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Charles E. King
Georgetown University (Washington, DC 20057-0001)
The Humanity Lab: A Story of Race, Culture, and the Promise of an American Idea

A book on anthropologist Franz Boas (1848-1942) and the role of his jazz-age New York circle in developing the revolutionary view of social customs in "foreign" cultures that came to be known as cultural relativism. The project addresses the resulting transformation in popular attitudes about race, sexuality, and gender over the last century.

The Humanity Lab is a work of intellectual and social history centered on a small band of contrarian social scientists working in jazz-age New York. Led by pioneering anthropologist Franz Boas and including such critical figures as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, this group pioneered a way of seeing the world that is only now coming into broad acceptance. Together, they were puzzling through the details of the theory they would come to call “cultural relativism.” The starting point was the idea that no social customs were advanced or retrograde, higher or lower. Each was, instead, a locally specific solution to some common human problem--an insight that stands alongside many of the great scientific advances of the 20th century. The project addresses the transformation in popular attitudes about race, sexuality, gender, and "foreign" customs over the last century and will result in a single-author book published by a commercial press and aimed at the serious general reader.

[Grant products][Media coverage][Prizes]

Project fields:
History, General; Interdisciplinary Studies, General; Social Sciences, General

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$40,320 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2017 – 8/31/2018