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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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Small Lies for Big Truths

Small Lies for Big Truths

Standards, Values, and Color Terms

(p.176) Chapter Six Small Lies for Big Truths
The Republic of Color

Michael Rossi

University of Chicago Press

This chapter looks at anxieties and debates over color names and color terms in turn of the century America. “The Color Question,” as board game magnate and sometimes-color-scientist Milton Bradley called it, concerned the accuracy and seriousness with which words for colors mapped onto color sensations. This was not simply a practical matter, but was also a moral one — definiteness in nomenclature indicated soundness of mind and stability of society. This chapter focuses on efforts to devise morally and scientifically sound names for colors, examining systems devised by Bradley and his associate, J.H. Pillsbury; Smithsonian Institution ornithologist Robert Ridgway; and art professor Albert H. Munsell. In these attempts, one finds not only a drive to industrial efficiency, but a great deal of anxiety about the mutability of human beings in modern society: a society in which even basic, shared measures of reality – such as the color of objects – could no longer be communicated reliably between observers.

Keywords:   Milton Bradley, Robert Ridgway, Albert H. Munsell, color terms, language, morality

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