The Boas Circle vs. White Supremacy

Charles King. Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century. 448pp., notes, bibl., index. New York: Doubleday, 2019. $30 (hardcover), $17 (paperback), $14.99 (ebook)

Note: This review first appeared in The TLS: Times Literary Supplement (no. 6114, 5 June 2020, pp. 4–6) with the title “Lines of thought: Franz Boas: The Man Who Opened Up Anthropology in America” and is reprinted with permission of TLS and the author. (In the UK, Charles King’s book is published as The Reinvention of Humanity: A Story of Race, Sex, Gender and the Discovery of Culture.) The essay’s timeliness is self-evident. The History of Anthropology Review joins with the many now protesting against the reprehensible police killings and systemic racism which have afflicted Black, Indigenous and other Communities of Color for so long; we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and are committed to documenting, discussing, and critically evaluating racism’s legacies in anthropology, while working for greater equity within our disciplines, institutions, and communities. —The Editors

The President of the United States was saying “America must be kept American,”[1] emboldening white supremacists to blame darker-skinned immigrants for causing crime and taking working-class jobs. It was the 1920s, and the US was erecting barriers against immigration, with severe effects on those who were poor or classed as non-white. White patricians, feeling under threat from those who spoke foreign languages and clustered in tenements, rallied around a confident, energetic, mustachioed ideologue named Madison Grant, a wealthy New Yorker and close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. Grant’s book The Passing of the Great Race (1916) implausibly suggested that America had once been racially homogeneous but was becoming degraded by immigration—plunged into a chaotic, impoverished “racial abyss.” “Teutonics” or “Nordics” like him were being “replaced,” he warned, by “lower” races and would soon be “extinct.”[2] Grant’s malevolent thesis that racial mixing posed a grave threat to white vitality was seized on by Hitler, who in 1925 wrote Grant a fan letter, praising the German translation of his book as “my Bible” (114, 306).

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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. 

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‘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.