‘Beyond Compare: Art from Africa in the Bode Museum’ Exhibition Review

Beyond Compare: Art from Africa in the Bode Museum.” A temporary exhibit at the Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany, on view from October 27, 2017 to June 2, 2019.

In introducing their Beyond Compare exhibit at the Bode Museum, curators Julien Chapuis, Jonathan Fine, and Paola Ivanov have been very clear and consistent about the unique opportunity that allowed them to juxtapose African and European art: objects from the ethnographic collections became available while they waited for their new home in the controversial Humboldt Forum.[1] The ephemeral nature of this experiment thus hovers over this temporary exhibition more than over most—a window is only briefly open to challenge our current museological practice, and will close again soon. That said, we are keenly aware of this because the curators, to their credit, have used this opportunity to raise fundamental questions about how we display the arts of different places and periods, and to investigate the meaning of continuing disciplinary and institutional divisions between them. In the catalogue, in the introductory wall panels, and in the “About this Exhibition” section of the exhibit’s companion app, they almost immediately segue from explaining this unique opportunity to challenging their visitors’ ideas and expectations. “What causes us to view objects as similar or different? What insights can we gain from the joint display of works of art with different histories? Why were some objects classified in the past as ‘ethnological’ and others as ‘art’?” In the end, however, the temporary nature of this exhibit and the questions raised by this remarkable and ambitious show are poignant and haunting because they underscore the disciplinary and institutional divides that will re-emerge when it closes in June.

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‘A Future in Ruins’ by Lynn Meskell

Lynn Meskell. A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace. 400 pp., illus., notes, bibl., index. Oxford University Press,  2018. $29.95 (hardcover)

Histories of heritage seem to be having their moment in the sun. Within the past year, Christina Luke’s A Pearl in Peril: Heritage and Diplomacy in Turkey (OUP, 2019) has been published, as has Lucia Allais’s Designs of Destruction: The Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 2018). Lynn Meskell’s A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace is the third part of this (unintentional) trilogy. Part history and part anthropology, the volume puts the operation of UNESCO’s heritage concept in historical perspective, detailing the development of that notion and its institutional governance from the interwar period to the present day. As Meskell admits (xxi), her own disciplinary background in archaeology means that she concentrates on the “cultural” side of a concept that also deals with “natural” sites, most famously through the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. That limitation aside, however, throughout the volume Meskell charts the intertwined histories of heritage and UNESCO in a way that is, to my knowledge, unparalleled in its depth.

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CFP: Encounters and Exchanges: Exploring the history of science, technology, medicine, and mātauranga (indigenous knowledge), December 1-3, 2019, Blenheim, New Zealand.

The University of Otago and the Tōtaranui 250 Trust has issued a call for papers for Encounters and Exchanges: Exploring the History of Science, Technology and Mātauranga (Indigenous Knowledge). Taking place from December 1-3, 2019 in Blenheim, New Zealand, this conference is part of a sequence of national events in New Zealand titled Tuia – Encounters 250 Commemoration. These mark the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s first Pacific voyage and the first onshore meetings between Europeans and the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Māori. The conference is interested in analysing the implications of this event on the global history of science, technology, medicine, and indigenous knowledge. More information about this event and the submission process can be found below.

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Call for Applications: Geographies of Cultural Memory, A One-Day Workshop with Carlo Severi, June 8, 2019, The Warburg Institute, University of London

The Warburg Institute is pleased to announce a day-long workshop with renowned anthropologist Carlo Severi (Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, LAS/Collège de France). Professor Severi will give a public lecture at the Warburg at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, June 7th. The next day, Saturday, June 8th from 11:00 to 17:00, he will lead a closed-session workshop. We invite PhD students, post-docs, and early career scholars to participate.

Entitled “Geographies of Cultural Memory,” the workshop will address methodological and historical problems in the study of global visual and aesthetic traditions. Drawing upon Severi’s foundational work on cultural memory and indigenous arts, discussions will place particular emphasis on the role of images and visual arts within anthropology and ethnography. How has anthropology dealt with the formal variety and geographical diffusion of aesthetic objects in the past, and what new modes of investigation offer themselves to us today? In this connection, we will also have occasion to revisit long-dormant anthropological aspects of Aby Warburg’s cultural science, and to consider its ramifications for a global study of culture in both the past and the present. 

Under Severi’s direction, the workshop will consist of group discussions of key texts and a limited number of research presentations by participants. Please note that space for the workshop is very limited. To apply, please send a brief description of your research in relevant areas (150-200 wds) and a brief CV (2 page max) to John.Tresch@sas.ac.uk and vollgraff@bilderfahrzeuge.org

Applications from London-area postgraduate students and early-career scholars working at the crossroads of art history, anthropology, geography, and/or the history of the human sciences are especially welcome.

Event: Seminar on “Museum Affordances: Activating West African Ethnographic Archives and Collections through Experimental Museology,” by Paul Basu, University of Oslo, 22 May, 2019

On May 22, 2019 Dr. Paul Basu will be delivering a talk entitled: “Museum Affordances: Activating West African Ethnographic Archives and Collections through Experimental Museology,” at the University of Oslo. Part of the Department of Social Anthropology’s annual seminar series, this event will take place from 2:15pm-4:00pm, at Blindern, Eilert Sundt’s house, in the Sixth floor meeting room. In this presentation, Dr. Basu will discuss his recent work in Nigeria, where he has been retracing the itineraries of the colonial anthropologist N. W. Thomas.

The seminar will be followed by an informal gathering, at which refreshments are served. More information about this event can be found here.

How Archives Revealed Ruth M. Underhill

In large measure, archives have made our careers. From Nash’s first book on the history of tree-ring dating in the American Southwest[1] to Colwell’s intellectual history of the first Native American archaeologist, Arthur C. Parker,[2]we have depended on archives to illuminate anthropology’s fantastic and twisted story. In 2009, we applied for a Save America’s Treasure’s grant,[3] which provided funding to hire an archivist, Aly Jabrocki, to garner intellectual and physical control over several of the key collections at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS), including materials donated by the famed pioneering anthropologist Ruth M. Underhill (1883-1983). The grant enabled us to explore this neglected historical resource—half-archived but entirely unstudied and unpublished since the materials were donated twenty-five years earlier. We were astounded by the result of Aly’s efforts. Rumors we had long heard of the archive’s historical wealth proved to be true. The Underhill Collection runs eighty-five linear-feet and includes such finds as original ethnographic notes from her work with Native Americans, syllabi and class notes from 1930s Columbia University, hand-corrected manuscript drafts, nearly three thousand photographs, and original sound recordings—all created during a life spanning more than ten decades.[4]

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Event: Human Tissue Ethics in Anatomy, Past and Present: From Bodies to Tissues to Data, Harvard University, April 4, 2019

Anatomy as a science and as an educational discipline in the medical curriculum is forever in transition. One of the greatest areas of change in recent decades has been the systematic evaluation of ethical questions in anatomy. At the center of these deliberations is the status of the dead human body, which is no longer only seen as a mere “object” or “material” of research or as an educational “tool.” Rather, it is described as a body that still has connections with the person who once inhabited it, thus becoming part of a social network of knowledge gain and requiring respectful treatment.

This change of perspective will be explored in the symposium, “Human Tissue Ethics in Anatomy, Past and Present: From Bodies to Tissues to Data,” which will take place in Gordon Hall, Harvard Medical School Campus on April 4, 2019 from 9:00am to 3:00pm. At this event, an international group of scholars will discuss the ethical aspects of existing questions, explore the relevance of non-profit and for-profit body donation, and examine newly emerging technologies in anatomy that may need innovative ethical approaches. The aim of this symposium is to present evidence for the insight that transparent and ethical anatomical body and tissue procurement is indeed at the core of medical ethics in research and education.

The event’s program and registration information can be found here.

‘Undisciplined’ by Nihad M. Farooq

Nihad M. Farooq. Undisciplined: Science, Ethnography, and Personhood in the Americas, 1830­­–1940. 280 pp., 9 halftones, notes, index. New York: New York University Press, 2016. $30 (paper)

In four chapters, Farooq analyzes a multitude of scientific and artistic “border-crossers,” beginning with Charles Darwin in the 1830s and concluding with African American artist-ethnographers who traveled to Haiti in the mid-twentieth century. Chapter 1 considers Charles Darwin’s journey alongside Captain Robert FitzRoy aboard the HMS Beagle in 1834, and his interactions with three returned captives in Tierra del Fuego. These interactions led Darwin to question ideas about fixed biological difference among humans, thus influencing his subsequent theories of evolution. The most fascinating and novel intervention of this chapter is the link Farooq draws between Darwin’s fieldwork and ideas of cultural relativism embraced by later anthropologists like Franz Boas and Zora Neale Hurston. Farooq convincingly argues that while Darwin himself was not an anthropologist nor an ethnographer, his evolutionary theory shaped the field by showing that “social and biological taxonomies are […] contingent, always shifting, never stable” (48). Darwin’s theory of evolution implied that humanity was in a constant state of “becoming,” and this led to a conviction that differences among human races were “neither fundamental nor fixed” (55). What’s more, Darwinian theories of a shared human kinship and common ancestry were eventually appropriated by socially and politically marginalized intellectuals like Boas and Hurston. In these ways, Farooq shows how Darwin’s evolutionary theories—frequently associated with subsequent scientific racism and eugenicist theories—also opened up new avenues for thinking about racial fluidity and connections among humanity.

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Event: Global Conversations: Cross-Fertilization of Knowledge in the Making of the Modern World, Berlin, 26-27 April 2019

Olga Linkiewicz (Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences), Katrin Steffen (Hamburg) and Axel Jansen (Washington, DC) have organized an exploratory workshop on “Global Conversations: Cross-Fertilization of Knowledge in the Making of the Modern World.” This event will take place at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, from April 26-27 2019.

The workshop aims to explore the history of knowledge exchange in the twentieth century. In particular, it focuses on channels of communication between Eastern Europe, Germany, and East and South Asia and examines the ways in which scholars used the notion of human character, social betterment, and social change to analyze the complex relationship between epistemology and stereotypes.

Questions about this event can be directed to Olga Linkiewicz at ola.linkiewicz@ihpan.edu.pl

New Opportunity: Call for a Section Editor on the History of Ethnography for the Handbook on the History of Human Sciences

David McCallum, emeritus professor at Victoria University’s Centre for International Research on Education Systems in Melbourne, Australia, and editor of the Handbook on the History of Human Sciences, is looking for a suitable person to edit the Handbook’s ethnography section. Interested persons can contact him ASAP at david.mccallum@vu.edu.au

CFP: “Museums Different,” Second Biennial Conference of the Council for Museum Anthropology, Santa Fe, New Mexico, September 19-21, 2019

The Council for Museum Anthropology (CMA) has issued a call for papers for its second biennial conference that will take place in Santa Fe, New Mexico from Thursday, September 19th through Saturday, September 21st, 2019. Using the unique position of Santa Fe—the “City Different”—as a starting point for thinking broadly about both local and global approaches to museum anthropology, the conference theme is “Museums Different.”

The conference will be held at Santa Fe’s Museum Hill, home to both the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture/Laboratory of Anthropology and the Museum of International Folk Art. The event includes sessions and activities at the Institute of American Indian Arts as well as an evening reception at the School for Advanced Research. More information on this event and the submission process can be found below.

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Resource: New Content in HAN’s Bibliography

The History of Anthropology Newsletter (HAN) is pleased to announce the addition of new items to our Bibliography section. This section features citations of recently published works (stretching back to 2013) in all formats that are relevant to the history of anthropology. A full list of the new titles added can be found below. More information on our latest bibliography entries can be found here.

HAN welcomes bibliography suggestions from our readers. If you come across a title of interest during your own fieldwork in the library, whether that be physical or virtual, please let us know by emailing us at bibliographies@histanthro.org.

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CFP: Panel on “Warm Words in a Cold Climate: Curiosity and Cooperation in Cold-War Anthropology,” AAA, Vancouver, BC, November 20-24, 2019

David Anderson and Joshua Smith invite submissions for a panel on Cold War anthropology at the upcoming AAA Annual Meeting, to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia from November 20-24, 2019. The panel abstract and details for submission are provided below:

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CFP: Freud’s Archaeology, The Warburg Institute, London, June 4-5th, 2019

The Warburg Institute has issued a call for papers for “Freud’s Archaeology,” a conference that examines archaeology’s role within psychoanalysis and how these two fields have oscillated between theoretical and practical work. This event will take place in London from June 4-5, 2019. More detailed information and submission instructions can be found below:

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History of Anthropology Panels at the 18th IUAES World Congress at Florianópolis, Brazil, July 2018

The 18th International Union of Anthropological und Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) World Congress was held at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) in Florianópolis, Brazil, July 16-20, 2018. Approximately 2,000 participants discussed the Congress theme “World (of) Encounters: The Past, Present and Future of Anthropological Knowledge” across 236 panels. Four panels dealt with the history of anthropology, among them one convened by History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) members.

Federal University of Santa Catarina campus in Florianópolis

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Deep Hanging Out as Historical Research Methodology: The National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution

My path as a historian forever changed during my first year in the archives.
When I began working at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) in an ominous, cloudy box of a building near the end of the Washington DC metro train line, I thought I might write a dissertation on exhibiting material culture. Secretly, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or looking for. What I did know by this point in my research life and education as a historian was how to ask questions and search for answers from different perspectives. I also knew how to benefit from the expertise of archivists. The brilliance of archivists, in fact, is where this story really took a fundamental turn for me.

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Event: The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology, Bard Graduate Center, New York

The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology on view at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery from February 14 through July 7, 2019, explores the hidden histories and complex legacies of one of the most influential books in the field of anthropology, The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians (1897). Organized by Bard Graduate Center Gallery in partnership with U’mista Cultural Centre, a Kwakwaka’wakw museum in Alert Bay, British Columbia, the exhibition is curated by Aaron Glass, associate professor at Bard Graduate Center, and features designs by artist Corrine Hunt, a great-granddaughter of George Hunt.

The exhibit’s launch is accompanied by a series of events that explore contemporary indigenous creative practice and raise questions around representation, colonialism and cultural history. A full list of these activities can be found below.

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Special Focus: Canguilhem’s Milieu Today

Canguilhem’s historical epistemology continues to inspire historians and anthropologists to attend to how current and former human practices of science shape our conceptualizations and engagement with natural and experimental environments, non-human beings, and human life. Now, with the publication of a translation of La connaissance de la vie ([1965] 2008), which contains many of Canguilhem’s key works, “The Living and Milieu” speaks with new urgency.[ In the spirit of the History of Anthropology Newsletter’s call for multidisciplinary exploration of novel topographies for the history of anthropology, this Special Focus Section gathers five insightful considerations of reversals and collapses in relations between organism and environment for the history of human and life sciences since their seminal characterization in “The Living and Its Milieu.

Click here to read the full focus section

Editors’ Introduction: As Adventurous as Life

Amidst ongoing shifts to our environments and biologies, the traditional anthropological and biological objects—human being and life, anthropos and bios—are today twined together in unprecedented ways. Witness the bourgeoning interest from bioscientists in cultural and human affairs, and the even longer standing interest from anthropologists in things biological, as former disciplinary norms are upended and new relations, forms, and understandings of life emerge.

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The Life of the Milieu

What if we think of a milieu as a medium for living in a strong sense, as in the way that paint or color is a medium for art—both the means of art’s expression and conceptualization and its point of pragmatic-material-noumenal interest, or even obsession? The artist thinks with, in, and about color or sound or lighting or the way musical notes or words relate to each other or build something. Art-thought is a percept (Deleuze and Guattari 1994) fundamentally linked to the things in its milieu because they have qualities like rhythm or intensity, because they react to a prod or a brush stroke or they ring. Conceptualizing a milieu by acting with it and in it is an experiment with a stake, a conceptualizing channeled through form and matter that thereby ventures out, becoming both exploratory and generative. Bruno Latour (2010) tells us this is compositional thought and being, and it extends into all domains of life in which, for whatever reason, there is a sharp, even immersive, attunement to a surround that has become animated or activated enough to create something with what presents. Georges Canguilhem’s “The Living and Its Milieu” moves in this same terrain, deftly mapping out the groundwork. 

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A Living Room

A house constitutes a body of images that give mankind proofs or illusions of stability. 

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Sitting in her living room. What occurs here, in this space filled up with her? And despite its force, how is it that this space so easily recedes to the background once words are spoken, once words are put to bodily experience and social relations, effaced by the retelling of the things of life that tend to unravel here? These questions are by way of an introduction to moments of coming apart in the household of a woman, Beverly, who I first met in 2002.

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Canguilhem’s Vital Social Medicine

The thought of the living must take from the living the idea of the living.

Georges Canguilhem

To what extent might one consider Georges Canguilhem a scholar of social medicine? Defined as a field of study that examines health and disease from a social science perspective, social medicine has a long and complex history. It has changed over time and has taken different forms in different parts of the world. Social medicine has relevance and significance today as an interdisciplinary endeavor that includes anthropological, sociological, historical, and philosophical modes of inquiry. This piece is not an attempt to reconstruct the transnational history of social medicine and compare and contrast its various manifestations. Rather, its aim is to explore how Georges Canguilhem’s essay “The Living and Its Milieu” might be useful conceptually for contemporary work in social medicine. Given his concern with the social and the vital, we can easily see Canguilhem’s importance for the question of what social medicine might be as a field of study concerned with questions of health and disease.

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Le Vivant & Partial Pressure Milieus

The breath you just took contains about 400 parts of carbon dioxide (CO2) per million molecules (ppm) of air. 350 ppm is generally considered safe. People living at the start of the Industrial Revolution would have inhaled about 278 ppm. Since then, levels of CO2—the leading greenhouse gas driving changes in the climate—have doubled from the relentless burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is born of cellular respiration in animals and plants. Its accumulation from anthropogenic emissions in the atmosphere and oceans over the past two centuries now poses a direct threat to living beings on Earth. In a worst-case scenario that is increasingly likely, CO2 concentrations will reach 1,450 parts per million by 2150. 

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On the Odor of Rancid Butter, a Twenty-First Century Update

In “The Living and Its Milieu,” Georges Canguilhem tells the story of Jakob von Uexküll’s tick. The tick when mature climbs to a high point, such as a branch on a bush. It falls only in response to a single stimulus, the odor of rancid butter, helpfully explained as a component of the sweat of mammals. If there is no corresponding 37-degree centigrade body to latch on to, the tick climbs back up. Apparently von Uexküll kept a tick in his laboratory for eighteen years before providing this stimulus to it, and it was still able to fall on cue, suck blood, and lay eggs when the opportunity was provided. One has to wonder about the number of ticks, and the frequency of testing. Why eighteen years? There is no detail provided about what happened to the other ticks kept “in a state of inanition” beyond 18 years, if there were any. 

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Event: Ethnology as Ethnography: Interdisciplinarity, Transnationality and Disciplinary Networks in the German Democratic Republic, University of Bonn, 1-2 February 2019


On February 1-2, 2019 scholars from the University of Bonn will present their findings of their Volkswagen Foundation research project:  “Akteurinnen, Praxen, Theorien: Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte der Ethnologie in der DDR” [Actors, Practices, Theories: Towards a History of Ethnology in the GDR] at a two day symposium titled: Ethnology as Ethnography: Interdisciplinarity, Transnationality and  Disciplinary Networks in the GDR – German Democratic Republic.

In this conference, researchers will discuss the possibilities of access to the history of German-speaking ethnic anthropology in transnational (European and international) spaces.

More information about this event can be found here.

 


					
		
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