New Books Network

David Varel

The Lost Black Scholar

Resurrecting Allison Davis in American Social Thought

University of Chicago Press 2018

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in AnthropologyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network July 12, 2019 Alex Golub

Allison Davis (1902-1983) was a pioneering anthropologist who did ground-breaking fieldwork in the Jim Crow south,  challenged the racial bias of IQ tests, and...

Allison Davis (1902-1983) was a pioneering anthropologist who did ground-breaking fieldwork in the Jim Crow south,  challenged the racial bias of IQ tests, and became the first African American to be tenured at the University of Chicago. And yet despite these contributions Davis’s work is little read today. The Lost Black Scholar: Resurrecting Allison Davis in American Social Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2018) is the first full-length biography of Davis ever written. In it, historian David Varel documents Davis’s remarkable life. In this episode in New Books in Anthropology we talk about Davis’s collaboration with authors such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Edward Sapir, John Dollard, W. Lloyd Warner Warner, St. Clair Drake, and many others. We also discuss how Davis pioneered concepts such as structural racism and explored the relationship between race and class. David Varel talks about the choices he made as a White academic writing about an African American life, and the importance of widening intellectual genealogies by including ‘lost’ figures such as Davis.

David Varel earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Colorado, Boulder. The Lost Scholar: Resurrecting Allison Davis in American Social Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2018) is his first book.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He is the author of the article “Welcoming the New Amateurs: A future (and past) for non-academic anthropologists” as well as other books and articles.