Diasporic Identities: The Science and Politics of Race in the Work of Franz Boas and W. E. B. Du Bois, 1894–1919

Essay Excerpt

To explore the problematic relationship between science and politics in both Boas's and Du Bois's antiracialism, I will look at four moments in their careers: early studies (Boas's 1894 "Human Faculty as Determined by Race" [1974b] and Du Bois's 1897 "Conservation of Races" [1986b]); transitional works (Du Bois's 1903 The Souls of Black Folk [1986c] and Boas's 1906 Atlanta commencement address, "The Outlook for the American Negro" [1974c]); the formulation of modernist antiracialism in the 1911 Universal Races Congress, to which they both contributed; and the crisis of the First World War. These moments demonstrate the extent to which their careers intersected, how they contributed to an emerging antiracialist discourse, and the extent to which their ideas ultimately diverged. In light of current debates on identity politics and nationalism, Du Bois and Boas help define both a community of intellectual work against racism and the different formulations of the politics of race and modernism. Their work also reveals how the very meaning of "race" was a live issue around the turn of the century, subject to a great deal of debate and evidence of both confusion and flexibility in usage not entirely lost on us today (Stocking 1994). (Liss, 130-131)

About the Author

Julia E. Liss has taught at Scripps College since 1989. She is Professor of History, chair of the History Department and Assistant Director of the Core II program. She earned her B.A. in History at Wesleyan University and Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. Most of her work, like her education, has stressed the interdisciplinary nature of intellectual inquiry. Her research focuses on the history of anthropology, particularly on Franz Boas, and the uses of history in wartime. She teaches U.S. cultural and intellectual history, including courses on women's history and on war and society. She has received Mary Wig Johnson Faculty Achievement awards in teaching, research, and service and has served as chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, Director of the Humanities Institute, and Chair of the Intercollegiate Program in American Studies. In spring 2010 she was Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the University of Bologna.

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