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The Anatomy of Blackness

Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment

Andrew S. Curran

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2012 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine

This volume examines the Enlightenment-era textualization of the Black African in European thought. Andrew S. Curran rewrites the history of blackness by replicating the practices of eighteenth-century readers. Surveying French and European travelogues, natural histories, works of anatomy, pro- and anti-slavery tracts, philosophical treatises, and literary texts, Curran shows how naturalists and philosophes drew from travel literature to discuss the perceived problem of human blackness within the nascent human sciences, describes how a number of...

2012 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine

This volume examines the Enlightenment-era textualization of the Black African in European thought. Andrew S. Curran rewrites the history of blackness by replicating the practices of eighteenth-century readers. Surveying French and European travelogues, natural histories, works of anatomy, pro- and anti-slavery tracts, philosophical treatises, and literary texts, Curran shows how naturalists and philosophes drew from travel literature to discuss the perceived problem of human blackness within the nascent human sciences, describes how a number of now-forgotten anatomists revolutionized the era’s understanding of black Africans, and charts the shift of the slavery debate from the moral, mercantile, and theological realms toward that of the "black body" itself. In tracing this evolution, he shows how blackness changed from a mere descriptor in earlier periods into a thing to be measured, dissected, handled, and often brutalized.

Penetrating and comprehensive, The Anatomy of Blackness shows that, far from being a monolithic idea, eighteenth-century Africanist discourse emerged out of a vigorous, varied dialogue that involved missionaries, slavers, colonists, naturalists, anatomists, philosophers, and Africans themselves.

Reviews

Reviews

This is an important contribution to an important topic. But it is also a model of how intellectual history should be done. Curran moves well beyond the parade of Big Thinkers that have long dominated the history of ideas. He reads them, to be sure, but he also reads what they read. By this technique, he moves deeper and deeper into the culture of ethnography, anatomy, and slavery in search of the origins and forms of 'Blackness.'

Curran's approach to intellectual history is an exciting one that transcends the oft-written biographies and other author-centered discussions. His focus on trends and his immersion in the writings of the time creates an accurate rather than anachronistic mindset, which is truly useful for historians.

A definitive statement on the complex, painful, and richly revealing topic of how the major figures of the French Enlightenment reacted to the enslavement of black Africans, often to their discredit. The fields of race studies and of Enlightenment studies are more than ready to embrace the type of analysis in which Curran engages, and all the more so in that his book is beautifully written and illustrated.

A highly intelligent book on an important topic. The breadth of Andrew Curran's knowledge about the Enlightenment is astonishing... The book makes the convincing point not only that Africa is a major focus in the Enlightenment's imagination, but also that natural history and anthropology are central to understanding not only its scientific agenda, but also its humanitarian politics.

This engrossing, comprehensive study traces 18th-century European thought on anatomical blackness of Africans... Curran's ability to dissect and explain complicated arguments of the period's major thinkers is impressive.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
328
ISBN
9781421409658
Illustration Description
29 b&w photos
Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Tissue Samples in the Land of Conjecture
Defining le Nègre
The New Africanist Discourse after 1740
The Contexts of Representation
Representing Africanist Discourse
Anato

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Tissue Samples in the Land of Conjecture
Defining le Nègre
The New Africanist Discourse after 1740
The Contexts of Representation
Representing Africanist Discourse
Anatomizing the History of Blackness
1. Paper Trails: Writing the African, 1450–1750
The Early Africanists: The Episodic and the Epic
Rationalizing Africa
The Birth of the Caribbean African
Jean-Baptiste Labat
Labat on Africa
Processing the African Travelogue: Prévost's Histoire générale des voyages
Rousseau's Afrique
2. Sameness and Science, 1730–1750
The Origin of Shared Origins
Toward a "Scientific" Monogenesis
Historicizing the Human in an Era of Empiricism: The Role of the Albino
Creating the Blafard
Buffonian Monogenesis: The Nègre as Same
Blackness Qualified: Breaking down the Nègre
The Colonial African and the Rare Buffonian Je
3. The Problem of Difference: Philosophes and the Processing of African "Ethnography," 1750–1775
The "Symptoms" of Blackness: Africanist "Facts," 1750–1770
Montesquieu and the "Refutation" of Difference
The Nagging Context of Montesquieu's Antislavery Diatribe
Voltaire: The Philosophe as Essentialist
Voltaire and the Albino of 1744
Voltaire, the Nègre, and Human Merchandise
Processing Africa and Africans in the Encyclopédie
The Preternatural History of Black African Difference
Teaching Degeneration: Valmont de Bomare's Dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle
4. The Natural History of Slavery, 1770–1802
The Hardening of Climate Theory and the Birth of New Racial Categories circa 1770–1785
Toward a Human Biopolitics circa 1750–1770
The Politics of Slavery in the Encyclopédie
Mercier and Saint-Lambert and the New Natural History
The Synchretism of the 1770s: Grappling with "Nature's Mistreatment" of the Nègre
Anti-slavery Rhetoric in Raynal's Histoire des deux Indes
The Era of Negrophilia
Epilogue: The Natural History of the Noir in an Age of Revolution
Coda: Black Africans and the Enlightenment Legacy
Notes
Works Cited
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Andrew S. Curran, Ph.D.

Andrew S. Curran is a professor of French at Wesleyan University and a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine in the history of medicine. He is the author of Sublime Disorder: Physical Monstrosity in Diderot’s Universe.
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