Why is the history of anthropology necessary and vital now? Why the history of anthropology (instead of other approaches to its content and questions)? Why the history of anthropology (instead of other human sciences or political/intellectual/material intersections)? At the risk of seeming to be a curmudgeon, I have to register my doubts that these questions merit the affirmative elaborations that they seem to presuppose. Any historical phenomenon merits its history being recorded and engaged. Anthropology has a history and so is a worthy subject of historiographical inquiry, and as Stocking amply demonstrated, a historiography that cannot legitimately be confined merely to its intellectually internal twists and turns.
I came to HAN relatively late, 20 years after it got going. But there’s a sense in which the history of anthropology is always a belated field. I caught the bug as an undergraduate in two seminars with Stocking at Chicago— he was an inspiring, exacting teacher—and I pored over HAN, even subscribed to it, in the years to come. It had an obscure, retro charm, even then: the cover, which must have been mimeographed a hundred times; the stapled pages of typed-up and dot-matrix text. It was like a church circular from 1965, a decommissioned card-catalog entry, a zine, or an indie-label 45 to which only a few were privy.
Now that borders and walls are so commonplace in our daily political discourse, a reflection on our (admittedly more benign) disciplinary boundaries seems timely. I came to the history of anthropology from an early focus on post-WWII evolutionary biology; encountering the particular mix of physical and cultural anthropology that underpinned post-revolutionary indigenista politics in Mexico necessarily led me to a disciplinary identity crisis. Continue reading
My training was in laboratory-based biological anthropology, but I was always interested in the (checkered) history of the field. So back in 1986, when I was a genetics post-doc at the University of California, Davis (during the first generation of DNA sequencing), I also co-taught a graduate anthropology seminar in the history of bio-anthropology.
If the truth be told, the exponential growth undergone by the history of archaeology over the past thirty years can only in part be attributed to the influence of G. W. Stocking and the History of Anthropology Newsletter—the revival of which is of course both timely and full of promise. The erstwhile debate as to whether the history of a given field (in the social sciences and humanities, at least) is best undertaken by its practitioners or by professional historians—besides raising questions as to what this “best” might possibly imply—proves rather less pertinent for a discipline such as archaeology that is, after all, an intrinsically historical one.
No less than epidemics or scientific facts, disciplinary crises are constructed. And just as a disease or a truth claim can also be real, so can a crisis. In all three cases, much depends on perspective and who is doing the defining. Few scholars today would contest, for instance, that anthropologists in the nineteen-sixties and seventies debated their profession’s politics and their discipline’s objects of study, or that these debates called into question tenets considered fundamental to the field (Kuklick 2008; Clifford 2005). As George Stocking put it in his original call to arms for the History of Anthropology Newsletter, anthropologists turned to historical analysis in part because of their shared “sense of disciplinary crisis.” From HAN’s brief “statement of purpose,” it was this casual yet confident emphasis on crisis that jumped out at me. Surely, this assertion needs some probing.
When we editors of the History of Anthropology Newsletter refer to ourselves as “the HAN Dynasty,” we’re making a (bad) joke. But we have all felt the weighty presence of the ancestors. It was a strange and awful coincidence that HAN’s first two editors died in the first half of 2013: George Stocking after long preparation, Riki Kuklick with terrible suddenness.
The “Histories of Anthropology: Transforming Knowledge and Power (1870-1970)” conference will be held on the 18th and 19th of September 2017 at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. The conference will examine the history of anthropology in terms of two broadly conceived themes. The first concerns the history of anthropology’s relationship with cognate disciplines. The second explores the political and social history of anthropology, its relationship to governance, colonialism and broader political and social transformations. Registration information and a complete schedule of the conference can be found on the event website.
Brian Hochman. Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology. 312pp., 18 b&w photos, 12 color plates, notes, bibl., index. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. $82.50 (cloth), $27.50 (paper)
The turn-of-the-century idea of salvage ethnography—that indigenous cultures were doomed to disappear in the face of modernization, and therefore were in desperate need of permanent, objective preservation—played an important part in the development of modern media and technology in ways that were directly pertinent to race. This is the main contention proposed by Brian Hochman in his book Savage Preservation, where he argues that we should not only think of media as shaping modern understandings of race, but that notions of race were fundamental in how new media were employed in the early twentieth century. Continue reading
Welcome to our biweekly roundup! For this new HAN feature, we’re compiling lists of new, interesting pieces on the history of anthropology our editors have been reading around the web. This installment spans July 21 – August 4.
Thomas Karl Alberts. Shamanism, Discourse, Modernity. 286 pp., refs., index. New York: Routledge, 2016. $122 (hardback), $54.95 (e-book). First published 2015 by Ashgate.
Alberts, of Cape Town, South Africa, chooses “shamanism” to be the linchpin of a detailed history of an anthropological trope increasingly popular and politically engaged. Because “shamanism” is universalized as a component of “the primitive,” its usage closely followed the development of anthropology within imperial regimes, and its current proliferation ties in with indigenous rights and environmental projects. Alberts goes farther, citing Foucault at numerous points about modernity’s universalizing epistemologies versus its acknowledgements of contingencies. The term “modernity” seems to refer to an Enlightenment search for new knowledge as the means of establishing universal types and laws, forever pushed on by contingent particulars brought up to critique these projections (14-15). The strength and value of this book is in its critiques, packed with historic and contemporary detail.
Alexander Mikhailovich Reshetov (1932–2009) was a prominent Russian anthropologist and historian of anthropology. He authored more than 500 scientific publications dedicated to the culture of East and Southeast Asia, theoretical problems of ethnology, and the history of Russian ethnographic studies. He was a board member of the Association of Russian Ethnographers and Anthropologists for several years until 2007. Between 1994 and 2005 he organized panels on the history of Russian ethnography and anthropology during the Association’s biannual conferences, which drew hundreds of scholars. Reshetov filled many gaps in the history of Russian anthropology, saving many prominent ethnographers from oblivion and ensuring continuity of the Russian scholarly tradition. Continue reading
Carolyne R. Larson. Our Indigenous Ancestors: A Cultural History of Museums, Science, and Identity in Argentina, 1877-1943. 232 pp., 29 illus., notes, bibl., index. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2015.
Argentina, more than almost any other Latin American country, has been associated with a white, criollo identity. The longstanding scholarly narrative held that the formation of this identity relied on strategic erasures of the presence of indigenous and African-descended peoples from the nation’s history, a project that crystallized in the late nineteenth century during a surge in European immigration. More recently, scholars and intellectuals such as Monica Quijada have pointed to the presence of indigenous peoples in nineteenth-century literary texts or museum practices, adding complexity to the narrative of erasure and opening space for historians to explore the multivalent roles of African-descended and indigenous peoples in Argentinian nation formation after independence from Spain in 1818.
Sol Tax is well known for developing the concept of “action anthropology,” which takes the goals and problems of research subjects as its point of departure ahead of the researcher’s desire for knowledge. However, he began his career with a much more conventional philosophy of science, and during the 1940s vigorously defended “basic” research against calls for anthropology to emphasize its political relevance. Continue reading
Biological anthropology has long been plagued by its exclusionary past. Today, many biological anthropologists and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) are actively seeking to address this legacy by forging positive relationships between anthropologists and marginalized communities, and by encouraging new voices to contribute to the field. For example, the AAPA created the Increasing Diversity in Evolutionary Anthropological Sciences (IDEAS) program to increase participation by first-generation college students or students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in science (African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Latinos). The recent Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE) study (2014) conducted by Kate Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde also highlighted persistent issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the field.
Thomas Hylland Eriksen. Fredrik Barth: An Intellectual Biography. xi+249 pp., illus., notes, bibl., index. London: Pluto Press, 2015. $99 (cloth), $35 (paper)
Fredrik Barth was a creative and outspoken theorist, an indefatigable fieldworker and world traveler, and he was fortunate in his biographer. Thomas Hylland Eriksen is not only obviously devoted to Barth, but he is also thorough, comprehensive, fair—pointing out problems and occasional failings of his subject—and not too much over the top in his admiration. Above all he does an excellent job presenting and explaining Fredrik Barth’s many works and his innovative methodological and theoretical positions as well as contextualizing his work in the anthropology of his time.
Adams, Matthew S. “Formulating an Anarchist Sociology: Peter Kropotkin’s Reading of Herbert Spencer.” Journal of the History of Ideas 77, no. 1 (2016): 49–73. doi:10.1353/jhi.2016.0004.
Author’s Abstract: The work of Herbert Spencer was a crucial influence on the development of Peter Kropotkin’s historical sociology. However, scholars have underestimated this relationship; either overlooking it entirely, or minimizing Kropotkin’s attachment to Spencer with the aim of maintaining the utility of his political thought in the present. This article contests these interpretations by analyzing Kropotkin’s reading of Spencer’s epistemological, biological, and political ideas. It argues that Kropotkin was engaged in a critical dialogue with Spencer, incorporating many Spencerian principles in his own system, but also using this reading to articulate a distinctive anarchist politics.
Adair-Toteff, Christopher. Fundamental Concepts in Max Weber’s Sociology of Religion. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Publisher’s Abstract: This book helps explain some of Max Weber’s key concepts such as charisma, asceticism, mysticism, pariah-people, prophets, salvation, and theodicy and places them within the context of Weber’s sociology of religion.
Fernando Vidal and Nélia Dias (Editors). Endangerment, Biodiversity and Culture. 264pp., 11 b/w illus., index. London: Routledge, 2016. $163 (hardback), $52.95 (paperback), $52.95 (eBook)
In Endangerment, Biodiversity and Culture, editors Fernando Vidal and Nélia Dias bring together scholarship on what they compellingly label the “endangerment sensibility”: that is, “a complex of knowledge, values, affects and interests characterized by a particularly acute perception that some organisms and things are ‘under threat,’ and by a purposeful responsiveness to such a predicament” (2). The volume features nine contributions split equally into three sections. These sections consider: the affects, values, and science that are interwoven in this sensibility (Part I); the situated politics of endangerment discourses and practices (Part II); and technologies of preservation, which help constitute endangerment and have ontological consequences for the entities they aim to preserve (Part III).
Regna Darnell and Frederic W. Gleach (Editors). Local Knowledge, Global Stage. Histories of Anthropology Annual Series 10. 354pp., 25 illus. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. $40 (paper)
As a historian writing about late-nineteenth century anthropology who is also interested in contemporary anthropology, I learned a lot from this book. The tenth in the series Histories of Anthropology Annual, this volume is in conversation with the work of two influential, and recently deceased, historians: George Stocking and Henrika Kuklick. Yet this collection of essays, like its predecessors in the series, locates itself more in the field than the archive. The editors believe, rightly so, that what emerges from fieldwork can inform us about larger issues of knowledge production. But history also has a role to play. Good work calls for methods “transcending the customary distinction of past, present, and future and replacing the static repetition of events, dates, and feats of great men (sic) representing the story from the standpoint of the victors with a more nuanced collation of histories in the plural” (xiii).
Chip Colwell. Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture. 336pp., 10 halftones, notes, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. $30 (cloth), $18 (e-book)
During highway construction, twenty-eight sets of human remains are found. Twenty-six of the bodies are reburied in a nearby cemetery but two skeletons, a woman and her baby, are not—instead, they are given over to the state archaeologist. What accounts for the difference? Is it that the skeletons of twenty-six white people are not interesting to archaeological study? Or is it that the thought of reburying Native American remains when they could be studied is somehow a violation of our dedication to knowledge of the past?
TWO FHHS PRIZE ANNOUNCEMENTS : 30 June 2017 deadline
1. FHHS/JHBS John C. Burnham Early Career Award: Send manuscript and
curriculum vitae (PDF format) by June 30, 2017 to email@example.com.
The Forum for History of Human Science (FHHS) and the Journal of the History
of the Behavioral Science (JHBS) encourage researchers in their early careers
to submit unpublished manuscripts for the annual John C. Burnham Early Career
Award, named in honor of this prominent historian of the human sciences and
past-editor of JHBS. The publisher provides the author of the paper an
honorarium of US $500. (see details below). Continue reading
“Histories of Anthropology: Transforming Knowledge and Power (1870-1970)”
18-19 September 2017
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
Deadline for abstracts: May 20, 2017
The “Histories of Anthropology: Transforming Knowledge and Power (1870-1970)” conference will be held at the University of Cambridge on 18-19 September 2017. The conference committee is currently accepting abstracts (max. 300 words) until 20 May 2017, and we are specifically looking for transnational and trans-colonial perspectives on the modern history of anthropology. Abstracts or questions can be emailed to the conference committee . We encourage submissions from academics at any stage of their careers. Accepted papers will be announced by early June and limited funding will be available to support travel and accommodation. A teleconferencing capability will also be present if participants are unable to travel. For more information, please refer to the CFP or email the conference committee.
The 14th biennial EASA conference was held at the University of Milano-Bicocca from July 20-23, 2016. Framed around the topic “Anthropological Legacies and Human Futures,” the conference included two panels on themes in the history of anthropology. The first panel was convened by David Shankland (Royal Anthropological Institute, London, UK) and Aleksandar Boskovic (University of Belgrade/Institute of Social Sciences, Belgrade, Serbia); the second by Andrés Barrera-González (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain) and Han F. Vermeulen. The second panel was the official panel of the Europeanist network for this conference. The panels were attended by between 30 and 40 people and received positive reactions. Based on the success of the conference, plans were made to publish one or more volumes. Subsequently, a network devoted to the history of anthropology (HOAN) was refounded (see below). Continue reading
Han F. Vermeulen. Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. 746pp., illus., notes, refs. cited, index. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. $75 (hardcover)
You will not find much curiosity among the Norse settlers in Greenland to observe, describe, and understand the clothing, tools, rituals, and legends of the skraelings. This derogatory term for the Greenlandic Inuit practically bracketed curiosity, signaled that there was nothing there to learn at all, but only a people to be feared and, one hoped, defeated. This has been the default stance toward other peoples, particularly peoples at an apparently lower stage of social and technical development, throughout most of human history, with classic works such as Tacitus’s Germania, in which the northern heathen tribes are described in some detail, standing more as an exception than a rule.