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).

The individual chapters are well written and thought-provoking. Darnell and Gleach do a wonderful job locating untold stories that draw out larger patterns, insight, and relevance. Most chapters center on the work of specific anthropologists, or on institutional history. Geographically, the editors pull off a nice balancing act, with four of the nine chapters focusing on European anthropologies (including “peripheral” European countries as Portugal and the Soviet Union), three in the Canadian context, and one each on Brazil and Australia. In fact, an important frame of the book is the dynamic between the local the global, which the editors envision as “transnational intersections”(xi).

The first chapter by Adam Kuper is a history of late nineteenth century anthropology of religion as rooted in Judeo-Christian concerns. This enterprise saw the beginning of comparative studies of religion, early anthropological treatment of the role of morals in society, and the development of the concept of the taboo. Kuper offers a sly and surprising thesis: that all anthropology of religion has been shaped by this early comparative paradigm. This strikes me as a bold statement to make to contemporary anthropologists, who typically exert great effort to de-center themselves from their moral assumptions. The second chapter, by Frederico D. Rosa, similarly looks at an ancient text with an outsized influence on early European anthropologists: the British scholar Edwin Sidney Hartland’s influential three-volume set on The Legend of Perseus (1894-1896). Rosa makes the case that distant generations of anthropologists covered similar and additional ground of interest to contemporary scholars, and that a review of bygone intellectual debates might shed light on present-day ethnographic concerns. Chapter three on Portuguese anthropology, by Patrícia Ferraz de Matos, is a straightforward institutional and intellectual history of that nation’s anthropological society, founded in 1918. Priscila Faulhaber then turns our attention to Brazil in chapter four, using a 1930s Berkeley project as a conduit to understanding how significant “boundary objects” (items or information used in different ways depending on settings) emerge from labor dynamics between distant scholars and field researchers. In this case, “Amazonian records contributed to the breakdown of the essentialist foundation of the cultural area concept” (112).

Moving across the globe (chapter five), Geoffrey Gray analyzes the history of academic anthropology in early twentieth century Australia, in particular the relationships between funding agencies, both national and foreign, including the Rockefeller Foundation in the U.S. He shows how communication between these parties reflected tensions between national and neo-colonial goals. Chapter six tells a transnational history of a very different type. Sergei A. Kan and Dmitry V. Arzyutov recount the fascinating tale of Bernhard J. Stern, an American Marxist and social scientist, who undertook a decade-long project to purchase the papers of Lewis H. Morgan, the pioneering anthropologist, and sell them to the Soviet Union. The Soviets, eager to build their scientific institutions from the 1930s onwards, were eager to incorporate Morgan as a Western scholar whose study of “primordial societies” was compatible with Marx and Engels. The sale of the papers never succeeded, but this chapter does, shedding light on aspects of U.S. cultural history and Soviet intellectual history simultaneously.

The last three chapters are oriented more directly towards field methodologies; in addition, all three have Canadian settings. Rainer Hatoum’s chapter recounts his heroic efforts to decipher Franz Boas’s shorthand field notes and link them to his larger oeuvre. Boas, who had by all accounts poor handwriting, used various systems of shorthand in his field notebooks, including his extensive work in the Pacific Northwest. Hatoum demonstrates how the notes provide new conduits to Boas’s evolving thoughts, not just about the objects and conversations he had in the field, but also his research process itself. Next (chapter eight), Denise Nicole Green integrates the personal and the professional in a lovely story of anthropological lineage that encompasses three generations of scholars working among the Hupacasath and Tseshaht people in the same community in Northwestern Canada. Finally, the last chapter, by Cheyanne Desnomie, is an insider/outsider retelling of the history of the File Hills Farm Colony, a Canadian government project to “manage” and assimilate First Nations people in southern Saskatchewan. Desnomie shows that in contrast to the government’s triumphalist view after its founding in the late nineteenth century, the File Hills Farm project was “rife with eugenic implications, land displacement, and a general disregard for the original members of the Peepeekisis band” (305). These contrasting views provide Desnomie with an opportunity to demonstrate her critical methodology, which includes mining the stories of Peepeekisis band members to unearth the living legacies of the government’s actions.

While the chapters work well together, a concluding essay would help to draw out collective wisdom and relevance; the brief introduction barely hints at the themes uniting the chapters. Overall, this volume is a well-crafted reflection on the history of the field from the inside. In other words, it shares insights gleaned when anthropologists use history to redefine anthropological methods. In this sense, it is also useful for historians of anthropology, as it reveals to us recent developments in these practioners’ expansive thinking about their own methods.

[1] in original.

Authors
Julia E. Rodriguez: contributions / juliar@unh.edu / Department of History, University of New Hampshire