Dead white males or Dead White European Males (DWEM) is a derogatory term that refers to the disproportionate academic focus on contributions to historical and contemporary Western civilization made by European males.

This paradigm 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 schools (especially those in the United States). Critics of the traditional curriculum argued that it enshrined a world view that valued older European history, 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.

Criticism of termEdit

Critics of the term have alleged that it aims to reject people or ideas on the grounds of race or sex,[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][3] The term is often used in a pejorative manner, in the context of specific regret that the contributions of those who are contemporary, non-white, or female rarely receive an equal amount of notice in academic references.

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).[4] Knox used the intentionally "provocative" title "The Oldest Dead White European Males",[5] 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 Greek culture to modern society.[6][7]


Sculptor Janet Scudder had DWM's roles as subjects for sculptire in mind when she wrote, "I won't add to this obsession of male egotism that is ruining every city in the U.S. with rows of hideous statues of men-men-men- each one uglier than the other-standing, sitting, riding horseback-everyone of them pompously convinced that he is decorating the landscape." [8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  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. [1]
  3. ^ 'Dead white men' have much to offer students
  4. ^ Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved May 25, 2009).
  5. ^ Nadine Drozan, "Chronicle", New York Times, May 6, 1992.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Christopher Lehman-Haupt, "Books of The Times; Putting In a Word for Homer, Herodotus, Plato, Etc.", New York Times, April 29, 1993.
  8. ^ Connor, Janis and Joel Rosenkranz, ‘’Rediscoveries in American Sculpture: Studio Works 1893-1939’’, University of Texas Press, Aurtin, 1989 p. 154

External linksEdit

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Dead white males. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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