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.

As luck would have it, Edward Sapir fell to me. I had focused on literary studies as well as anthropology as an undergraduate, and the kind of scholarship that was congenial to me was “close reading.” As a method, the close reading or interpretation of literary texts had affinities both with the symbolic anthropology that was then dominant in the Chicago department and with the history of anthropology that George was engaged in building.

In the context of George’s seminar, I immersed myself in reading as much of Sapir’s work as I could, which led me to the intersection of Boasian anthropology and literary modernism in the first decades of the twentieth century. Given my undergraduate interests, this was an ideal topic for me, and while fieldwork took me elsewhere, over the years George helped me work up what started as a seminar paper for publication in the first issue of History of Anthropology (Handler 1983).

Thus it was that I came to be drawn into George’s work and George’s circle of colleagues who were creating a new history of anthropology at that time. And thus it was that I had the chance to watch George, up close, figuring out how to institutionalize a nascent subfield.

He used the graduate seminar I mentioned above as a context for drafting the introductory essay for a volume of “selected papers from the American Anthropologist, 1921-1945” that he had been asked to edit. He titled his essay “Ideas and Institutions in American Anthropology” (Stocking 1976) and in it he mapped the intellectual trajectory of Boasian anthropology in relationship to a changing institutional terrain: from museums and amateur scientific societies to universities and large philanthropic funding agencies.

At that moment, then, George’s intellectual interest as a historian of anthropology dovetailed with his professional ambition to build a new subfield: “ideas and institutions” indeed! Moreover, in that essay he noted that it had been possible “for a small but coherent and committed group [of anthropologists in Boston, New York, and Washington] to have great influence in an Association [the AAA] which until 1920 had no more than 300 individual members” (1976, 9-10). It is hard to read that without thinking of George’s circle of people at the University of Chicago, those on the first HAN editorial board, and those who had participated in the 1962 Social Science Research Council conference on the history of anthropology (Stocking 2010, 88).[1] George had gathered (as I saw it, from my position as a Chicago-centered, observer-participant graduate student) a group of like-minded scholars who represented a new, somewhat quirky but intensely intriguing approach to things anthropological.

Here it is apposite to speak of acronyms. As early as the publication of the third number, George was using HAN as the acronym for the History of Anthropology Newsletter. Ten years after the launch of HAN, George published the first volume of his History of Anthropology series (Stocking 1983). We alumni and graduate students in George’s circle were given to understand that henceforth, HOA was to stand for the series, and HoA for the subfield. To those of us who were then working actively in the area, such acronyms seemed practical enough. But they also reflected, we knew, George’s somewhat compulsive effort to control the smallest institutional details connected to the subfield he was nurturing.

And while I cannot document the following, it is my recollection that George told me (and others, I presume) that he had deliberately conceived HOA to be generically ambiguous: it was at once a series at the University of Wisconsin Press, a run of individual volumes each edited by George, and a scholarly journal appearing, more or less, annually. George suggested, as I remember it, that he wanted all those generic identities for the new venture, to allow HOA to attract as wide a readership—people in different disciplines accustomed to different genres—as possible.[2]

Which brings us to the particular design of HAN: in the (unsigned) inaugural editorial, George wrote that since the 1962 SSRC conference, interest in HoA had “burgeoned considerably.” In particular, a field “largely occupied on a part-time basis by anthropologists” was being “invaded” by historians. And those invaders into a “developing field of historical inquiry” needed “a few more land marks to guide [them] through it”—the “information as to archival holdings, bibliographic aids, research in progress, recent publications, and so forth” that was to become the stock in trade of HAN for the next 30 years (Stocking 1973).

In the early numbers, George, who had quickly taken on the title of “Editorial Secretary,” commented regularly on the costs of production and worried that if not enough readers paid their subscription fees, the venture would not be able to continue. (The initial cost for each yearly volume, comprised of two numbers, was two dollars for individual scholars, one dollar for students, and three dollars for institutional and overseas subscribers.) By the fourth number, he cautioned that although “one might assume that our venture was safely off the ground … in fact, however, our future is unsure.” Despite the fact that HAN was receiving the content it needed from its editorial board and many interested readers, too many “negligent subscribers” had failed to pay for their subscriptions. To “prod” them, George announced the device of “a red line across the end of your mailing label” to indicate “the last issue that will be sent to you until we receive payment” (Stocking 1975).

Note on renewals and lapsed subscribers, 1975

Whatever the efficacy of the red line, the situation apparently stabilized after that, as George’s laments about free riders subsided. In the eighth number, he returned to a theme announced in the first number: the participation of both anthropologists and historians in the new subfield. He remarked that “the history of anthropology may be entering a new phase in which anthropologists will play a more active role in primary research.” He attributed this to what came to be described as a crisis in anthropology—“a turning inward as the traditional external field of anthropological research becomes increasingly inhospitable and certain assumptions that have underwritten a century of ethnographic fieldwork are increasingly called into question” (Stocking 1977; cf. Stocking 2001, 320-21).

And shortly thereafter, he attempted to take the temperature of the crisis, or to “chart” the “intellectual terrain” of the subfield by sending out a questionnaire to readers in September 1979. Although his effort “met with only partial success” (160 questionnaires yielded only 67 responses), George reported on the disciplinary affiliations of the respondents and on their publishing activities in the subfield (Stocking 1980). The venture was characteristic of George’s self-conscious attention to the conditions of production of his own scholarship, as evidenced by the running commentary or prefaces that he attached to so many of his publications (Handler 2014, 3).

There is perhaps no better way to recall the “conditions of production” of HAN in its early years than to thumb through the actual numbers, typed on 8 ½-by-11- inch paper, photocopied and stapled together. (Only in 1981 did HAN acquire a front and back cover of colored card stock, sandwiching the white pages of content, the whole held together, still, by staples.) To imagine the labor that George put into HAN and what it must have meant to him, it is useful to read his depiction of his life in the McCarthy era, when he worked for several years as a Communist Party labor organizer. Among his activities, he “helped edit and produce a mimeographed local union newspaper” (Stocking 2010, 64). Surely his work organizing the working classes through the production of a newspaper taught him much that helped him to organize historians and anthropologists into a robust subfield, HoA, through the creation and production of HAN.


Works Cited

Handler, Richard. 1983. “The Dainty and the Hungry Man: Literature and Anthropology in the Work of Edward Sapir.” In Stocking, Observers Observed, 208-231.

———. 2014. “George W. Stocking, Jr. (1928-2013).” Journal of Anthropological Research 70, no. 1: 1–4.

Stocking, George W. 1973. “Prospects and Problems.” History of Anthropology Newsletter 1, no. 1: 1.

———. 1975. “Prospects and Problems: IV.” History of Anthropology Newsletter 2, no. 2: 1–2.

———. 1976. “Ideas and Institutions in American Anthropology: Toward a History of the Interwar Period.” In Selected Papers from the American Anthropologist, 1921-1945, ed. George Stocking, 1–50. Washington, DC: American Anthropological Association.

———. 1977. “Prospects and Problems: VIII.” History of Anthropology Newsletter 4, no. 2: 1.

———. 1980. “Notes on a Partially Charted Intellectual Terrain.” History of Anthropology Newsletter 7, no. 2: 3.

———. 1981. “A New Publication in the History of Anthropology.” History of Anthropology Newsletter 8, no. 2: 3.

———. 1983. “History of Anthropology: Whence/Whither.” In Stocking, Observers Observed, 3–12.

———. 2010. Glimpses into my Own Black Box: An Exercise in Self-Deconstruction. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

———, ed. 1983. Observers Observed: Essays on Ethnographic Fieldwork. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.


[1] From Chicago I remember in particular Bernard (Barney) Cohn, Jan Goldstein, Peter Novick and Robert Richards as faithful participants in events George organized on the history of anthropology and the other social sciences, often under the auspices of the Morris Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine. In addition to George, the first “editorial committee” of HAN was made up of Robert Berkhofer, Robert Bieder, Regna Darnell, Dell Hymes, Judith Modell, and Timothy Thoresen. Anthropologists participating in the SSRC conference included Joseph Casagrande, Frederica de Laguna, Fred Eggan, A.I. Hallowell, Melville Herskovits, Dell Hymes, Harry Shapiro, Sol Tax, Carl Voegelin and Leslie White (Stocking 2010, 88).

[2] In his introductory essay to the inaugural volume, George described HOA as having “adopted a format of periodic book-length volumes organized around particular themes.” Four sentences later he aligned HOA with “other journals,” thereby syntactically equating (and hence defining) it as a scholarly journal, not a book series (Stocking 1983, 7; cf. Stocking 1981). And the dust jacket describes it as “a new series of annual volumes.”

Richard Handler: contributions /