For National Geographic's April 2018 issue, the company looked at race in the outside world but also within their own brand.

In order to do so, the magazine hired John Edwin Mason, a professor who has studied the history of photography and the history of Africa—the two intersections that Nat Geo needed to examine in their past issues.

"What Mason found in short was that until the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers," wrote editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg in a letter. "Meanwhile it pictured 'natives' elsewhere as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché."

Goldberg is the magazine's 10th editor since its 1888 conception, and the first woman EIC and first Jewish EIC. She continued that it "hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past." But it was inevitable when they decided to embark on the issue of race for their April issue. "We thought we should examine our own history before turning our reportorial gaze on others," she said.


The Racism in Science. A skull from the collection of Samuel Morton, the father of Scientific racism, illustrate his classification of people into five races-which arose, he claimed, from separate acts of creation. This image was taken at as part of coverage for the new issue of @NatGeo magazine's cover story on race. Morton claimed in his Crania Americana that the Caucasians had the biggest brains, Indians were in the middle and Negroes had the smallest brains. Morton believed that the skulls of each race were so different that a wise creator from the beginning had created each race and positioned them in separate homelands to dwell in. An Anglo American skull (see above) would have been filled with lead shot, the type used in shotgun shells, his skull measurements (by volume) then came to serve as "evidence" for racial stereotypes. Morton believed that cranial capacity determined intellectual ability, and he used his craniometric evidence in conjunction with his analysis of anthropological literature then available to argue in favor of a racial hierarchy which put Caucasians on the top rung and Africans on the bottom. His skull measurements (by volume) then came to serve as "evidence" for racial stereotypes. He described the Caucasian as "distinguished by the facility with which it attains the highest intellectual endowments"; Native Americans were described as "averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war, and wholly destitute of maritime adventure" and the Africans he described as "joyous, flexible, and indolent; while the many nations which compose this race present a singular diversity of intellectual character, of which the far extreme is the lowest grade of humanity". The publication of #CharlesDarwin's On The Origin of Species in 1859 changed the nature of the scholarly debate. This is another example of the influence of the work by #Darwin and #AlfredRusselWallace

A post shared by National Geographic (@natgeo) on Mar 13, 2018 at 6:53am PDT

It turns out National Geographic had a few recurring themes, like "the native person fascinated by Western technology" and an "excess of pictures of beautiful Pacific-island women" who were often bare-breasted. Goldberg's deep dive includes specific examples like, "In a full-issue article on Australia that ran in 1916, Aboriginal Australians were called 'savages' who 'rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings.'"​

"The coverage wasn’t right before because it was told from an elite, white American point of view, and I think it speaks to exactly why we needed a diversity of storytellers,” Goldberg told the Associated Press. "So we need photographers who are African-American and Native American because they are going to capture a different truth and maybe a more accurate story."

Moving forward, it should be interesting to see what Nat Geo captures.