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Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century

Hosted By: Haberman Institute

A century ago, everyone knew that people were fated by their race, sex, and nationality to be more or less intelligent, nurturing, or warlike. But Columbia University professor Franz Boas, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, looked at the data and decided everyone was wrong. Racial categories, he insisted, were biological fictions. Cultures did not come in neat packages labeled “primitive” or “advanced.” What counted as a family, a good meal, or even common sense was a product of history and circumstance, not of nature.

In Gods of the Upper Air, a masterful narrative history of radical ideas and passionate lives, Charles King shows how these intuitions led to a fundamental reimagining of human diversity and–through Boas’s students such as Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Zora Neale Hurston–inspired the fluid conceptions of identity we know today.

Join the Haberman Institute for this fascinating lecture led by author Charles King on the history of the birth of cultural anthropology and the adventurous scientists who pioneered it.

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