Making Race: Biology and the Evolution of the Race Concept in 20 Century American Thought

Making Race: Biology and the Evolution of the Race Concept in 20 Century American Thought

Columbia University
December 2008
309 pages

Michael Yudell

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy under the Executive Committee of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

At the dawn of the 21st century the idea of race—the belief that the peoples of the world can be organized into biologically distinctive groups, each with its own discrete physical, social and intellectual characteristics—is seen by most natural and social scientists as unsound and unscientific. Race and racism, while drawn from the visual cues of human diversity, are ideas with a measurable past, identifiable present, and uncertain future. They are concepts that change with time and place; the changes themselves products of a range of variables including time, place, geography, politics, science, and economics. As much as scientists once thought that race and racism were reflections of physical or biological differences, today social scientists, with help from colleagues in the natural sciences, have shown that the once scientific concept of race is in fact a product of history with an unmistakable impact on the American story. This dissertation examines the history of the biological race concept during the 20th century, studying how the biological sciences helped to shape thinking about human difference. This work argues that in the 20th century biology and genetics became the arbiter of the meaning of race. This work also brings the story of the evolution of the race concept to the present by examining the early impact of the genomic sciences on race, and by placing it in a contemporary public health context.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Dedication
  • Preface
  • Introduction: The Permanence of Race
  • Chapter 1: A Eugenic Foundation
  • Chapter 2: Making Race A Biological Difference
  • Chapter 3: Race Problems for Biology
  • Chapter 4: Consolidating the Biological Race Concept
  • Chapter 5: Race in the Molecular Age
  • Conclusion: Race, Genomics, and the Public’s Health
  • Bibliography

Read the entire dissertation here.

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