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Henry Louis Gates Jr. & Andrew S. Curran: The Robert B. Silvers Lecture

In our December 6, 2021 issue, we published “Inventing the Science of Race,” an adaptation of a chapter from the new book by the historians Andrew Curran and Henry Louis Gates Jr., Who Is Black and Why. At the New York Public Library on Thursday, March 10, the authors gave a two-part lecture in which they revisit a crucial juncture in the development of the concept of race during the Enlightenment. In the first half, Curran reviews the history of an essay contest held by the Bordeaux Academy of Sciences in 1741, which solicited explanations of the dark skin of African peoples. In the second half, Gates shows how black writers, from Ouladah Equiano to Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass, challenged the claims by Enlightenment philosophers that Black Africans were less human because they could not express themselves in writing.

The Robert B. Silvers Lecture is an annual series created by Max Palevsky in recognition of the work of Robert B. Silvers, who was a co-founding editor of The New York Review of Books.

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