Dead white men

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Dead white males)
Jump to: navigation, search
"Dead White Males" redirects here. For the play by David Williamson, see Dead White Males (play).

Dead white men, dead white males, or dead white European males (DWEM) are the famous deceased European males that are often the focus of academic studies of history and Western culture. The term is used pejoratively to refer to a disproportionate emphasis on these men and is closely associated with a critical view of the Great Man theory of history and the Great Books focus of educational essentialism and educational perennialism.


The phrase "dead white males" (or "dead white men," "dead white guys" etc.) criticizes the emphasis on high culture in Western civilization in academia (especially those in the United States).[citation needed] Critics of the traditional curriculum argued that it enshrined a world view that valued older European history and ideology, for example, over non-European achievements. Users of the term also argued that the traditional curriculum was praising one's own culture; proponents of this type of curriculum, however, argued that "one's own culture" is the logical aspect to place emphasis on in any one nation-state. A similar approach to historical studies is the "Great man theory" of history.[citation needed]

Criticism of term[edit]

Critics of the term have alleged that it aims to "reject" people or ideas on the grounds of race or sex, a form of argumentum ad hominem,[1] and that the term may encourage academics to exclude the valuable ideas of those who are white, male, and dead from college curricula.[2]

Classicist Bernard Knox made direct reference to this term when he delivered his 1992 Jefferson Lecture (the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities).[3] Knox used the intentionally "provocative" title "The Oldest Dead White European Males",[4] as the title of his lecture and his subsequent book of the same name, in both of which Knox defended the continuing relevance of classical culture to modern society.[5][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shweder, Richard A. (August 11, 1991). "The Crime of White Maleness". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Philosopher John Searle argued that "intelligently taught social and political histories" should address "those [demographics] that have been treated unjustly. It is important, however, to get rid of the ridiculous notion that there is something embarrassing or lamentable about the fact that most of the prominent political and intellectual leaders of our culture over the past two thousand years or so have been white males. This is just a historical fact whose causes should be explored and understood. To deny it or attempt to suppress the works of such thinkers is not simply racism, it is unintelligent.
  3. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved May 25, 2009).
  4. ^ Nadine Drozan, "Chronicle", The New York Times, May 6, 1992.
  5. ^ Bernard Knox, The Oldest Dead White European Males and Other Reflections on the Classics (1993) (reprint, W. W. Norton & Company, 1994), ISBN 978-0-393-31233-1.
  6. ^ Christopher Lehman-Haupt, "Books of The Times; Putting In a Word for Homer, Herodotus, Plato, Etc.", The New York Times, April 29, 1993.

External links[edit]