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The Republic of ColorScience, Perception, and the Making of Modern America$
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Michael Rossi

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226651729

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226651866.001.0001

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Colors and Cultures

Colors and Cultures

Evolution, Biology, and Society

(p.115) Chapter Four Colors and Cultures
The Republic of Color

Michael Rossi

University of Chicago Press

This chapter follows the role of color perception in transforming definitions of “culture” in American anthropology, medicine, and politics. The question of whether all “races” of people saw color in the same way was critical to nineteenth century understandings of culture. Some researchers theorized that some “races” had lower color acuity than the civilized and therefore a lower “level” of culture; other researchers insisted that disorders such as color blindness were indicators of advanced culture. Still others – such as anthropologist Franz Boas – used color perception to demonstrate that culture was not tied to “races,” and, indeed, that it was unscientific to speak of culture as being more or less “advanced.” Cultures were multiple – no one culture was better than another: an idea that came to be known as “multiculturalism,” and which derived from nineteenth century research in color perception.

Keywords:   Franz Boas, culture, anthropology, multiculturalism, language, race

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