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February 1, 1996
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v2.1 Reference

Rethinking Race

Franz Boas and His Contemporaries

In this thought-provoking reexamination of the history of "racial science" Vernon J. Williams argues that all current theories of race and race relations can be understood as extensions of or reactions to the theories formulated during the first half of the twentieth century. Williams explores these theories in a carefully crafted analysis of Franz Boas and his influence upon his contemporaries, especially W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, George W. Ellis, and Robert E. Park.

Historians have long recognized the monumental role Franz Boas played in eviscerating the racist worldview that prevailed in the American social sciences. Williams reconsiders the standard portrait of Boas and offers a new understanding of a man who never fully escaped the racist assumptions of 19th-century anthropology but nevertheless successfully argued that African Americans could assimiliate into American society and that the chief obstacle facing them was not heredity but the prejudice of white America.

About the Author

Vernon J. Williams Jr. is associate professor in the Department of History and in the American Studies program at Purdue University.


"He characterizes Boas as a complex and conflicted man who held ambiguous ideas about racial equality."—American Historical Review

"Contributes significantly to a fuller understanding of Boas's impact on racial thinking, and it offers new insights into the changing racial views of social scientists in the formative period from 1896 to 1943."—American Historical Review

"This is the first book to detail how Boas also worked closely with many of the same African-American intellectuals to shape major trends in American anthropology."—American Journal of Sociology

"Williams enlightens the reader as to the gulf that still remains between the myths that are utilized to support claims of African American inferiority and the true complexity of this topic as revealed by scholars like Franz Boas."—Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences

"Williams has done a superb job of discussing the impact of Franz Boas' impact on the racial thinking of his white anthropological contemporaries. . . . a most valuable contribution to the past and continuing debate of the importance of race in American society."—Arkansas Historical Quarterly

"Offers a thoughtful historical reflection on how and why these issues continue to affect our personal and national perceptions and out often uncomfortable attempts to discuss race in American life."—Historian

"A timely and thoughtful re-examination of a formative period in the history of American social science and race relations."—Southern Historian

"A continuation of the author's pioneering work on the emergence of the modern cultural interpretation of race in America."—The Journal of Southern History

9780813108735 : rethinking-race-williams
Paperback / softback
168 Pages
$45.00 USD

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