Nicholas Barron

Introducing Generative Texts

At the American Anthropological Association Meeting in 2017, Sydel Silverman humbly asked Janet Steins, a HAN bibliography editor, if her 2002 book The Beast on the Table: Conferencing with Anthropologists could be included in our publication’s ever-evolving online bibliography.  Because our cutoff date for publications is 2013 or later, we were forced to decline. Fortunately, Silverman’s inquiry kicked off lengthy discussions among the HAN editorial collective concerning how we might bring the attention of our readers to important, provocative, and influential texts published at any time in the past which have generated discussions and new lines of thought for researchers and others interested in the history of anthropology. The recent and unfortunate passing of Silverman in March 2019 spurred these discussions and our desire to devise ways of better accounting for important works that have fallen through our cataloguing sieve. After many months of deliberation and collaboration, we are pleased to introduce a new subsection to the Bibliography page: Generative Texts.

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The Beast on the Table

Silverman, Sydel. The Beast on the Table: Conferencing with Anthropologists. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Synopsis

In this “ethnography of anthropologists and their conference behavior” (x), Sydel Silverman describes the interworking of the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s International Symposia, writing from the perspective of a participant observer.  As president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research from 1986 to 1999, Silverman was the principal organizer of these invitation-only meetings. She begins by detailing the general process by which a conference was conceived and implemented, including attention to the idiosyncrasies of the Wenner-Gren conferencing model. The five- to six-day conferences were structured around discussions of pre-circulated papers, collective meals and cocktail hours. The strict rules of participation prohibited outsiders, including spouses, which regularly engendered “dissension and conflict” (13). The book proceeds to explore the interworking of 25 conferences that nearly span the entire course of Silverman’s 13-year presidency. While some gatherings proved more successful in terms of bringing the “beast” to life (a metaphor for the events originally coined by participant Gregory Bateson), Silverman identifies consistent patterns such as a persistent “epistemological division” between essentialist and constructionist views of science (261). Thus, The Beast on the Table offers a rare insider perspective on the collective (and often contested) formation of anthropological knowledge within institutional settings.

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From Savage to Negro

Baker, Lee D. From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of the Race, 1896-1954. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Synopsis

Lee Baker’s From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954 highlights the consequential role of anthropology in the development, dissemination, and critique of hegemonic conceptions of race.

Using the diametrically opposed Supreme Court rulings Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. the Board of Education (1954) as his landmarks for reckoning the changing nature of race relations in US politics, Baker documents the ways in which anthropology has been appropriated by politicians, popular media, and the courts to affirm, and later to challenge a racialized worldview steeped in Social Darwinism and eugenics. Importantly, Baker identifies a notable shift in this history. During the 1890s, amateur and professional anthropological thought, encapsulated in the works of Josiah Nott, Daniel G. Brinton, John Wesley Powell, and Frederic Putnam, affirmed the presumed racial inferiority of African Americans codified in Plessy. With care and precision, Baker shows how by the mid-20th century, African American intellectuals and leaders selectively appropriated anthropology­—specifically, the work of Franz Boas—in their efforts to affirm notions of racial equality. Thus, From Savage to Negro documents the paradoxically liberating and normalizing potentiality of anthropological thought.

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‘From New Peoples to New Nations’ by Gerhard J. Ens and Joe Sawchuk


Gerhard J. Ens and Joe Sawchuk. From New Peoples to New Nations: Aspects of Métis History and Identity from the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries. 704 pp., 14 illus., notes, bibl., index. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016. $98 (cloth), $50 (paper), $48.95 (eBook)

From New Peoples to New Nations: Aspects of Métis Identity from the Eighteenth to Twenty-First Centuries takes on the herculean task of condensing three centuries of Métis history into a single tome. However, authors Gerhard J. Ens and Joe Sawchuck do not provide a simple synthesis of events. Rather, From New Peoples to New Nations offers a comprehensive account of Métis history centered around the multiple, dialogical constructions of Métis identity. This thematic focus takes the book out of the realm of historical synthesis and into critical theorizations of ethnogenesis (the emergence of new ethnic groups), racialization (the definition of people in terms of race), and nationalism. Building on studies of the invention of tradition, ethno-symbolism, and historical ontology, the authors eschew primordialist accounts that take ethnicity and nationality as enduring givens. Ens and Sawchuk adopt an avowedly “instrumental” view, emphasizing the situational and strategic nature of Métis identity (7). The book is organized into five parts with Ens primarily authoring the first four. Despite the division of labor and different disciplinary backgrounds of the authors (Ens being a historian and Sawchuk an anthropologist), the thematic focus and theoretical orientation is remarkably consistent across the expansive eighteen chapters.

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‘A Passion for the True and Just’ by Alice Beck Kehoe


Alice Beck Kehoe. A Passion for the True and Just: Felix and Lucy Kramer Cohen and the Indian New Deal. 256pp., illus., notes, bibl., index. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014. $55.00 (hardcover), $24.95 (paperback), $24.95 (e-book)

The Indian New Deal—the name given to the series of policies that shifted Native American-US relations from one of allotment[1] to limited tribal recognition in the 1930s and 1940s—lies at the center of Alice Kehoe’s A Passion for the True and Just: Felix and Lucy Kramer Cohen and the Indian New Deal. However, the book is more than a rehashing of the debates surrounding the implementation and legacies of the Indian New Deal. On one level, A Passion for the True and Just is an account of the relatively unexamined role of Felix and Lucy Kramer Cohen in designing key pieces of Indian New Deal legislation and texts. On another level, the book has the more ambitious goal of “[juxtaposing] two histories seldom merged, that of the Indian New Deal and Jews in twentieth-century America” (8). Through the life and work of the Cohens, Kehoe details the ways in which Jewish intellectuals significantly shaped the construction of this “turning point in colonialism” (163).

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Sketches from the 89th Wenner–Gren International Symposium


On the morning of November 23rd, 1981, Rosamond (Roz) Spicer joined her fellow participants for the third day of the 89th Wenner–Gren Foundation International Symposium. As the morning discussion took shape, Roz, a noted Native Americanist anthropologist, drifted from her note-taking as she started to sketch the people around her (see figures 1–5).[i] Etched with light pencil, these elegant and unassuming illustrations capture a transitional moment in the larger history of the Foundation. Continue reading

‘Mohawk Interruptus’ by Audra Simpson


Audra Simpson. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States. 280pp., 4 illus., app., notes, refs., index. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. $89.95 (cloth), $24.95 (paperback)

Audra Simpson’s Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of the Settler States (2014) explores the complexities of Mohawk sovereignty along the U.S.-Canadian border offering critical insights into the fraught past and present relationships between Indigenous and settler societies. Focusing on Kahnawà:ke, a Mohawk Indian reserve located in present-day Canada with ties to the Iroquois Confederacy whose territories interrupt the current settler-colonial nation-state border, Simpson begins her inquiry with three interdigitating claims that reemerge throughout the book. First, Simpson challenges readers to see that a sovereign entity can exist within another (10). This “nested” conception of sovereignty compels us to recognize that when Indigenous political orders prevail in the present, they do so, seemingly paradoxically, “within and apart from settler governance” (11). Second, Simpson offers a critique of the dominant and narrow politics of recognition that confines Indigenous peoples and their rights to essentialized and discernable forms of cultural difference (11, 20). Throughout the book, we see cases in which Mohawk peoples “refuse” this paradigm and the inherent power asymmetries that it works to reproduce and naturalize.

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Archival Developments


Our ability to explore the history of anthropology in a substantive and empirical manner hinges upon access to primary and secondary source material. Since HAN was established in 1973, anthropologically relevant archives have gone through multiple material transformations that shape the way we do the history of anthropology.  Today an anthropological archival collection might be fully digitized, however it remains much more likely that only parts of it or only a detailed description of its contents are accessible online. For those readers less familiar with archival collections and how to locate and access them, some basic resources and strategies might be useful.

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