Carnegie Mellon University
February 07, 2011

Media Advisory: CMU's CAUSE Lecture Series To Present Nell Irvin Painter and "The History of White People"

Contact: Shilo Raube / 412-268-6094 /

Event: In celebration of Black History Month, Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE) will host acclaimed historian Nell Irvin Painter to discuss "The History of White People." Painter, the Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, at Princeton University, will tell what she believes is the most important forgotten story in American history: how the definitions of who is "white" and who is "American" evolved over time.

Painter's talk, based on her 2010 book of the same title, will trace the invention of the idea of a white race — often for economic, scientific and political ends — to the beginning of Western civilization. She will show how the origins of American identity in the 18th century were intrinsically tied to the elevation of white skin into the embodiment of beauty, power and intelligence. She also will talk about how the great American intellectuals — including Ralph Waldo Emerson — insisted that only Anglo-Saxons were truly American. Through all of this, Painter will argue that the concept of "race" is an all-too-human invention whose meaning, importance and reality have changed over the course of history.

A prolific and award-winning scholar, Painter's other recent books include "Creating Black Americans" and "Southern History Across the Color Line." Painter is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies and the American Antiquarian Society.

CAUSE is part of the Department of History within Carnegie Mellon's College of Humanities and Social Sciences. It develops programs of graduate and postdoctoral training, scholarly research, data collection, publications and education. For more information, visit

When: Friday, Feb. 11, 4:30 p.m. refreshments, 5 p.m. lecture and discussion
Where: Connan Room, University Center, Carnegie Mellon University