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How Emerson Redefined Race

Question: How does the idea of “whiteness” intersect with European art history and aesthetic theory?

Nell Irvin Painter:  Yes, because drawing lines of varieties or races also is drawing lines about physical attractiveness, so for Blumenbach 1795 Caucasian was his choice of name because it had to with the most beautiful skull in his skull collection.  Now the skull was actually from Georgia.  It was from a sex slave from Georgia, and so what this skull did was embed in the name Caucasian the idea of beauty because the idea was that the Caucasians or the Circassians or the Georgians were the most beautiful people in the world, and that’s why Blumenbach chose that name, but also female and subjected, so the struggle in the nineteenth century was to pull the beauty part of Caucasian away from sex slaves into virile men, and that’s one of the things that Ralph Waldo Emerson did. 

Question: How do we reconcile Emerson the passionate abolitionist with Emerson the champion of the “Saxon” race?

Nell Irvin Painter:  Well first of all, Emerson was not passionate about abolition.  He wasn’t a passionate person.  He was a cool intellectual, and I think he probably was a little uncomfortable with passionate people, but he was against slavery.  There is no question of that, but for Emerson the American was the same as an Englishman and the Englishman was the same as a Saxon.  Now when he said Saxon he didn’t mean Saxon from Saxony.  If you’re familiar with Germany there is a well-known region called Saxony, which is in the eastern part of today’s Germany, and the big cities there are Dresden and Leipzig and Weimar, which was the city of Goethe and Schiller, so that Saxony is a well known area and it was a very important area in the nineteenth century.  That’s not what Emerson meant.  Emerson meant a kind of floating area off to the west, kind of between the Netherlands and Denmark, maybe Hanover is involved, so that’s where his Saxons, came from and he also meshed them in together with Vikings, so it’s a kind of northern masculine invention.

Question: Are Emerson’s racial ideas still embedded in our own?

Nell Irvin Painter:  Yes, in certain ways, but what American historians for instance have done is take Emerson’s concept of Saxon, and when Emerson used Saxon he was not including the Celts.  The Celts were considered a separate race.  The Irish were considered a separate race and Catholicism was considered part of their separateness, so for him Saxon went back to these Protestant Germans and Englishmen. So what American historians have done is take the twentieth-century word white and read it backwards and equate white with Anglo-Saxon, with Saxon, with “free white” for instance in the census of 1790, whereas at the time, 1790 or 1856 those were not the same meanings.  They were different terms because they meant different things.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a vocal abolitionist, yet also romanticized a "Saxon" racial ideal. How should we make sense of his attitudes—and untangle them from our own?

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

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Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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Has science made religion useless?

Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.

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  • Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
  • This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
  • "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."

Signs of Covid-19 may be hidden in speech signals

Studying voice recordings of infected but asymptomatic people reveals potential indicators of Covid-19.

Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
Coronavirus
It's often easy to tell when colleagues are struggling with a cold — they sound sick.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
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  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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Supporting climate science increases skepticism of out-groups

A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
  • This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
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