The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment Andrew S. Curran

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.

Review

“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.'”

(Marshall Poe New Books in History)

“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.”

(Sarah Goodwin Alpata: A Journal of History)

“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.”

(Mary McAlpin Symposium)

“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.”

(Carl Niekerk Centaurus)

“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.”

(Choice)

“Curran’s Francotropism and medical background enable him to develop insights that should prove important to the ongoing transnationalization and discipline-blurring of literary and cultural studies.”

(Ian Finseth Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment)

“This study reveals with striking clarity the complex interaction of the science of human difference in this period with other strands of Enlightenment thought as well as the practices of (French) slave trading and colonial slavery.”

(Carolyn Vellenga Berman H-France)

“A major contribution to the study of the uses of natural history, the presence and absence of universalism in the Enlightenment, and the origins of modern racial thought.”

(Martin S. Staum H-France)

“Curran has produced a powerful argument about how Europeans defined not only Africans but themselves in the early modern period; about how depictions of the ‘other’ furnished slavers and planters with the necessary intellectual justifications for slavery; about how natural science has the (frightening) ability to define both body and soul.”

(Jeremy L. Caradonna H-France)

The Anatomy of Blackness is an intense and challenging reading experience, but one that certainly repays the effort.”

(Stephen Kenny Reviews in History)

From the Inside Flap

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. He also 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.

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.–Symposium

This is an important contribution to an important topic. But it is also a model of how intellectual history should be done.–New Books in History

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.–Centaurus

Curran’s Francotropism and medical background enable him to develop insights that should prove important to the ongoing transnationalization and discipline-blurring of literary and cultural studies.–Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

Curran’s ability to dissect and explain complicated arguments of the period’s major thinkers is impressive.–Choice

–Sue Peabody, author of There Are No Slaves in France: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime “Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment”

From the Back Cover

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. He also 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.

“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.”―Symposium

“This is an important contribution to an important topic. But it is also a model of how intellectual history should be done.”―New Books in History

“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.”―Centaurus

“Curran’s Francotropism and medical background enable him to develop insights that should prove important to the ongoing transnationalization and discipline-blurring of literary and cultural studies.”―Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

“Curran’s ability to dissect and explain complicated arguments of the period’s major thinkers is impressive.”―Choice

About the Author

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.

  • Item Weight : 1 pounds
  • Paperback : 326 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1421409658
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1421409658
  • Dimensions : 6 x 0.74 x 9 inches

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