COUNTERPOINT
12:18 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Interview with Alice Conklin on the History of Anthropology, Ethnology, and Race

Host Jonathan Judaken and author Alice Conklin discuss the thorny relationship between science, society, and empire at the high water mark of French imperialism and European fascism, as well as this neglected chapter in the international history of the human sciences.

Credit Alice Conklin


In Memphis, and in America generally, we remain haunted by the history of “race” as a concept, and racism as a set of social practices. To gain some perspective on our local history, it is useful to take a step back, both in time and place.

Alice Conklin’s newest book, In the Museum of Man: Race, Anthropology, and Empire in France, 1850-1950, tells the story of how the discipline of anthropology and Paris’ ethnographic museum par excellence, the Museum of Man, are wound into the history of racial science and colonial conquest, but also ultimately played an important part in undoing scientific racism.

The book offers new insight into the thorny relationship between science, society, and empire at the high water mark of French imperialism and European fascism, as well as recovers a neglected chapter in the international history of the human sciences.

Alice Conklin is a professor in the Department of History at Ohio State University. Her first book, A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930 (Stanford, 1997) examined the ways in which France's liberal Third Republic produced a consensus on the legitimacy of imperialism through the notion of a special "mission to civilize" - highlighting the racist and republican elements that together influenced French policy-making. The book won the 1998 Book Prize of the Berskshire Conference of Women's Historians.