People of Color in European Art History

  1. One of the most malevolent characteristics of racist thought is that it never produces new knowledge. It seems able to merely reformulate and refigure itself in multiple but static assertions. It has no referent in the material world; like the concept of black blood or white blood or blue blood, it is designed to construct artificial borders and maintain them against all reason and all evidence to the contrary. And while racist thought and language have an almost unmitigated force in political and social life, the realm of racial difference has been allowed an intellectual weight to which it has no claim. It is truly a realm that is no realm at all — an all-consuming vacancy that is both common and strange.
  2. tora42 replied to your quote: “In the 19th century measurements of cranial capacity by Morton and…”:
    If anyone wants to read more about it ‘Skull Wars’ by David Hurst Thomas is a decent resource, especially if someone’s interested in how skull typing was used to justify how white people treated Native Americans.
  3. In the 19th century measurements of cranial capacity by Morton
    and others supported a “Caucasoid>Mongoloid>Negroid” hierarchy of intelligence. This continued through most of the 20th century but was challenged by a nonhierarchical view originating with Boas. Beginning in the 1980s Rushton correlated cranial and IQ measurements and presented a hierarchy with “Mongoloids” at the top.

    Each of these periods relates to its social context: the 19th-century hierarchy paralleled the height of European world domination; the nonhierarchy of the 20th century reflected world wars, worldwide depression, and the breakup of empires; the “Mongoloid>Caucasoid>Negroid” hierarchy followed the economic success of several Asian nations.

    Morton’s cranial ranking was the result of his sampling error and his acceptance of the hierarchical thinking of his time. But how is it possible for Rushton to support the ordering while using the data of several anthropologists who have rejected racial hierarchies on empirical grounds? The answer to this question involves a critique of Rushton’s use of the race concept, his aggregation of diverse populations into three traditional races, his claim to explain differences in “cultural achievements” on the basis of variation in brain size, and a number of other problems.

    The study concludes by noting that the major consequence of these hierarchies is the apparent justification for the exploitation of
    those at the bottom.

    "How ‘Caucasoids’ Got Such Big Crania and Why They Shrank: From Morton to Rushton" by Leonard Lieberman

    Math and Science Week!

    Anyone interested in the history and historiography of Scientific Racism and the ways in which it manifests today should have a look at this article, which also includes responses from not only people working in these fields, but Rushton the skull-measurer himself.

  4. ☛ The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition presents its fifth international conference: Collective Degradation: Slavery and the Construction of Race [aka PDFs GALORE!!!!!!!!!]

    While scholars have largely accepted the view that race is a socially-constructed concept, the complex processes of its formation are not well understood — in large part because of the wide and diverse range of contributing factors. The fifth international conference of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition will explore the relationship between the enslavement of Africans and the construction of early and modern conceptions of race and racial hierarchies. The conference will bring together scholars of Graeco-Roman and Biblical antiquity, medieval Europe and early Islam, with authorities on Enlightenment, 19th- and early 20th-century European and American racial thought, with the goal of exchanging and combining insights from a wide range of historical periods and disciplines.

    The schedule for the conference is as follows:


    9:00-11:45 Session 1:

    Benjamin Isaac, Tel Aviv University: Slavery and Proto-racism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity
    David Goldenberg, University of Pennsylvania: Early Christian & Jewish Views of Blacks 
    Comment: James Brewer Stewart, Macalester College

    12:45-3:30 Session 2:

    Benjamin Braude, Boston College: Ham and Noah: Sexuality, Servitudinism, and Ethnicity 
    Peter Biller, University of York, U.K.: The “Black” in Medieval European Scientific Discussions of Regions & Peoples
    Comment: Matthew Jacobson, Yale University

    3:30-6:00 Session 3:

    John Hunwick, Northwestern University: Medieval and Later Arab Views of Blacks
    James Sweet, Florida International University: Africans in the Iberian World
    Comment: Barbara Fields, Columbia University


    8:00-10:45 Session 4:

    Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton University: Why White People Are Called “Caucasian”
    George Fredrickson, Stanford University: Race & Ethnicity in the U.S. and France
    Comment: Clarence Walker, University of California, Davis

    10:45-1:15 Session 5:

    Patrick J. Rael, Bowdoin College: Black Responses to Scientific Racism in the Antebellum North
    Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester: Racism Without Slavery and Slavery Without Racism in the Mainland North America
    Comment: Jennifer Baszile, Yale University

    2:00-4:30 Session 6:

    Lacy K. Ford, University of South Carolina: Slavery and Racist Thought in the American South, 1789-1865 
    John Stauffer, Harvard University: White Abolitionists and Antebellum Racism
    Comment: Kariann Yokota, Yale University

    4:45-5:30 Summation:

    Tom Holt, University of Chicago

    Oh, wow! Resources galore!

  5. Scientific Literacy, History, and Your Facebook Feed

    Firstly, just wanted to say I really love this blog. So I have a question that was brought about by an article I saw someone post on fb (though I know your blog has as its focus a different time period).
    I am familiar with the basic definition of the out of Africa theory but I’ve never studied it in depth and there seems to be a lot of effort put into debunking it. I was just wondering what knowledge you may have about this theory or other theories about the origin of human beings. (sorry about the extremely broad question)
    Um, well, here’s the thing. I probably have access to the same amount of knowledge you probably have access to on this topic, and without the article in question, I don’t have a clue what might be IN that article. BUT.
    I know, I know. But the way ideas about “Science” function in society-that’s definitely my wheelhouse.
    Theory vs. hypothesis
    A theory is an explanation. The validity of a theory rests upon its ability to explain phenomena. Theories may be supported, rejected, or modified, based on new evidence. Gravitational theory, for example, attempts to explain the nature of gravity. Cell theory explains the workings of cells. Evolutionary theory explains the history of life on Earth.
    Reading this quick list of appropriate terminology might help you…and probably a lot of other people, too (especially people who are fond of using the word “proof”).
    If something is a scientific theory, it means that the explanation has been tested and tested and RE-tested and analyzed and then replicated, and then basically a group of people make a statement like: “To the best of our knowledge (which is quite possibly our life’s work), this is definitely why and how this happened.”
    You see? It’s not about whether or not it did but an explanation of something that happened.
    Response to one of the questions, “human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” may reflect religious beliefs rather than actual knowledge about science. In the United States, 53 percent of respondents answered “true” to that statement in 2001, the highest level ever recorded by the NSF survey. (Before 2001, no more than 45 percent of respondents answered “true.”) The 2001 result represented a major change from past surveys and brought the United States more in line with other industrialized countries about the question of evolution.
    In the U.S., human evolution is framed something you either “believe in” or don’t “believe in”. The most basic premise that humans evolved goes over like a lead balloon in a lot of circles:

    On top of this mess, there’s also the fact that the ideas people in the US have about human evolution are also racialized. Science and racism aren’t opposites, or mutually exclusive in the metaphorical Venn diagram.

    Here’s an article from Science Daily in ‘07 that basically shored up some the possible quibbles on this theory with some kind of mitochondrial DNA testing involving Australian people (which is weird and whole article is kinda xenophobic, creepy, and like…”brow ridges”??? The sciences AND the humanities have a long and storied history and PRESENT of documented racism.). Also, the “quibbles” weren’t about where modern humans originally came from, but when they did so.
    This is basically…as far as I can tell…about when ‘humans’ all became the same species. “Out of Africa” theory is pretty much saying, all humans migrated out of Africa at the same time and sort of went everywhere and replaced other hominids. The “Multiregional” thing seems to be saying, humans came out of Africa at different times and went to different areas, and then all sort of became the same species somehow independently, which seems unlikely.
    As for some of what I saw from a cursory glance at claims of having “Debunked” the “Out of Africa” theory (that specific language)…. uhhhhh. I am pretty sure that 1. it doesn’t mean AT ALL what they think it means and 2. these are like, literally neo-nazi websites trying to claim that “races” are “species”. :|
    So, here’s the thing.
    Anyone who posts an online article that claims to have “debunked” a scientific THEORY is likely to be the wrongest wrong that ever wronged, and more likely to do with religious beliefs or cultural problems than the scientific theory in question.
     ”Science” as it functions in society, especially on an interpersonal level, is really just a tool like any other.  I know a lot of people read this and are like, “Are you trying to say science isn’t objective?!?!?!?” But the real issue here is that what we call “Science” is a concept created by people, and people are NOT objective. All of these ideas and activities serve some kind of purpose for human beings, otherwise, they wouldn’t exist.
    Rather than trying to examine the ultimate veracity of a claim in your Facebook feed, it’s probably more personally worthwhile for you to analyze the person who posted it’s motivations for doing so.
  6. megankmakesthings wrote...

    What are your thoughts on determining the authority of sources? Your interest in accessibility seems tied up in the problem of academia having a monopoly on scholarly authority (and I don't mean unbiased). What brought this up was your link to SPP, which publishes "unconventional or controversial research". Its cautious language in stating its mission lent it credibility, but then I wondered if it does peer review, or if that is even a thing outside academia and hoped you could…muse upon that?

    Well. Part of my goal here is to actually demonstrate the ways in which the relative “authority” of sources is socially constructed, in addition to other ways of determining whether or not a source is ‘better’ or ‘worse’.

    A great example of this is a time when someone challenged my use of Stephen Jay Gould as a source. That actually shocked me a bit, because the guy was one of the more decorated interdisciplinary writers in the sciences that I’d come across, in my own studies back in the day, and in other works I’ve read for my own edification on my own time. I always found him inspiring because of his insistence on writing in context, documenting the historiography of scientific racism, and challenging common misconceptions in the popular consciousness about well, a lot of things.

    Back in 2003, I took an interdisciplinary biology+ethics course, which coincided with the completion of the Human Genome Project, and we read a LOT of Stephen Jay Gould. I loved it. It was like, “what even IS biology, how did we get here, and should we even?” After the class, I ended up xeroxing the incredible Sci Fi short story, Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation by K. N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin, and leaving it in my professor’s mailbox (I had recently purchased Starlight 2, and was pretty high on speculative fiction anthologies at the time). 

    I’m telling you this because I wanted to pose the question: is there anything  that exists that we can really say is “outside academia”?

    If it exists, it can be analyzed, it can be written about, and it can be shared. There is a case to be made that they way we construct “peer review” is in and of itself rather biased; it is inarguable that it IS a form of gatekeeping. The way funding for academic AND scientific studies, projects, and published analyses is allocated is how money controls what does and does not get looked at.

    That being said, it really IS important to shove words back into the mouth they came out of, and take a long, hard look at how that fits into the bigger picture. So basically what I’m getting at is that some people will say “this source is no good”, while others will say, “this source is ironclad”, about the same source. What you do is up to you. :)

    And now, you’ve had my musings on this topic!

  7. 9thdegreeburn replied to your post: blue-popsicle asked:Hi, i don’t k…

    Didn’t the Romans prize Germanic people and Slavs more anyway? And not in terms of skin color. They were just more valued as slaves


    What you’re talking about is an idea derived from how the Greeks basically believed that the further away your country (and climate) of origin was from Greece, the more barbaric you were. Then, there were some Greek writers, philosophers, whatever, who adhered to the whole “climate=personality type” school of determinism.

    That’s an interpretation of evidence.

    You can go back to the sources in the OP and see what they’re talking about, basically. It’s just ethnocentrism, but like, cultural, not racial.

    The problem comes in with the Renaissance, and even further into the European Enlightenment, when the train wreck of “revival of Classical” and “a desperate need to justify chattel slavery and colonialism” got warped into the re-interpetation of geographical origin+climate=biological determinism/personality . They were literally mistranslating and extrapolating on documents that were like thousands of years old to try and justify race-based chattel slavery, and putting forth their own “climate” based theories (by Montesquieu and G.W.F. Hegel, notably).

    So, that idea comes more from the 1700s-1800s in Europe than Ancient Greece or Rome. I recommend some of Frank M. Snowden’s scholarship, not on history, but historiography, and his documentation of the translations of documents from the ancient world:

    Modern scholars have at times suggested that the Greeks regarded the Negro’s physical appearance as ugly and that the Greeks saw something comic in many artistic representations of the Negro type. Nothing in Greek literature, however, warrants such an assumption.

    Not only did many racist historians use biased language in their work, but even used racial slurs in place of terms like “Aethiops”, which was a neutral term (meaning “Ethiopian”) used as a synonym for “Black person”. In his conclusion, he places the blame for this projection of modern racist attitudes squarely where they belong: the shoulders of his “fellow” academics:

    Unless other evidence is brought to light, we cannot place the onus of “color-prejudice” on the ancient Greeks, as some scholars have done. The attitude of the ancient Greeks toward the Negro is epitomized, as this paper has shown, by Menander, who insists that it makes no difference whether one is an Ethiopian or a Scythian; natural bent, not race, determines nobility. The evidence of both art and literature seems to indicate that Menander was representing not merely the philosophic hope of an idealist, but that he was reflecting rather an attitude which had its roots deeply imbedded in the social subsoil of contemporary society.

    The idea that “whiter” slaves were “more highly prized” is a kind of last gasp of the dominating racist narratives that continue to be perpetuated in academia. It’s a further bowdlerization of Ancient Greek texts that mention everything on race from aesthetics, to politics, to  early forms of sciences or biology.

  8. thefoolstale wrote...

    Uh... I'd advise you to reread that post, friend. They were agreeing with you and you just kind of tore 'em a new one.





    Just because someone agrees with me doesn’t mean that I agree with them.

    I don’t think it’s really scientific to claim that black people are not in fact people, actually…

    When in fact, part of that posts cites the father of zoological taxonomy, Carl Linneaus, who literally classified various Africans as “nonhuman”.

    Biological disciplines all use this system. In which Khoisan peoples were designated “nonhuman”.

    Which led to Saartje Baartman being displayed like a zoo animal, and Angelo Soliman, a man who spoke seven languages and was called “the Father of Pure Masonic Thought” being posthumously stuffed and displayed as a curio surrounded by bones and dressed in a loincloth.

    Which led to this awful woman following around Khoisan people TODAY with a thermometer, calling them some kind of connection with “our ancestors”, in the NAME OF SCIENCE.

    Acting as if science and racism are some kind of natural enemies, as if one eliminates the other, merely divorces the present from its historical context, and if you hadn’t noticed, is counter to the purpose of this blog.

    And it’s probably worth noting that the takeaway from this (at least, as I’m reading it) isn’t “Science is bad, we should stop doing science ‘cause all of it’s racist!”

    Rather, it’s to recognize that a rather lot of our current body of scientific…stuff (be it knowledge, terminology, models, etc) either itself dates back to or is built on top of the work of people who were kind of super racist.

    It’s the same thing as, like — to this day we still tend to name sciencey stuff in Latin, and it’s because Enlightenment thinkers had a gigantic hard-on for classical antiquity. Sciencey Latin is pretty ubiquitous and is something we generally take for granted, even though it contributes significantly towards making scientific terminology really inaccessible.

    (We can even contrast the fields of chemistry and biology with, say, modern psychology — which is loaded with its own issues too, but isn’t all in Latin because it (by my layperson Wikipedidating) didn’t start being a thing until a century later.*)

    Scientific racism is the same deal: it’s there, but because it’s built into the woodwork it’s easy to gloss over or take for granted if you aren’t looking for it — and correspondingly difficult to extract without upsetting a bunch of people.

    And even though there’s nothing about race in the scientific method itself, when you’re dealing with people it can be hard to dissociate your process from the environment…which gets you a vast array of scientific studies performed mostly on white, upper-middle class college undergrads.

    ….aaaaaand then I try and track down the source that the numbers I remember hearing regarding that came from, and get this paper, which…basically makes the argument that we should think about college undergrads in the same way as we do one of those wacky, isolated tribes of brown people that anthropology gets all of its anecdotes from. 


    * The Age of Enlightenment was about 1650 - 1750ish [1], while Wilhelm Wundt built his first laboratory in 1879 [2].

    1. yes, absolutely you make a lot of really great points which i have bolded


    2. I really wish people would stop cutting eras into chunks when I’m trying to demonstrate a linear historical narrative that goes from before the period I’m talking about to after the period I’m talking about. Nothing happens in a void.

    Every discipline is built on the foundations of predecessors. My work is based on foundations laid by people who came before me.

    "Science" was not born like Venus from the foam, come adult and fully formed into the world complete with all the ideas we associate with it, like "objectivity" and "rational thought". It was created on purpose by human beings with thoughts, feelings, beliefs, cultures, genders, sexualities, and, eventually, races as we think of them today.

    The past doesn’t just disappear into the ether when people die or ideas are replaced by others. I mean, the entire point of having records of anything humanity has done is so we can look at them now and be influenced by them.

    Choosing how we are influenced by them is a very important part of learning, growing, and becoming a sentient adult and engaging with our environment and society.

    Alchemy was the basis of modern Chemistry, would people that want to clean up science demand that we discard chemical names and symbols since they were used in Astrology and looking for the transforming lead into gold?

    I don’t know, would they?

    The important thing is, that someone actually discusses it at some point.

    If the Alchemical roots of Chemistry results in running around after people and trying to take their temperature and practically calling them the missing link, then perhaps we should discuss it.

    What you’re doing is creating a strawman and stuffing it with Alchemy and people trying to “clean up” the sciences. It’s like you’re holding a telescope that works two ways, but you’ve never bothered looking in the other end.

    On one side, you have a lot of people very invested in the idea that because they’re practicing scientific processes, that makes THEM “neutral observers”. Even if the process is neutral, their observation IS NOT. Biases in scientific processes and reporting of findings is something that must be actively engaged, acknowledged, and discussed at all levels with diverse input in order to be LESS biased.

    ^ You know what proves that fact? Science.

    The other side of the telescope is the people who are affected by those biases. For example, the African-American women who were misdiagnosed with Vitamin D deficiency because the test used was calibrated using samples from White women and their vitamin D levels.


    If science is about anything, it’s about correcting false information. So don’t try and spread more of it in the name of Chemistry, Alchemy, or any other looming non-issues you’d like to derail with.

  9. lokathor said:

    I’m just glad that physics and computer science are pretty racist free.

    Computer science? Not so much.

    Mathematics either.

    I’m really curious why so many people are so quick to decide their particular discipline is free of racism. Doesn’t that just prevent you from analyzing things and using critical thinking in your discipline to remedy these problems instead of ignoring them?

  10. ☛ Enlightenment Thinkers Invented Anti-Black Racism, FYI






    auroramere said:

    I’ve fallen hard for Sleepy Hollow and the diversity is teaching me so much about my own racism. It’s about time white people got to look at a room with four black characters in it and say, “That’s funny… I’m not there.” Surprise!

    Yes, apparently this is… [tumblr snipped]

    I know a lot of people have been 
    reacting to Sleepy Hollow, but I’m hoping it’s making even more people *think*.

    I think one of the moments which could really be thought provoking if you let it is the “I see you’ve been emancipated” moment. I mean, bully for you Mr. Crane that you were a member of the AntiSlavery society, but that was no guarantee that he was going to treat Lt. Mills like a person (he did, but that’s his magical 21st century adaptability thing. or possible over exposure to certain Enlightenment thinkers).

    Anyway, this show doesn’t always make me think about race, but it certainly has me thinking about teaching historical thinking (and thinking historically) to the public through pop culture.

    "over exposure to certain Enlightenment thinkers"

    Uhhhhh. I hope you mean the opposite of what you said, because The Enlightenment was basically when racism as we know it today was invented.

    Enlightenment thinkers like Immanuel Kant:

    The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above the trifling. Mr. [David] Hume challenges anyone to cite a single example in which a Negro has shown talents, and asserts that among the hundreds of thousands of blacks who are transported elsewhere from their countries, although many of them have even been set free, still not a single one was ever found who presented anything great in art or science or any other praiseworthy quality, even though among the whites some continually rise aloft from the lowest rabble and through superior gifts earn respect in the world. So fundamental is the difference between these two races of man.

    Enlightenment thinker David Hume the “Abolitionist”:

    I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences…. [T]here are NEGROE slaves dispersed all over EUROPE, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity; tho’ low people, without education, will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession. In JAMAICA, indeed, they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but ‘tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.

    Enlightenment thinker John Locke, who is responsible for codifying race-based chattel slavery into the United States Constitution:

    Sir Leslie Stephan charged Locke with personal racism for inserting section CX: “Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves, of what opinion or religion soever.” There is some evidence to suggest that Locke did play a part in formulating the sections on religion — though it is possible this may have been at the bidding of Lord Ashley. […] David Armitage has shown that Locke was involved over the years in amending the Fundamental Constitutions of the Carolinas right up to the time at which he was writing the Two Treatises of Government, and while many articles of the Constitutions were removed at various times, this was not the case with the clause about negro slavery. Armitage implies that this shows not only that Locke agreed with the clause about negro slavery in the Fundamental Constitutions but that we should interpret the Second Treatise account of slavery as intended to justify the institutions and practices of Afro-American slavery.

    Enlightenment thinker Thomas Jefferson:

    Jefferson also dodged opportunities to undermine slavery or promote racial equality. As a state legislator he blocked consideration of a law that might have eventually ended slavery in the state.

    As president he acquired the Louisiana Territory but did nothing to stop the spread of slavery into that vast “empire of liberty.” Jefferson told his neighbor Edward Coles not to emancipate his own slaves, because free blacks were “pests in society” who were “as incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” And while he wrote a friend that he sold slaves only as punishment or to unite families, he sold at least 85 humans in a 10-year period to raise cash to buy wine, art and other luxury goods.

    Destroying families didn’t bother Jefferson, because he believed blacks lacked basic human emotions. “Their griefs are transient,” he wrote, and their love lacked “a tender delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation.”

    Jefferson claimed he had “never seen an elementary trait of painting or sculpture” or poetry among blacks and argued that blacks’ ability to “reason” was “much inferior” to whites’, while “in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.” He conceded that blacks were brave, but this was because of “a want of fore-thought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present.”

    So, I can only assume that it’s a LACK of exposure to Enlightenment thinkers that presumably led to our fictional character Ichabod Crane, time traveling Apocalypse-Thwarter, to eschew the violent and virulent racism that was a product of his time.


    There were definitely good things that came out of the Enlightenment/Age of Reason, but the racism was not one of them. I don’t think it’s really scientific to claim that black people are not in fact people, actually…


    It seems like you’re trying to disagree with something here, but you’re doing a rather bad job of it.

    (Bear with me, because we’re about to get scare-quote happy as heck.)

    Basically what you’re saying here is, because you don’t feel like “science” and “racism” have anything in common, they don’t…because “science” is “good” and “racism” is “bad”.

    You can’t just divorce two concepts because you like one, and don’t like the other…but the problem IS, that when you take one concept (science) without acknowledging its roots and it HISTORY, you’re reinforcing the other (racism).

    For example, take a science like Dermatology. All textbooks in regard to dermatology ONLY portrayed various skin conditions as they appeared on White skin until just a few years ago.

    Have a look at this description for a medical textbook used in Dermatology curricula:

    This fourth edition contains new chapters on racially pigmented skin, dermatology of different age groups and cosmetic dermatology. 

    "Racially pigmented skin".

    Sadly, I don’t even have to do any research to know what effect this kind of bias has on people’s lives; I know from experience. And this is probably the mildest example of racial bias in modern science there is.

    The point here is, no matter what the intent is, the result is the same: sub-par care and misdiagnosis of skin conditions on people of color, because no one thought to make a a textbook that wasn’t racist.

    Just because you don’t think these above quotes from the founders of science, law and philosophy reflect your idea of science, law or philosophy does not negate the fact that the entire foundation of these sciences in “The West” was built on these racist foundations. THAT is FACT.