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The Great International Race Contest of 1741

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Slavery, Knowledge, and Enlightenment at the Bordeaux Academy of Sciences

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​​

October 4, 2021
3:30-5 p.m.
115 Purnell Hall​

Watch the recording

In August of 1739, Bordeaux’s Royal Academy of Sciences publicized an essay contest in Europe’s best-known scientific journal. The subject was a riddle that had long perplexed Europeans: what is the cause of the Sub-Saharan Africans’ peculiar hair texture and dark skin? While this query theoretically limited itself to discussion of African physical features, what really preoccupied the Academy were three hidden questions: the first was who is black? The second follows the first: and why? The third was an even bigger concern, namely, what did being black signify? In this talk, Curran will explain the genesis of this contest, the sixteen (varied) submissions to the competition, and the link between scientific academies and the development of race.​

Sponsored by the Center for Global Area Studies​ and European Studies Program​

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About the Speaker

Andrew Curran

​Andrew S. Curran

​​Andrew S. Curran is an 18th-century specialist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Guardian, Time magazine, Newsweek, The Paris Review, El País, and The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of three books. His most recent book, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely (Other Press, 2019), was named one of the best biographies of 2019 by El Cultural, Kirkus Reviews, The Australian, The Irish Times, NRC, and Open Letters Review, and is being translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese and Chinese. Curran’s previous book was The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Era of Enlightenment, which was A Choice Outstanding Academic Title. Translated into French as L’Anatomie de la noirceur, this same book also received the 2018 Louis Marin Prize from the French l’Académie des sciences d’outre-mer. His new book, edited with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is titled Who is Black and Why? Race, Enlightenment, and Slavery at the Bordeaux Royal Academy of Sciences, and is forthcoming from Harvard University Press in March 2022. Curran is a fellow in the history of medicine at the New York Academy of Medicine and a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Palmes Académiques. He has also received grants and fellowships from the French Government, The Mellon Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, most recently an NEH Public Scholarship. Curran lives in Connecticut, USA, where he is the William Armstrong Professor of the Humanities at Wesleyan University.​

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In this talk, Andrew S. Curran explores the link between scientific academies and the development of the concept of “race” through the lens of an essay contest sponsored by the Bordeaux Academy of the Sciences in 18thcentury.
11/12/2021
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