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Race and Science: Histories and Legacies (HI2H5-15)


Why do many European and American museums contain large collections of human skulls? Why are some diseases associated with particular ethnic groups? And why does facial recognition software perform significantly worse when trying to identify people of African descent?

In this 15 CAT second-year module, we explore these questions through the long history of the relationship between race and science. We begin in the sixteenth century, with colonisation of the Americas and the rise of Atlantic slavery, and move right through to the present. In the process, we explore the historical development of various racial sciences, from anatomy and psychology through to anthropology and genetics. Throughout the course, there is an emphasis on exploring the relationship between race and science as part of a global history. We cover the history of racial science, not just in Europe and the United States, but also in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific.

Reflecting recent developments in the field, this course emphasises the agency of colonised, enslaved, and indigenous people in resisting and reworking the relationship between science and race, both in the past and present. Finally, this course confronts the legacies of racial science, questioning how society could better respond to these histories today.

No prior knowledge of either the history of race or the history of science is required to take this module.

For those interested in taking this course in the following academic year, I'd be very happy to answer any questions you might have via email, or arrange an MS Teams meeting to talk more. Please do get in contact.


Convenor: Dr James Poskett
Email: j dot poskett at warwick dot ac dot uk
Office: 3.50, Third Floor, Faculty of Arts Building


Lecture Times: 2pm, Thursdays (Term 1)

Lecture Room: FAB 2.43

Seminar Times: 12-1pm, Fridays (Group 1) and 1-2pm, Fridays (Group 2)

Seminar Room: FAB 1.12

Facial Recognition

Skin Colour Scale


Images from top to bottom:

Figure 1: Study by Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru of racial bias in facial recognition software (Source: Creative Commons)

Figure 2: Skin colour scale used in Nazi Germany and designed by the Austro-Hungarian anthropologist, Felix von Luschan (Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Figure 3: Engraving of 'African', 'Native American', and 'Chinese' skulls from James Cowles Prichard, Natural History of Man (1843) (Source: Wellcome Images)