Category: Field Notes (page 1 of 2)

Field Notes is a forum for reflections on the state of the field of history of anthropology, broadly conceived. We welcome a variety of contributions including (but not limited to) short articles, theoretical musings, reports on cultural and academic events and displays, and discussions of intellectual resources of interest to our readers. If you’re interested in submitting such a piece, please email us at notes@histanthro.org.

Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in History of Anthropology: A Special Focus Section for HAN’s Relaunch

In 1973, the first issue of the History of Anthropology Newsletter opened with a statement of purpose from the editorial committee, called “Prospects and Problems,” by George Stocking. The editors were self-consciously defining and claiming a field. They let loose with territorial metaphors: occupation, soil, furrows, forays. Now, as we continue our relaunch of HAN, we return to this 40 year-old manifesto as a starting point for thinking about the past, present, and future of the field.

The 1973 essay noted a sense of disciplinary crisis as a spur to growth; it asked whether this history should be done by anthropologists, intellectual historians on “one-book forays,” by “anthropologists manqué,” or by a new generation of interdisciplinarians; it announced the need for “landmarks” including lists of archival holdings, bibliographic aids, research in progress, recent publications—which HAN would provide. It ended with a call for participation from readers.

Seeking to continue HAN’s role as a site for debating the field’s present state and shaping its future, in late 2016 we invited a series of scholars from various fields to respond to this manifesto. The eight distinguished authors below responded with generosity, insight, experience, good humor—and impressive speed.  (The fact that in this list authors primarily identified as historians slightly outnumber those primarily identified as anthropologists is an accident of availability; it does not reflect an editorial preference. Whether it corresponds to a general historical and disciplinary shift is another question– one discussed by several of the authors below.)

We are planning to extend this discussion with further reflections in the months ahead. For now we encourage HAN readers and subscribers to make use of the comments section to respond to individual pieces, or to the section as a whole. Dig in and leave a mark.

The History of Anthropology Between Expansion and Pluralism

The history of anthropology is coming of age as a worldwide pursuit. After its early stages in the 1960s and 1970s with the Conference on the History of Anthropology (1962), inspired by A. Irving Hallowell and sponsored by the Social Science Research Council in New York, and the History of Anthropology Newsletter (HAN), published by an editorial committee of seven and edited by George W. Stocking, Jr. in Chicago from 1973 on, the field has clearly expanded both in the USA and elsewhere. The digital HAN, launched as a website in June 2016, counts 350 subscribers and the History of Anthropology Interest Group of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) has 175 members. The World Anthropologies Network (WAN), founded in Brazil in 2002–03, focuses on non-hegemonic histories of anthropology. In France there was sufficient interest to publish the journal Gradhiva twice a year from 1986 on; an online encyclopedia on the history of anthropology and ethnography, named Bérose, is now being restructured by a founding team of 15 researchers and is expanding internationally to include new collaborators. In the United Kingdom the Royal Anthropological Institute is investigating its history by means of annual conferences and plans to publish four volumes. In the German-speaking countries a Working Group on the History of Anthropology has been meeting within the German Anthropological Association biannually from 1993 on. In Russia some 30 scholars regularly present papers on the subject during the biannual congresses of Russian ethnographers and anthropologists. In Europe as a whole the newly founded History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) was established within the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) in November 2016; it now has 85 members and counting. Continue reading

Beyond Heroic Professionals

Working on German communities in Latin America, I constantly encounter scholars engaged in the history of anthropology. They don’t always know it. Few of them claim to be adherents. Almost none are interested in shaping a field or subfield in a manner evoked in HAN’s 1973 opening statement. They are, however, interested in understanding people who devoted themselves to studying humans and their cultures over the last two centuries. Their efforts also contribute, whether they realize it or not, to our understanding of the history of that vocation. Or, better said, their efforts will contribute to it so long as we are aware of their work. Thank goodness for HAN. Continue reading

Unsettling the History of Anthropology

A land without men for men without land!” ran the slogan for the colonization of Amazonia under the military regime in Brazil, in full swing in 1973. That same year, George W. Stocking urged intellectual historians to grab fertile fields sporadically occupied by a small band of anthropologists. The History of Anthropology Newsletter (HAN) was explicitly devised to provide these hardy pioneers with a set of tools to plow this promising land, driving away dilettante hunter-gatherers trying to “hang around indefinitely.” Continue reading

The Extended Archive, Vindicated

I remember the early days of HAN and the appearance of George Stocking’s foundational work—I still have my much-scribbled-on copies. It has been enormously gratifying to see the history of anthropology mature over the last few decades. For me, the way in which the visual and material have moved to the center of the analytical field is especially significant, because there appears to be an especially productive entanglement of visual, material, and historical studies within anthropology. Continue reading

A History Set Free From Its Object?

A dark orange sheet of paper was inserted in the December 2003 issue of History of Anthropology Newsletter (HAN), containing the following headline: ‘Regime Change at HAN’. The short text briefly mentioned the new editor and her publications without any editorial statement. Does this mean that the history of anthropology was by 2003 an established domain of research and consequently that HAN no longer needed to justify itself? To what extent did the absence of an editorial statement signal a sort of implicit recognition that the field had been ‘occupied’ by historians of science, and that the transition (not entirely smooth) from intellectual history to history of science had taken place between 1973 and 2003? Or was it the acknowledgement that the ‘Problems’ raised by the 1973 statement were no longer thorny issues? Continue reading

Living Pasts: On Anthropological Being and Beings

Anthropological futures are difficult to envision without reckoning with anthropological pasts. The present is filled with an increasing theoretical emphasis on the trans-cultural and trans-national, but on a material level, we are still haunted by the legacies of collecting the Indigenous (a practice that has long been central to the anthropological project). Continue reading

Harvesting or Gleaning: Reflections on Dumpster Diving as Historical Method

Revisiting Stocking’s 1973 essay, I found the metaphor of the field of anthropology as an agricultural field somewhat at odds with my own historical sensibility. The depiction of “unobstructed acreage” and “unplowed furrows” being gradually settled by a new discipline—or raided by historians on one-book forays—may resonate for some scholars, but not for me. If I may recast the metaphor, the way I have always approached researching the history of anthropology is through gleaning—the Old Testament-sanctioned practice of the poor combing through recently harvested fields to scavenge for leftovers. Continue reading

Making Anthropologists Visible

In 2003, when I first went to the eastern highlands of New Guinea to talk with the Fore people about investigations in the 1950s and 1960s of the fatal brain disease they called kuru, I wanted to know how they distinguished the various “whitemen” (a category that includes women) who came to study them, prod them, bleed them, and cut them up during this time. Having trained in medicine and history, I had previously supposed the disciplinary distinctions must be obvious. Nobel laureate D. Carleton Gajdusek was evidently a scientist of sorts; Michael Alpers and John Mathews did autopsies and epidemiology; and Shirley Inglis Glasse (later Lindenbaum) and her husband Robert Glasse were the ethnographers who connected the transmission of kuru to Fore endo-cannibalism, thus helping to initiate “medical anthropology.” Continue reading

Fair Necropolis: The Peruvian Dead, the First American Ph.D. in Anthropology, and the World’s Columbian Exposition of Chicago, 1893

Given just how many people participated in the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893, it is understandable that historians have used the well-documented presence of a manageable few individuals to illuminate the experiences of the crowd. But sometimes the exemplary are so bright that they wash out the wider experience. In terms of the history of anthropology, for example, Franz Boas has become central to our accounts of the field at the World’s Fair, despite his own protests that he thought that his collection of biological and cultural materials from the Pacific Northwest were poorly represented (Cole, 1995 [1985]).[1] There is, therefore, much gained by expanding our frame, to consider less lasting lights at the anthropological Fair, whose contributions illuminate anthropology’s multiple pasts in a way that helps us move beyond genealogies of its future.[2]

Fig. 1 The “Necropolis” of Ancón, reproduced at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 by F. W. Putnam based on the excavations of George Dorsey. Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Book of the Fair (Chicago, San Francisco: The Bancroft Company, 1893), 633.

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