Race Experts


Race Experts

Sculpture, Anthropology, and the American Public in Malvina Hoffman's Races of Mankind

Linda Kim

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

420 pages
86 illustrations, index


August 2018


$60.00 Add to Cart

September 2021


$40.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

August 2018


$40.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

August 2018


$40.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

2019 Finalist for the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award from the CAA 
Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

In Race Experts Linda Kim examines the complicated and ambivalent role played by sculptor Malvina Hoffman in T​he Races of Mankind series created for the Chicago Field Museum in 1930. Although Hoffman had training in fine arts and was a protégé of Auguste Rodin and Ivan Meštrović, she had no background in anthropology or museum exhibits. She was nonetheless commissioned by the Field Museum to make a series of life-size sculptures for the museum’s new racial exhibition, which became the largest exhibit on race ever installed in a museum and one of the largest sculptural commissions ever undertaken by a single artist.

Hoffman’s Races of Mankind exhibit was realized as a series of 104 bronzes of racial types from around the world, a unique visual mediation between anthropological expertise and everyday ideas about race in interwar America. Kim explores how the artist brought scientific understandings of race and the everyday racial attitudes of museum visitors together in powerful and productive friction. The exhibition compelled the artist to incorporate not only the expertise of racial science and her own artistic training but also the popular ideas about race that ordinary Americans brought to the museum. Kim situates the Races of Mankind exhibit at the juncture of these different forms of racial expertise and examines how the sculptures represented the messy resolutions between them.

Race Experts is a compelling story of ideological contradiction and accommodation within the racial practices of American museums, artists, and audiences. 

Author Bio

Linda Kim is an associate professor of American and modern art history at Drexel University.


"Kim's book, well researched and eloquently presented, is a necessary corrective and intervention on the interwar period, when scientists and cultural anthropologists were theorizing race in new, more complex ways."—K. P. Buick, Choice

"Throughout her book, Kim’s analysis of the intersection of 1930s “race experts”—scientists, artists, and lay persons—is rich and insightful and it has relevance for understanding the processes through which race is constructed today. It is worth a close reading."—Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi, New England Quarterly

Race Experts performs a great service to students of American race and racism, revealing in detail the way that twentieth-century race ideology was produced at the nexus of formal systems of thought, aesthetics, and entertainment culture. . . . Meticulously researched and brilliantly narrated, the story Kim tells of the history of race stubbornly asserts itself as contemporary critique. Along the way, Kim makes plain the significant role that world’s fairs and international expositions have played in the staging of race and making of modernity.”—Tracey Jean Boisseau, associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Purdue University and author of White Queen: The Imperial Origins of American Feminist Identity

“Innovative and well-documented. . . . Kim deftly explores such important questions as the agency of the artist and her models, scientific ideas of race, and the viewing public’s racialism. It is an ambitious argument in the best sense.”—Alice L. Conklin, Distinguished University Scholar and professor of history at Ohio State University

“The question of how and why scientific expertise fails to dislodge popular, antithetical views is very important. Linda Kim’s argument that art served as a mediator is an interesting and original approach to the issue of how scientific knowledge is represented to the public and the vexed relationship between the two. This interdisciplinary work will likely attract readers in many fields, including art history, anthropology, history, and museum studies.”—Julia E. Liss, professor of history at Scripps College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Series Editors’ Introduction    
Chapter One. Racial Know-How: Expertise versus Common Sense    
Chapter Two. Mediations: Art in the Natural History Museum    
Chapter Three. Racial Portraiture: Between Typologies and Common Sense    
Chapter Four. Racial Homelands: Popular Geography and Local Races    
Chapter Five. Micro-Expertise: Passing for Indian, Passing for White    


2019 Finalist for the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award from the CAA 
Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

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