Livery, Skin, and the Early Modern Origins of Whiteness
Abstract: ‘In the introduction to Black Skin, White Masks Franz Fanon explains the purpose of his work: “I seriously hope to persuade my brother, whether black or white, to tear off with all his strength the shameful livery put together by centuries of incomprehension.” Scholars have examined the rich field of meaning around the word “livery” in early modern European culture, citing for instance Samson Agonistes (“Immediately was Samson as a public servant brought, in their state Livery clad”). In this presentation I’ll explore the extension of “livery” to African and Native American skin, for example when William Wood, writing in 1634, describes the Native peoples of New England’s Merrimack River Valley as “something more swarthy than Spaniards . . . Their swarthiness is the sun’s livery, for they are born fair.” I’ll show how early modern references to skin as “livery” align with Fanon’s analysis of the lived experience of skin color in the modern world.’

Craig Koslofsky is the author of Evening’s Empire: A New History of the Night in Early Modern Europe (CUP, 2011) and the co-editor, with Katherine Dauge-Roth, of Stigma: Marking Skin in the Early Modern World, forthcoming. Details at
Date: 21 February 2023, 11:00 (Tuesday, 6th week, Hilary 2023)
Venue: Mure Room
Speaker: Professor Craig Koslofsky (Department of History, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign)
Organising department: Faculty of English Language and Literature
Organiser: Dan Haywood (St John's College, University of Oxford)
Part of: Centre for Early Modern Studies
Booking required?: Not required
Audience: Members of the University only
Editors: Katy Terry, Hope Lukonyomoi-Otunnu