1987-88: Race

How have questions of race affected the humanities? In what ways do they continue to do so? What role do distinctions between races play in cultures? To what extent is our conception of the humanities based on assumptions of racial superiority? The Society for the Humanities seeks to bring together scholars from various disciplines in the humanities, and of different methodological orientations, whose work addresses these questions. Projects might include:

  1. Study of the history of "race" itself. How have the conceptions of race promoted by various discourses varied in history, and what has been at stake in changing conceptions of race? What forms does the increased concern with race take in Europe after the sixteenth century, and how are they related to European economic and cultural expansion? How have forces in the "postcolonial" era affected concepts of race and their ideological status?
  2. Investigation of representations of race in art and literature and the role of race in various artistic styles, modes, and genres, as well as in the work of individual writers, artists, and composers.
  3. Analysis of ways in which racialism has informed thinking and writing of other sorts, from political philosophy to popular culture. Race has frequently served as a category through which "otherness" can be conceived and may have facilitated the tendency to treat "the other" not as heterogeneous and independent but as analogous and inferior. How have speech habits encoded racial attitudes, or how have languages themselves embodied concepts of racial difference?
  4. Study of how the hierarchical ordering of races has affected humanistic disciplines themselves. Modem disciplines of art history, classics, ethnography, literary criticism, philology and linguistics, musicology, and history were founded between 1760 and 1840 and consolidated between 1880 and 1920, both periods of intense racialism. Have racist patterns of thought affected these disciplines and, if so, how?

The centrality of racism to Western culture has until recently made examination of its ramifications difficult. We hope that new disciplinary perspectives and assumptions may now permit fruitful investigation of these problems.