The Inspiration for the History of Anthropology Newsletter

A few years ago when the History of Anthropology Newsletter (HAN) relaunched as an online publication, a number of articles described how it was started by George Stocking in 1973. More recently, a series of 24 articles has reflected on HAN’s inaugural editorial vision statement, which had the goal of marking out and developing the history of anthropology as a field of inquiry. We know a lot about the purposes which HAN was founded to serve, but we know little about the models that might have inspired it. 

One intriguing suggestion offered by Richard Handler is that Stocking’s experience producing and distributing a local union newsletter to Boston meatpacking workers in the 1950s, at a time when he was a union activist and meatpacking worker in Boston’s North End, primed him to see the utility of a newsletter for cultivating the network of interdisciplinary scholars he conceived as a young faculty member in the 1960s. We haven’t yet seen copies of this earlier mimeographed newsletter. If anyone finds it, please write about it for HAN

Recently I came across a more proximate, possible precursor while researching the little known backstory to Stocking’s influential criticism of “presentism” (and advocacy for “historicism”) in a methodological essay he originally published in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences in 1965. An important character in that story (the person to whom Stocking was responding) was the psychologist Robert I. Watson, the journal’s founding editor. It turns out that Watson had earlier written and distributed a newsletter for psychologists interested in the history of their field. The first issue was really just a follow-up letter from Watson to those who had attended a meeting on the subject during the 1960 annual conference of the American Psychological Association (APA), but over time it became formalized and expanded.[1] By 1962 it had a typed title (“Newsletter No. 4: History of Psychology Group”), and by 1964, a masthead, with hand-stenciled lettering:

At this time the newsletter had an editorial committee and carried announcements of relevant meetings, publications, and archived materials, news and notes, and subscribers’ requests for help with current research projects.[2] Overall, it looks a lot like the early issues of HAN.

In 1966, while Watson was at Northwestern, he arranged for Stocking to lecture there while Stocking was visiting Chicago (from Berkeley), and they had dinner together at Watson’s Chicago home.[3] Watson would surely have told Stocking about the History of Psychology Group and its Newsletter.[4] There was also a group of psychiatrists, close to Watson, who published their own History of the Behavioral Sciences Newsletter starting in 1960. Watson liked to tell the story of these two newsletters as manifesting an intellectual “grass-roots phenomenon” of behavioral scientists’ rising interest in history, to which the 1965 founding of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences was a response.[5]

These newsletters were perhaps among Stocking’s models for HAN, offering precedents for the idea that a network of interested scholars at the margins of their home disciplines could be cultivated to provide the institutional beginning for a new field of inquiry. That network has grown, and HAN has developed over the years into a substantive publication, warranting its change of name today to History of Anthropology Review (HAR). As HAR, it continues the original vision of fostering connection among scholars who are dispersed geographically and pulled by disciplinary forces into socially and intellectually disparate orbits, serving as a clearinghouse for news, ideas, reviews, and resources. 

I have written about Stocking’s critique of “presentist” history, how Watson in fact provoked it, how Stocking later partly reversed himself, and what it means for history of anthropology today, in the latest issue of American Anthropologist.[6]


Works Cited: 

Bashkow, Ira. 2019. “On History for the Present: Revisiting George Stocking’s Influential Rejection of ‘Presentism’.” American Anthropologist 121, no. 3 (early view).

Carlson, Eric, and Robert Watson. 1965. “Editorial: The Birth of a Journal.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 1, no. 1: 3–4. 

Dewsbury, Donald A. 2013. “The History of Psychology Newsletter, 1969–1997: History and index.” History of Psychology 16, no. 4: 282–287.

Watson, Robert. 1972. “Working Paper.” In The Psychologists, edited by T. S. Krawiec, 275–97. New York: Oxford University Press.

Watson, Robert. 1975. “The History of Psychology as a Specialty: A Personal View of Its First 15 Years.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 11, no. 1: 5–14.


[1] Dewsbury 2013, 282; Watson 1972, 288; Watson 1975, 7.

[2] History of Psychology Group Newsletters in box M3360, folder 1, Robert I. Watson Papers, Archives of the History of American Psychology, The Drs. Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology, The University of Akron.

[3] Watson to Stocking, March 4, 1966, and April 11, 1966, George W. Stocking Jr., Papers, Box 29, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library. See also Bashkow 2019, footnote 5.

[4] Soon afterwards, the History of Psychology Group was institutionalized as the History of Psychology Division within the APA, and so the newsletter was renamed the History of Psychology Newsletter, continuing as such through 1997 (Dewsbury 2013).

[5] Carlson and Watson 1965, 3; Watson 1975, 7-8.

[6] The article also tells the story behind the founding of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Ira Bashkow, “On History for the Present: Revisiting George Stocking’s Influential Rejection of ‘Presentism,’” American Anthropologist (25 June 2019): 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13297

‘Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange’ by Marc Flandreau


Marc Flandreau. Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: A Financial History of Victorian Science. 421pp., 12 halftones, notes, sources, works cited, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. $105 (cloth), $35 (paper), $10-35 (e-book options)

Note: This review first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement (no. 5943, 24 February 2017, pp. 9-10) with the title “The Cannibal Club: How Victorian Anthropologists Tried to Defraud the Financial Markets” and is reprinted with permission of TLS and the author.

When the American railway engineer George Earl Church visited La Paz in 1868, it was to lay the groundwork for a grandiose scheme to build a railway through Bolivia’s rainforested border with Brazil, allowing its natural resources to be exported via the Amazon River. After several more stops, Church was in London where he got himself elected to the Royal Geographical Society, lending a sheen of scientific credibility to what was in fact a financial scam. No railway was built, but the scheme was a marvel of financial engineering. After Church signed the loan contract in Bolivia’s name, bonds to fund the loan were sold to English investors. These bonds traded on the London Stock Exchange.

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George Stocking’s Stockings: Needlepoint to Pique the Historical Imagination


Many HAN readers will be familiar with George Stocking’s work on the history of anthropology; not all will know that he was also an artist. Until his last year of high school, while living in Manhattan, he thought of himself as bound for a career as a painter (Stocking 2010:25-26). After college, he worked in a meat packing factory, seeking to organize a union; he grew disillusioned with the Communist Party and entered graduate school in 1956, “to understand why American culture was so resistant to radical change” (69). That set him on the path of a scholar and teacher.

Yet in the 1970s, when George was settled on the faculty at the University of Chicago, he returned to his artistic pursuits. Not in painting, however—but in needlepoint. At first, he purchased kits for a footstool and pillows. After the birth of a grandchild, he needlepointed a Christmas stocking, using a standard design. In 1980, he dispensed with the kit and designed his own Christmas stocking, creating an original pattern with biographical details tailored to the recipient: his seven-year-old grandson, Jesse, who was much taken with The Incredible Hulk. The stocking portrayed Santa as a muscular, green-skinned superhero who seems to have arrived on a garbage truck, punching through a brick wall, to the amazement of a Krazy-Kat like Mickey Mouse. Continue reading

Why a Newsletter?


The History of Anthropology Newsletter (HAN) has always been an unprepossessing publication. Its physical format and graphic design were homespun. Initially mimeographed, it appeared for nineteen years in typescript, before the font was changed to Times in volume 20, and even after four decades no hint of slickness had crept into the layout of even the cover and contents page. The very title of the publication, a “newsletter,” connotes an informal publication about goings-on, nothing too serious.[1] In 1987, when I entered graduate school, the cost of a HAN subscription was $4 a year, discounted to $2.50 for students.[2] Even then, this was cheap.

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Special Focus: History of the History of Anthropology Newsletter


Read this focus section.