‘Such fine families’: photography and race in the work of Caroline Bond Day

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive on 2010-11-10 02:37Z by Steven

‘Such fine families’: photography and race in the work of Caroline Bond Day

Visual Studies
Volume 21, Issue 2
(October 2006)
pages 106-132
DOI: 10.1080/14725860600944971

Heidi Ardizzone, Assistant Professor of American Studies
University of Notre Dame

This article examines a collection of family photographs published in an unusual 1932 anthropological study of ‘Negro-White families’. In the 1920s Caroline Bond Day, a woman of mixed ancestry herself, gathered family histories and photographs of over 300 ‘Negro-White families’ for her graduate work at Harvard University under eugenicist Ernest Hooton. Day’s subjects, recruited from her circles of friends and acquaintances, shared her goals of African American equality and uplift but were often suspicious of her chosen field. Anthropology has often been referred to as the handmaiden of colonialism and racism, and physical anthropology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was not generally supportive of African American civil rights movements prior to World War II. Nevertheless, about 350 families submitted family histories and photographs and filled out surveys. Some also allowed themselves to be measured with calipers. The published study included over four hundred photographs, which collectively provide a visual mediation between Day’s political goals, her exclusive focus on mixed-race families and her use of physical anthropology and blood-quantum language. Day’s work remains controversial, but continues to be used by scholars, activists and artists in part because of its unique focus and methods.

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