Participant Observations

Participant observations are reports from conferences and other gatherings. To submit such news, please email us at news@histanthro.org.

‘Collecting Mesoamerica’ Exhibition Review

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.

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Cosmologies of Becoming: A review of “Knowledges in Contact”: 6th Annual Natura Conference on Science and Epistemology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, March 31, 2017

This year’s conference on science and epistemology was organized by Natura, an interdisciplinary research group at Rutgers. It was themed Knowledges in Contact, and drew on a variety of issues pertaining to the history of anthropology, science, and, more broadly, knowledge. The central theme of the conference focused on the historical and ethical issues in understanding epistemology, and was explored through a range of interdisciplinary papers. In simple terms, the papers examined the processes through which diverse scientific ‘knowledges’ come into being. In the following reflections of the presented papers, I identify some theoretical points of interest to the history of anthropology, including themes relating to ‘contact’, ‘encounters’, ‘agency’, ‘representation’, ‘gaze’, ‘voice’ and ‘authority.’ Continue reading

Diversity at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA)

Biological anthropology has long been plagued by its exclusionary past. Today, many biological anthropologists and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) are actively seeking to address this legacy by forging positive relationships between anthropologists and marginalized communities, and by encouraging new voices to contribute to the field. For example, the AAPA created the Increasing Diversity in Evolutionary Anthropological Sciences (IDEAS) program to increase participation by first-generation college students or students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in science (African Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and Latinos). The recent Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE) study (2014) conducted by Kate Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde also highlighted persistent issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the field.

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History of Anthropology Panels at the 14th Biennial EASA Conference, Milan, Italy, July 20-23, 2016 and the Refounding of HOAN

The 14th biennial EASA conference was held at the University of Milano-Bicocca from July 20-23, 2016. Framed around the topic “Anthropological Legacies and Human Futures,” the conference included two panels on themes in the history of anthropology. The first panel was convened by David Shankland (Royal Anthropological Institute, London, UK) and Aleksandar Boskovic (University of Belgrade/Institute of Social Sciences, Belgrade, Serbia); the second by Andrés Barrera-González (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain) and Han F. Vermeulen. The second panel was the official panel of the Europeanist network for this conference. The panels were attended by between 30 and 40 people and received positive reactions. Based on the success of the conference, plans were made to publish one or more volumes. Subsequently, a network devoted to the history of anthropology (HOAN) was refounded (see below). Continue reading

History of Anthropology at Ethnohistory 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee

From November 9-12, 2016, the American Society of Ethnohistory (ASE) convened its Annual Meeting at the Hutton Hotel in “Music City” Nashville, Tennessee. The meeting assembled scholars from a diverse range of fields including history, anthropology, linguistics, indigenous studies, and environmental and cultural studies, as well as representatives from various indigenous political, environmental, heritage, and cultural institutions. The canopy topic, “Ethnohistory of Native Space”, encouraged analyses that ranged from dwelling and diaspora notions of ‘home places’, to other experiences of space, place and time. This included inquiries into how native spaces are represented through narrative and performance and studies of different forms of colonial legacies. It also involved a focus on uses of mapping technologies employed to display place-based histories, interactions, and social transformations. Continue reading

History, Archives, and Endangered Languages: A Review of the “Translating Across Space and Time” Symposium at the American Philosophical Society

Translating Across Space and Time: Endangered Languages, Cultural Revitalization, and the Work of History,” a symposium held in Philadelphia from October 13 through October 15, 2016, convened scholars, practitioners, and Indigenous knowledge keepers from across the United States and Canada.

Hosted by the American Philosophical Society’s (APS) Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) and co-sponsored by the Penn Humanities Forum at the University of Pennsylvania, the conference coincided with the APS Museum exhibition, Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America, which showcased the APS’s work in Native American language collection and revitalization from Jefferson to the present. Over 69,000 visitors attended the exhibition between April and December 2016. This scholarly conference drew over 100 in-person attendees and over 100 more via live web stream. Panelists from across the United States and Canada presented 21 papers on topics related to endangered languages, translation, and language revitalization projects in Native American and Indigenous communities. Continue reading

History of Anthropology: Why, How, and For Whom?

Under the title “Why History of Anthropology and Who Should Write It?” the History of Anthropology Working Group of the German Anthropological Association (DGV) organized a two-day conference on “Cultural and Social Anthropology and its Relation to its own History and to the Historical Sciences” at the University of Vienna (Austria) on December 9–10, 2016. Peter Schweitzer, Marie-France Chevron, and Peter Rohrbacher, staff members of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna, convened the conference. The central questions they formulated were: (1) “To what end should a history of anthropology be written,” (2) Is there “a ‘best practice’ for this form of historiography,” and (3) “For whom should a history of anthropology be written”? Continue reading

Caring for Objects, Caring for Us: the 2016 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology Symposium

SIMAposter

Poster for the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA)

How do we care for objects and how do objects care for us? Dr. Bill Wood, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a 2016 SIMA Faculty Fellow, asked this question during the discussion portion of the 2016 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA) Symposium. The Symposium, which took place Thursday and Friday, July 21-22, was the culmination of four weeks of work by Master’s students and PhD candidates from across the United States and Canada. Since 2009, the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology has brought 12 to 14 anthropology graduate students into the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) to engage collections. In 2015, the program has expanded to include two visiting faculty fellows. Funded by the Cultural Anthropology Program of the National Science Foundation, the program is run and hosted by NMNH’s Anthropology Department. SIMA participants are taught by staff from NMNH and across the Smithsonian, as well as by three visiting professors. Through hands-on work with objects in intensive seminars, SIMA trains students in the core methodological aspects of museum anthropology and helps them understand the types of data in museums, and the issues involved in working with collections. In the process, students learn how to apply their diverse theoretical interests through object-based research. Continue reading

History of Anthropology at NAISA 2016

From May 18-21, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) held its Annual Meeting at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in Honolulu, HI. The meeting was broad in scope, drawing together scholars from a diverse range of fields—including history, anthropology, linguistics, and cultural studies—as well as activists and representatives from various indigenous political organizations and cultural institutions. It was an extremely welcoming event (helped by the beautiful surroundings and relaxed atmosphere) which encouraged open conversation and interdisciplinary exchange. For the first time in NAISA’s history, the conference schedule also included a “day of service” without panels, which provided an opportunity for attendees to participate in a number of activities focused on community engagement, which ranged from a tour of the Iolani Palace to an environmental justice bus tour of Oahu.

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Racial Conceptions in the Twentieth-Century: Comparisons, Connections and Circulations in the Portuguese-Speaking Global South

Rio de Janeiro, Hotel Novo Mundo, 5–7 April 2016View from Hotel Novo Mundo

In early April 2016, during what will surely turn out to be a notable moment in Brazil’s political history, scholars representing a variety of disciplines from across the globe met in Rio de Janeiro to participate in the workshop, “Racial Conceptions in the Twentieth-Century: Comparisons, Connections and Circulations in the Portuguese-speaking Global South.” The two-day workshop was characterized not only by the collegiality and enthusiasm of its participants, but also its commitment to illuminating the diversity of racial thought emerging from the Lusophone Global South.

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‘HAU and when?’: Review of SOAS conference on The Gift

On April 30th, 2016, a conference was held in London at SOAS to celebrate Jane Guyer’s new translation and introduction to Marcel Mauss’ classic Essay on the Gift, published by HAU Books. Commenters included Marilyn Strathern, Marshall Sahlins, Keith Hart, David Graeber, and Maurice Bloch.

Dan Hicks reports and reflects on the conference in this one-page essay for Anthropology Today.

Video of the conference can be viewed on YouTube.

Populations of Cognition: Interconnected Histories of Human Variation in Latin America

In December 2015, an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars gathered at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City to attend the workshop “Populations of Cognition: Interconnected histories of human variation in Latin America.” We enjoyed a lively three-day meeting replete with bilingual interventions, and afternoon enjoyment of Oaxacan food and mezcal.

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Celebrating the 120th anniversary of the London School of Economics in the Department of Anthropology, December 2015

In 2015, the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) celebrated its 120th anniversary. As part of this, the LSE’s Department of Anthropology held a day-long event to explore its history, covering the transformative leadership of Malinowski and its development in the years after his departure. The workshop included LSE alumni from several decades, current and past faculty members, and current and former students, who gathered on the final day of term in December to recollect the life of the department through a mixture of personal reminiscence, entertaining anecdote, and reflective intellectual history.

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