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  • Bodies of Knowledge:The Human Sciences, Expertise, and Public Policy
  • Christine Manganaro (bio)
Melissa N. Stein. Measuring Manhood: Race and the Science of Masculinity, 1830–1934. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 354 pp. Illustrations, notes, and index. $27.00.
Thomas C. Leonard. Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015. xiv + 250 pp. Notes and index. $35.00.
Alexandra Minna Stern. Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America, 2nd ed. Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. xvi + 402 pp. Illustrations, bibliography, notes, and index. $29.95.

The three books under review focus on the development of expertise in the United States and the role of perceptions about human difference and fitness for citizenship in public policy debates. In the nineteenth century, physicians and scientists increasingly claimed specialized knowledge and assumed positions of cultural authority in public discourse, as well as social authority in institutions. In Measuring Manhood: Race and the Science of Masculinity, 1830–1934, Melissa Stein invokes Stephen J. Gould's book about nineteenth-century scientific racism and biological determinism, The Mismeasure of Man (1981). Laura Briggs has observed that work like Gould's and William Stanton's The Leopard's Spots (1972) "understood the production of racial difference to be something that science did primarily to male bodies."1 A similar observation animates Measuring Manhood. Citing initial work by Gould, Stanton, and George Frederickson, among others, as the standard historiography, Stein frames her project as part of an "emerging scholarship that examines the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality," scholarship intended as a corrective to histories that in her assessment have inadequately examined the meanings of anatomy and "paid little attention to gender" (pp. 18, 20). Stein overstates the gap in the literature, but this project does contribute an analysis of how inextricably intertwined racial science and public discourse about citizenship [End Page 470] were; likewise the substantial, constitutive overlap between racial science and sexology prior to World War I.2

Measuring Manhood's primary contributions lie in its first three chapters: on the antebellum development of biological paradigms of racial difference as knowledge produced by, for, and about men (chapter one); post-bellum deliberation about gender and citizenship vis-à-vis race (chapter two); and the co-evolution of late nineteenth-century racial science and sexology (chapter three). Stein locates concerns about manhood and masculinity in the steadily professionalizing literature about race and citizenship operating before and after the Civil War by treating the multidisciplinary sciences of race as ethnology. In this case, ethnology can be considered a discursive space and a collection of scholars, scientists, and medical personnel devoted to studying human origins and racial differentiation. Looking beyond the texts they produced, Stein also considers the private lives of familiar ethnologists such as Samuel George Morton, Samuel Cartwright, and Josiah Nott, as well as a number of less historically prominent figures such as Charles Brace, Benjamin Gould, and Roberts Bartholow. These chapters are long (sixty pages in one case, eighty in another) and so stuffed that effort is required to stay the course. But they add considerable texture to what we know about the modes in which nineteenth-century ethnologists worked, and they demonstrate that the loose boundaries around this work yielded scientific and medical literature on race that was often nearly indistinguishable from general racist propaganda (p. 128). Chapter three, "Inverts, Perverts, and Primitives: Racial Thought and the American School of Sexology" is the most original section of the book. Arguing that historians have mistakenly characterized U.S. sexologists working in the 1940s and 1950s before Alfred Kinsey as following European trends, Stein notes that early U.S. scientific work on homosexuality and inversion remains relatively under-examined (p. 174). She is right. Addressing this gap by analyzing sexological work by the very same racial scientists who were profiled in earlier chapters, Stein shows that ethnology and sexology were not separate fields in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, these decades saw the development of a unique concept of sexuality and sexual deviance shaped by the country's racial context (p. 178).

The two...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6628
Print ISSN
0048-7511
Pages
pp. 470-476
Launched on MUSE
2017-09-20
Open Access
No
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