The Science and Politics of Race in Mexico and the United States, 1910–1950
University of North Carolina Press 2018
Karin Rosemblatt’s new book, The Science and Politics of Race in Mexico and the United States, 1910–1950 (University of North Carolina Press, 2018), traces how U.S.- and Mexican-trained intellectuals, social and human scientists, and anthropologists applied their ethnographic field work on indigenous and Native American peoples on both sides of the Rio Grande to debates over race, national culture, and economic development. The book’s backdrop—the rise of populist movements and governments in both countries in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, the onset of the Great Depression, and the instabilities of the interwar period in both countries—provides an excellent opportunity to explore how scientific thought inflected the social construction of race and influenced policy in the Americas. Rosemblatt’s transnational methodology moves beyond accepting race in terms of comparison by tackling the longstanding notion that race and racial categories tended to be more fluid in Latin America and more rigid in the U.S. She shows how figures such as Manuel Gamio, John Collier, and Laura Thompson participated in transnational scholarly networks where the relationship between indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities to culture and nationalism was questioned and debated. In highlighting these collaborations, she shows how Latin American expertise on indigenous peoples bestowed political capital to social scientists for developing indigenous policies in Mexico, and unexpectedly, the United States in the case of Collier and the “Indian New Deal.” The book's firm commitment to taking seriously these scholars’ ideas and social contexts allows it to see the limitations of seemingly pseudoscientific or racist paradigms and the ways fieldwork forced them to rethink their own notions of backwardness and civilization.
Jesse Zarley will be an assistant professor of history at Saint Joseph’s College on Long Island, where in Fall 2019 he will be teaching Latin American, Caribbean, and World History. His research interests include borderlands, ethnohistory, race, and transnationalism during Latin America’s Age of Revolution, particularly in Chile and Argentina. He is the author of a recent article on Mapuche leaders and Chile’s independence wars. You can follow him on Twitter.