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Constructing Race
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Book description

Constructing Race helps unravel the complicated and intertwined history of race and science in America. Tracy Teslow explores how physical anthropologists in the twentieth century struggled to understand the complexity of human physical and cultural variation, and how their theories were disseminated to the public through art, museum exhibitions, books, and pamphlets. In their attempts to explain the history and nature of human peoples, anthropologists persistently saw both race and culture as critical components. This is at odds with a broadly accepted account that suggests racial science was fully rejected by scientists and the public following World War II. This book offers a corrective, showing that both race and culture informed how anthropologists and the public understood human variation from 1900 through the decades following the war. The book offers new insights into the work of Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Ashley Montagu, as well as less well-known figures, including Harry Shapiro, Gene Weltfish, and Henry Field.

Reviews

'Teslow’s scholarship is first-rate, and this lucidly written and persuasively argued book is a major contribution to the history of anthropology in the United States. After reading Constructing Race, historians will be less tempted to dismiss an earlier generation of physical anthropologists as benighted racists whose ‘bad science’ we think we have superseded and begin instead to investigate the many contradictions, dead-ends, and blind spots of a protean and malleable scientific discourse that, unfortunately, is still with us.'

Alice Conklin - Ohio State University

'We’ve assumed for a long time that credible science rejected race after World War Two. Tracy Teslow’s original and deeply researched book makes that assumption look just plain foolish. Astonishingly, she has rewritten the story of race and science in the twentieth century and permanently troubled our belief in progress.'

Matthew Guterl - Brown University

'In this deeply researched and clearly written book, Tracy Teslow challenges many accepted accounts of how race was conceptualized in twentieth-century anthropology in the United States. She sheds new light on historical figures, such as Franz Boas, that we all thought we understood well and argues for the importance of less-well-known figures such as Harry Shapiro. Teslow urges us to look beyond the tired debates about the ‘reality’ of race and forces us to think about how race was or was not constructed in the United States in the last century. This is an important book.'

John P. Jackson, Jr - University of Colorado, Boulder

'The remarkable boldness of this sweeping study coexists with its great care in formulating complex arguments and its close attention to the contradictions within a rich base of primary sources. Capturing how famous and forgotten anthropologists conversed with each other and with the general public over most of the last century, Teslow shows that talk of cultural differences did not supplant biological views of race. Instead the two discourses long developed as much in counterpoint as in competition.'

David Roediger - University of Illinois, and co-author of The Production of Difference

‘Constructing Race is a welcome addition to the field and an excellent study of the resilience of race in the face of both the cultural turn as well as newer interests in genetics and population studies among anthropologists.’

Malinda Lindquist Source: Journal of American History

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