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