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The Specter of Races

Latin American Anthropology and Literature between the Wars
Anke Birkenmaier

BUY Cloth · 224 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813938783 · $75.00 · Jun 2016
BUY Paper · 224 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813938790 · $29.50 · Jun 2016
BUY Ebook · 224 pp. · ISBN 9780813938806 · $29.50 · Jun 2016

Arguing that race has been the specter that has haunted many of the discussions about Latin American regional and national cultures today, Anke Birkenmaier shows how theories of race and culture in Latin America evolved dramatically in the period between the two world wars. In response to the rise of scientific racism in Europe and the American hemisphere in the early twentieth century, anthropologists joined numerous writers and artists in founding institutions, journals, and museums that actively pushed for an antiracist science of culture, questioning pseudoscientific theories of race and moving toward more broadly conceived notions of ethnicity and culture.

Birkenmaier surveys the work of key figures such as Cuban historian and anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, Haitian scholar and novelist Jacques Roumain, French anthropologist and museum director Paul Rivet, and Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, focusing on the transnational networks of scholars in France, Spain, and the United States to which they were connected. Reviewing their essays, scientific publications, dictionaries, novels, poetry, and visual arts, the author traces the cultural study of Latin America back to these interdisciplinary discussions about the meaning of race and culture in Latin America, discussions that continue to provoke us today.


The Specter of Races is a bold, broad-reaching, and exciting exploration of cultural and literary history. Birkenmaier’s study synthesizes a large amount of primary scholarship and secondary criticism—in four languages—to produce a narrative that is clear, engaging, and compelling.

Emily A. Maguire, Northwestern University, author of Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography

The Specter of Races is recommended not only for Latin Americanists, but also hemispheric Americanists, historians, and anthropologists. Birkenmaier’s writing is clear and accessible, making it appropriate for interdisciplinary scholars as well as students seeking an introduction to the origins of twentieth century cultural studies in the New World.

Comparative Literature Studies

Overall, I consider The Specter of Races: Latin American Anthropology and Literature between the Wars an outstanding and necessary interdisciplinary study that recuperates the specificcontexts of anthropological works and concepts that are too often dealt with in shorthand in literary/cultural studies.

Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas

The Benefit of The Specter of Races, is that it show’s how these four intellectuals’ paths cross time and again, how one work influenced the other's, and how the idea of race can develop into a prolific dialogue between man and women of different origins, and thereby, I hope, combat racism.

The Caribbean Writer

About the Author(s): 

Anke Birkenmaier, Associate Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University, Bloomington, is the author of an award-winning monograph (in Spanish) on Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier and coeditor of Havana beyond the Ruins: Cultural Mappings after 1989.

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