- Hardcover: 334 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (February 21, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674009460
- ISBN-13: 978-0674009462
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #903,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Hideous Monster of the Mind: American Race Theory in the Early Republic
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From Publishers Weekly
Are racial differences the result of disparities in environment and social position or innate biological variations? This question loomed large in early America, and this fascinating work of intellectual history revisits the race debate in the years between the Revolution and Civil War. History professor Dain explores shifting conceptions of race in the writings of public intellectuals from Jefferson to Frederick Douglass, including those of neglected African-American writers like Phyllis Wheatley and James McCune Smith. The fundamental issue for all sides of the debate, Dain argues, was "whether slaves and ex-slaves were capable of citizenship in a republic." Arguments ranged far afield in theology and historiography; racists invoked the Biblical Curse of Canaan to show God's ordination of slavery, while abolitionists pointed at ancient Egypt as an example of an advanced black civilization. Always there was the backdrop of scientific and pseudo-scientific theory as it developed from the 18th century "natural history" tradition of classification to a 19th century "hard racism" that saw races as something akin to distinct species. Dain traces the interplay of these positions and the responses of black and abolitionist writers: some believed that racial characteristics were a mutable continuum, some used the concept of distinct races to imply the natural "cruelty and hypocrisy" of whites and some argued that race was an ideological and psychological construct, a "hideous monster of the mind" rather than a physical fact. Dain's broad research, nuanced analyses and skillful writing make this an indispensable introduction to early attitudes about race.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
From the outset, American thinkers have grappled with the problematic nature of race. Dain (history, Univ. of Utah) provides a welcome synthesis and critique of writings from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century. Analyzing primary source material, he considers the contemporary European thinking on natural history, classification, and race that influenced American writers. He assesses Thomas Jefferson's conflicted ideology and Frederick Douglass's critique of ethnology and illuminates lesser-known figures, including the African Americans James McCune Smith, a physician and intellectual, and Hosea Easton, a minister who developed a systematic theory of race. Dain ably limns multiple influences on race theory, including pro- and anti-slavery movements and foundational but evolving scientific, religious, and societal beliefs. He does not shy from expressing his viewpoints about the intellectual honesty or rigor of his various subjects, but he attempts to be neutral on the issue of race itself within the historical context. Some background in early American history and/or race theory is required, and the book assumes familiarity with teleology and other philosophical ideas. Still, this scholarly review of white and black thinkers is a notable contribution to American race studies. For academic collections but also suitable for public libraries where scholarly interest in race or American history is strong.
Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington Libs., OH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.