Skip to main content
UNC Libraries


What is race? The term continues to defy easy explanation. Is it an anthropological category or an accident of geography and climate? Is it merely our superficial appearance, our hair, eyes and skin color? Is it biologically determined or is it a social construct that has been conflated with genetics? Can science offer a meaningful definition of what race means?  

This exhibition explores the changing concept of race using examples drawn from across Western science between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries. Race as a concept has been used to promote tribalism, white supremacy, and “otherness,” bolstered by scientific claims that provided a justification for discrimination. Scientific understanding of race has had a profound effect on the making of America, from the transatlantic slave trade to policies on immigration and civil rights. By exploring the medical and scientific theories of race from the past, Race Deconstructed seeks to shed light on how the science of race continues to shape our society even in the present day.  

This exhibition includes historical attitudes and beliefs about race that are offensive and dehumanizing. We present them in order to provide a more complete and critical examination of the past. Please, take care when viewing this exhibition as you may encounter terms or images that are hurtful to you or set off strong emotional responses.