This course traces the history of science’s attempts to make race—an internally incoherent concept with no biological basis—appear to be a reasonable concept for not only dividing the human population, but also for regulating and altering the shape of the population. To illuminate the contours of the historical relationship between race and science as well as the emergence and demise of a “race science,” this course follows four units of study. Unit one explores the history of the concept of race as well as its logic and functioning. Here we trace race’s emergence from the Iberian Peninsula in the sixteenth century and its dependence on colonialism for its spread and ideology. Unit two investigates how race became dependent on science to further its proliferation and strengthen its internal logic. This section begins with a review of many primary documents from the Enlightenment’s natural historians to show the role race played in the worldview of the most influential early modern scientists. From these nascent sciences, we move our investigation to the nineteenth century and the development of not simply race in science but rather a science devoted to producing measured knowledge about racial difference in the hopes of altering the racial makeup of the global population. We conclude this section with histories and primary documents that show the development of the race-focused sciences such as anthropometry, craniometry, physiognomy, phrenology, and ultimately, eugenics. Our third section continues our investigation into race science, but challenges common assumptions about its rise and fall by demonstrating race thinking’s role beyond the pseudosciences. In particular, this section highlights the relationship between race and statistical science and applied mathematics. Hiding behind a veil of objectivity, we find insurance, health care, mortgage lending, and sentencing and parole decisions using race as a key variable in their statistical assessments and applications, resulting in a widening of health, wealth, and incarceration disparities. In our final unit, we study the very recent past to see the evolution race science has made through its association with genomic science. Genomic science, we find, paradoxically helps to dispel the naturalness of traditional (i.e., phenotypically defined) racial categories while producing new racializations of those with atypical genetic makeups (e.g. Trisomy 21, Tay Sachs, and Sickle Cell). Our journey through race science’s past will illuminate that we are far from a post-racial present. And rather than simply acknowledge this, we will have the opportunity to think through how to remember the past to change our present. One of history’s most influential race scientists, Samuel Morton, was educated and practiced right here at the University of Pennsylvania. Not only we will get a private tour of his collection of skulls at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, but we will also, as a class, work together to collectively produce a piece of publicly accessible history that grapples with this troubled legacy.
Day and Time: 

T 0600PM-0900PM



Cross Listings: 
  • STSC261601
This is an LPS course. Registration may be limited to LPS students.