The Cultural History of Race

From video content and eBooks to the digitally exclusive Cultural History series, this topic in focus is your gateway into the cultural history of race throughout the ages.

The Evolution of the Idea of Race: From scientific racism to genomics

How did the four predominant racial categories emerge? What can history tell us about contemporary racial discourse in the USA? Tanya Golash-Boza, a Professor of Sociology at the University of California, interrogates these questions and highlights the methods used to justify racial oppression in the USA throughout its history.

This clip is part of a longer webinar between the editors of A Cultural History of Race. Watch the full webinar.

A Cultural History of Race

How have definitions of race varied and changed over time? What impact have religion, science and politics had on race throughout history, and how has our concept of it been changed as a result? In the multi-volume A Cultural History of Race (2021) these ambitious questions are answered by 61 experts who – drawing on perspectives from history, sociology, anthropology, literature and medical humanities – deepen our understanding of how race has developed conceptually and in reality, between antiquity and the present day. In the Introduction to the third volume, its editors consider three modern works by Black artists which refigure Renaissance paintings to inspire discussions around race.

Memory, Ethnicity and the British Home Front

In this chapter on memory, ethnicity and the British home front from British Cultural Memory and the Second World War (2014), Wendy Ugolini states that there is still a need within Britain to embed the experience and memory of the two world wars into ‘a more multiracial and international framework’. Focusing on the narratives of two groups who served and subsequently settled in Britain, male West Indian RAF volunteers and Polish servicemen, and acknowledging the ‘virtually unrepresented and undiscussed intersection of nationality and ethnicity’ on the home front, this chapter explores the narrated experiences of migrant groups from their position of marginality within Britain’s cultural memory of the Second World War.

Race and Hair in Medieval Identities

Hair types, hairstyles, facial hair, and hair coverings all feature among medieval markers of ethnic difference. Distinctions of culture and religion outweighed perceptions of bodily difference in early medieval constructions of ethnicities, although the revival of humoral and climatological theory in twelfth- and thirteenth-century universities saw increasing interest in the body. As both an outgrowth of the body and a feature uniquely suited to modification, hair was regularly featured in descriptions of ethnic groups, and could serve to define the “in” as well as the “out” groups, and to be deployed in relatively neutral contexts as well as those featuring vitriol and persecution. Click here to read more from A Cultural History of Hair in the Middle Ages.

Race in Postwar Fiction, Film and Social Science

Caryl Phillips, the respected black British Caribbean novelist and political essayist, has argued that most white British writers of fiction and drama of the 1950s and early 1960s ignored questions of race and the growing presence in the UK of new migrants from the colonies and Commonwealth. Were black people as absent from the white literary landscape as Phillips claims? Were there significant differences in the way in which men and women as authors represented racial alterity not only in the literary and cinematic texts, but also in social science research of the period? These are the questions that Mica Nava seeks to answer in this chapter from Visceral Cosmopolitanism.

Beauty, Race and Scientists

In May 1867 the young Italian scientist Enrico Giglioli set out in search of ‘authentic’ Indigenous Australians, and obtained a series of cartes de visite by Melbourne-based travelling photographer Thomas Jetson Washbourne. Today these photographs have assumed new meanings in the context of descendants’ pursuit of native title. Indigenous Elder Gary Murray explains how these portraits have been drawn into the process of mapping connections to land and kin in the pursuit of native title. The cultural performances of this photograph over 150 years, in its transformation from scientific datum to activist tool, both complicate and destabilize totalizing notions of the colonial archive. Click here to read more about the cultural history of the collection.

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