplasm.

 

© Webster 1913.

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