Category: Reviews (page 1 of 2)

The reviews section publishes reviews of recent monographs, and occasionally a retrospective review of an older book whose legacy we would like to revisit. The reviews editors maintain an up-to-date list of books for prospective reviewers. If you are interested in reviewing for HAN, please email us at reviews@histanthro.org.

‘Endangerment, Biodiversity and Culture’ edited by Fernando Vidal and Nélia Dias

Fernando Vidal and Nélia Dias (Editors). Endangerment, Biodiversity and Culture. 264pp., 11 b/w illus., index. London: Routledge, 2016. $163 (hardback), $52.95 (paperback), $52.95 (eBook)

In Endangerment, Biodiversity and Culture, editors Fernando Vidal and Nélia Dias bring together scholarship on what they compellingly label the “endangerment sensibility”: that is, “a complex of knowledge, values, affects and interests characterized by a particularly acute perception that some organisms and things are ‘under threat,’ and by a purposeful responsiveness to such a predicament” (2). The volume features nine contributions split equally into three sections. These sections consider: the affects, values, and science that are interwoven in this sensibility (Part I); the situated politics of endangerment discourses and practices (Part II); and technologies of preservation, which help constitute endangerment and have ontological consequences for the entities they aim to preserve (Part III).

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‘Local Knowledge Global Stage’ edited by Darnell and Gleach

Regna Darnell and Frederic W. Gleach (Editors). Local Knowledge, Global Stage. Histories of Anthropology Annual Series 10. 354pp., 25 illus. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. $40 (paper)

As a historian writing about late-nineteenth century anthropology who is also interested in contemporary anthropology, I learned a lot from this book. The tenth in the series Histories of Anthropology Annual, this volume is in conversation with the work of two influential, and recently deceased, historians: George Stocking and Henrika Kuklick. Yet this collection of essays, like its predecessors in the series, locates itself more in the field than the archive. The editors believe, rightly so, that what emerges from fieldwork can inform us about larger issues of knowledge production. But history also has a role to play. Good work calls for methods “transcending the customary distinction of past, present, and future and replacing the static repetition of events, dates, and feats of great men (sic)[1] representing the story from the standpoint of the victors with a more nuanced collation of histories in the plural” (xiii).

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‘Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits’ by Chip Colwell

Chip Colwell. Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture. 336pp., 10 halftones, notes, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. $30 (cloth), $18 (e-book)

During highway construction, twenty-eight sets of human remains are found. Twenty-six of the bodies are reburied in a nearby cemetery but two skeletons, a woman and her baby, are not—instead, they are given over to the state archaeologist. What accounts for the difference? Is it that the skeletons of twenty-six white people are not interesting to archaeological study? Or is it that the thought of reburying Native American remains when they could be studied is somehow a violation of our dedication to knowledge of the past?

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‘Before Boas’ by Han F. Vermeulen

Han F. Vermeulen. Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. 746pp., illus., notes, refs. cited, index. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. $75 (hardcover)

You will not find much curiosity among the Norse settlers in Greenland to observe, describe, and understand the clothing, tools, rituals, and legends of the skraelings. This derogatory term for the Greenlandic Inuit practically bracketed curiosity, signaled that there was nothing there to learn at all, but only a people to be feared and, one hoped, defeated. This has been the default stance toward other peoples, particularly peoples at an apparently lower stage of social and technical development, throughout most of human history, with classic works such as Tacitus’s Germania, in which the northern heathen tribes are described in some detail, standing more as an exception than a rule.

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‘Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange’ by Marc Flandreau

Marc Flandreau. Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: A Financial History of Victorian Science. 421pp., 12 halftones, notes, sources, works cited, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. $105 (cloth), $35 (paper), $10-35 (e-book options)

Note: This review first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement (no. 5943, 24 February 2017, pp. 9-10) with the title “The Cannibal Club: How Victorian Anthropologists Tried to Defraud the Financial Markets” and is reprinted with permission of TLS and the author.

When the American railway engineer George Earl Church visited La Paz in 1868, it was to lay the groundwork for a grandiose scheme to build a railway through Bolivia’s rainforested border with Brazil, allowing its natural resources to be exported via the Amazon River. After several more stops, Church was in London where he got himself elected to the Royal Geographical Society, lending a sheen of scientific credibility to what was in fact a financial scam. No railway was built, but the scheme was a marvel of financial engineering. After Church signed the loan contract in Bolivia’s name, bonds to fund the loan were sold to English investors. These bonds traded on the London Stock Exchange.

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‘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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‘Travels with Frances Densmore’ edited by Jensen and Patterson

Joan M. Jensen and Michelle Wick Patterson (Editors). Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies. 464 pp., illus., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. $75 (hardcover)

Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies draws together a biography of the twentieth century anthropologist with a compilation of both new and previously published works on Densmore’s professional heritage. Although both parts of the book span much of Densmore’s career, Joan M. Jensen and Michelle Wick Patterson contend that the book is not intended to be comprehensive. Instead, they ask the reader to consider Travels with Frances Densmore a “travel guide” through the anthropologist’s remarkably productive career as well as the broader professional, social, and political contexts in which she worked.

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‘Race and Photography’ by Amos Morris-Reich

Amos Morris-Reich. Race and Photography: Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876-1980. 320pp., 72 halftones, notes, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. $97.50 (cloth), $32.50 (paper), $10-32.50 (e-book options)

Photography was a major medium in racial science and Amos Morris-Reich, a professor at the University of Haifa, has written Race and Photography to show how racial scientists used photographs as evidence. He presents his subject not as a history of anti-Semitic pseudoscience or propaganda but as a history of science that aims to take seriously the role of photographs in books about race. The starting point is his “practical epistemology” (4): a study of photography that looks at scientific practices rather than at theories for their underlying epistemological assumptions. This means that Morris-Reich’s analysis consists of close readings of photographs and their position in publications, paying attention to things as varied as photographic angles, publication quality, the order of photographs, and the way in which they connect to the written text.

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‘American Antiquities’ by Terry A. Barnhart

Terry A. Barnhart. American Antiquities: Revisiting the Origins of American Archaeology. 594pp., illus., bibl., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. $75 (hardcover)

The ancient inhabitants of the United States left artifacts and structures across the continent, from Florida to the Great Lakes and Chaco Canyon to Puget Sound. Today’s archaeologists study how these populations moved, changed, and interacted, using material traces to understand the lives of their makers. The current professional consensus as to how archaeology is done and what it tells us about America’s past did not emerge in a linear fashion. Terry Barnhart’s American Antiquities chronicles the “organic and altogether untidy process” (1) by which antiquarian interest in Indian mounds, and speculation about their non-Indian origins, transmuted into the work of scientific societies, state-sponsored surveys, museums, and ultimately an academic discipline at pains to escape the burden of its own history.

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‘Constructing Race’ by Tracy Teslow

Tracy Teslow. Constructing Race: The Science of Bodies and Cultures in American Anthropology. xiii + 399pp., bibl., index. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. $129 (hardback), $29.99 (paperback), $24 (e-book)

Historians have argued that racial science and theories of biological determinism disappeared from academia after 1945. Under pressure from forces within academia and without, biological anthropologists turned their attention to population studies while cultural anthropologists produced nuanced studies of non-western cultures. More recently, however, historians of racial science such as Veronika Lipphardt[1] and Alice Conklin[2] have criticized and complicated this teleological narrative and have suggested that it is the result of post-war anthropologists distancing themselves from a disreputable past. Tracy Teslow’s Constructing Race: The Science of Bodies and Cultures in American Anthropology is a crucial contribution to this revisionist historiography. Teslow details the history of American anthropology between 1900 and 1960, which, according to her, has been understudied and misinterpreted. Rather than presenting a smooth success story of the triumph of cultural relativism in anthropology, Constructing Race shows the messiness and complexity of this history.

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