Slavery, the Civil War, and the Measure of Miscegenation in the Early Twentieth Century

Speaker: Rana Hogarth, PhD, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Date + Time: Wednesday, November 16, 2022, 4:00pm - 5:30pm, EST

Location: Virtual, on BlueJeans

Abstract: Slavery and its afterlives played a much larger role in the development of scientific opinions about the physical and intellectual fitness of mixed race people with Black ancestry (i.e. “mulattoes”) than has been acknowledged in histories of eugenics in the United States. Indeed, fears around race mixing that would later consume eugenicists in the early decades of the twentieth century were already entrenched within white American society in the eras of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. This talk examines the ways in which eugenicists employed scientific tools to measure the physical and intellectual abilities of so-called “Black and white racial hybrids.” As it draws attention to how eugenicists framed research questions about mixed race people’s bodies, this talk also traces the genealogy of the term “miscegenation,” and explores the process through which eugenicists made Blackness a legible biological trait through their studies of skin color, hair texture, and facial features. 

Bio: Rana Hogarth is associate professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on the creation of ideas about racial difference in North America and the Caribbean as they emerged through the language of medicine and its allied fields. She is the author of Medicalizing Blackness: Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840 (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), which examines how white physicians defined blackness as a medically significant marker of difference in slave societies of the American Atlantic. Her research has appeared in Social History of Medicine, American Quarterly, African and Black Diaspora: An International Journal, American Journal of Public Health, and in the edited volume Medicine and Healing in the Age of Slavery, edited by Sean Morey Smith and Christopher Willoughby (LSU Press, 2021).


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