Collecting Mesoamerica: The Hemispheric Roots of U.S. Anthropology. A recent exhibit (May 8 – July 7, 2017) at the Kislak Center, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, curated by Lindsay Van Tine.
Editor’s Note: Due to the participatory nature of museum exhibits, the HAN Editors have chosen to publish this piece both as a “Review” and as part of its “Participant Observation” series. The Editors welcome and encourage future multi-purpose submissions in the form of reviews, reports, or other reflections on interactive projects and exhibits related to the history of anthropology.
The name of Daniel Garrison Brinton is not one that is on the tip of the tongue for many anthropologists specializing in studies of Mesoamerican cultures, languages, and history. Nevertheless, in a recent exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Collecting Mesoamerica: The Hemispheric Roots of U.S. Anthropology, curator Lindsay Van Tine elucidates how Brinton—a prolific late nineteenth century “armchair anthropologist” par excellence—played a considerable role in defining what we now know as “Mesoamerica,” both as a bounded geographic space and as a field of scholarly specialization. As such, Van Tine’s exhibit contributes to an archaeology of the discipline in a Foucauldian sense of the term, exposing some of the deep and at times forgotten roots of Mesoamerican studies. The exhibit also contributes to an archaeology of the discipline in a somewhat literal sense. To curate the exhibit, Van Tine sifted through and uncovered objects and documents that had long been dispersed in a number of different archives at the University of Pennsylvania in an effort to reconstruct Brinton’s collection of Mesoamerican materials as it was constituted at the end of the nineteenth century.