Colonial Complexions: Race and Bodies in Eighteenth-Century America

by Sharon Block

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In Colonial Complexions, historian Sharon Block examines how Anglo-Americans built racial ideologies out of descriptions of physical appearance. By analyzing more than 4,000 advertisements for fugitive servants and slaves in colonial newspapers alongside scores of transatlantic sources, she reveals how colonists transformed observable characteristics into racist reality. Building on her expertise in digital humanities, Block repurposes these well-known historical sources to newly highlight how daily language called race and identity into being before the rise of scientific racism. Colonial Complexions suggests alternative possibilities to modern formulations of racial identities and offers a precise historical analysis of the beliefs behind evolving notions of race-based differences in North American history.

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