Seeing Race Before Race

Explore the roots of race from the Middle Ages to 1800.

Race is a powerful and challenging concept. When, where, and why did conceptions of race come into being? How might learning about its history help us better understand the complex role that race plays in our lives today?  

Centuries before the term race came into popular use, people around the world used distinctions like language, dress, class, geography, and religion—in addition to traits like skin color or facial features—to categorize each other. Seeing Race Before Race explores these early expressions of race in medieval and early modern Europe between 1100 and 1800.  

Seeing Race Before Race is generously supported by the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and Pam and Doug Walter. 

You can purchase a copy of the exhibition catalog, Seeing Race Before Race: Visual Culture and the Racial Matrix in the Premodern World, from the Newberry Bookshop.


  • Noémie Ndiaye, Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Assistant Professor of Renaissance and Early Modern English Literature at the University of Chicago
  • Lia Markey, Director of the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library
  • Christopher Fletcher, Assistant Director of the Center for Renaissance Studies
  • Rebecca L. Fall, Program Manager of the Center for Renaissance Studies
  • Yasmine Hachimi, Public Humanities Fellow at the Newberry Library

The RaceB4Race Collective

Seeing Race Before Race draws on the pathbreaking work of partners in the research collective RaceB4Race. Founded in 2019, RaceB4Race centers the expertise, perspectives, and sociopolitical interests of scholars who are Black, Indigenous, and of color to demonstrate the value of premodern critical race studies and highlight the powerful histories of people of color in the classical, medieval, and early modern past.


Tuesday – Thursday
10am – 7pm

Friday and Saturday
10am – 5pm

Admission for Newberry exhibitions is free. No advance registration required.

Guided Public Tours

Visit for a free docent-led tour of Seeing Race Before Race.

  • Thursdays at 11:30am
  • Saturdays at 1pm

Private Tours

To book a private tour of a Newberry exhibition (for a group of 10 or more), please contact Rebecca Haynes at (312) 255-3526 or via email.

Private tours are free, but donations are encouraged.

View the Story Map

An online companion to the exhibition, providing a closer look at Seeing Race Before Race

Related Programming

This fall, we're offering a slate of programming in conjunction with the Seeing Race Before Race exhibition. 

Public Programs (free and open to all)

September 12 - Understanding Race: Past and Present

October 17 - Il Moro/The Moor: A Story of Alessandro de Medici

November 7 - Performing Race: Past and Present

Adult Education Classes

Starting October 21 - Seeing Race Before Race: Exhibition Series

View the full calendar of upcoming events below.

View the Calendar

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