Field Notes (page 2 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.

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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Have Anthropology Museums Become History Museums? A Visit to Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg, Germany

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, German universities inspired the reformation of higher learning institutions throughout Europe and the United States (Barth et. al. 2005).  Early museums and museum pioneers in the United States were likewise influenced by the collecting practices and ideas of their German counterparts.[1] High profile museum anthropologists in various national contexts—Franz Boas among them—relied on connections and correspondence with German colleagues. For a time anthropology in German museums appeared unproblematically forward thinking, growing out of a liberal-humanist tradition to connect Europe with the rest of the world, shaped by the desire to extend beyond curiosity cabinets toward the systematic, empirically driven study of mankind.[2]

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Doing the History of Anthropology as the History of Visual Representation

As a contribution to the “Field Notes” section of the relaunched History of Anthropology Newsletter, I offer the following as a brief report of my recent research in the history of anthropology and its connections to art history and the history of museums. Historians of anthropology tend to work in a range of institutional and disciplinary locations, and I have done much of my “fieldwork” in museum collections and libraries. I would like to dedicate this essay to both former editors-in-chief of HAN: my mentor George Stocking, and my friend and colleague Riki Kuklick, for both of whom the many different meanings and values attached to “fieldwork” was a lasting topic of reflection.

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Revitalization and Reminiscence: On the History of the History of Anthropology Newsletter

Since its inception in 1973, the History of Anthropology Newsletter has played a major role in establishing the history of anthropology as a legitimate sub-discipline of anthropology. Under the leadership of George W. Stocking, Jr., HAN attracted a subscription list of non-specialists, mostly anthropologists, who needed historical background for their major research; readers were often contributors, as well, adding occasional pieces notable for their careful attention to the minutiae of ethnographic context. Having been in on HAN from the beginning, the revitalization of the Newsletter seems a good opportunity to reminisce and speculate on the more interdisciplinary and theoretical future we might envision for the history of anthropology.

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HAN and the Institutionalization of HoA

In 1973, George Stocking and a small group of like-minded scholars founded the History of Anthropology Newsletter, HAN. In that year, I began my graduate education in anthropology at the University of Chicago, where George taught. In the fall 1975 term, I took a seminar with him on the anthropology of the inter-war period, in which each student took responsibility for a major figure of the era.

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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.

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