Excerpt of Nell Irvin Painter: The History of White People

MON, MAR 29, 2010 (50:26)

Nell Irvin Painter, an American historian discusses her newest work, The History of White People.

In The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter tells perhaps the most important forgotten story in American history. Beginning at the roots of Western civilization, she traces the invention of the idea of a white race--often for economic, scientific, and political ends. She shows how the origins of American identity in the 18th century were intrinsically tied to the elevation of white skin into the embodiment of beauty, power, and intelligence; how the great American intellectuals--including Ralph Waldo Emerson--insisted that only Anglo Saxons were truly American; and how the definitions of who is "white" and who is "American" have evolved over time.

The History of White People closes a gap in a literature that has long focused on the nonwhite, and it forcefully reminds us that the concept of "race" is a human invention whose meaning, importance, and reality have changed according to a long and rich history.

+ BIO: Nell Irvin Painter

Nell Irvin Painter is an award-winning author of many books, including Sojourner Truth, Southern History Across the Color Line, Creating Black Americans, The History of White People, and Standing at Armageddon. She is the former Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University and lives in Newark, New Jersey. In addition to her earned doctorate in history from Harvard University, she has received honorary doctorates from Wesleyan, Dartmouth, SUNY-New Paltz, and Yale. After retiring from teaching, she returned to school to receive a BFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers and MFA in painting from RISD.

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