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Sketches from the 89th Wenner–Gren International Symposium

On the morning of November 23rd, 1981, Rosamond (Roz) Spicer joined her fellow participants for the third day of the 89th Wenner–Gren Foundation International Symposium. As the morning discussion took shape, Roz, a noted Native Americanist anthropologist, drifted from her note-taking as she started to sketch the people around her (see figures 1–5).[i] Etched with light pencil, these elegant and unassuming illustrations capture a transitional moment in the larger history of the Foundation. Continue reading

Event: HAN 2017 Lecture by Alice Conklin

In celebration of the second anniversary of the online relaunch of the Newsletter, HAN will be hosting a public lecture by Professor Alice Conklin (Ohio State University). Her lecture, “‘Nothing is Less Universal than the Idea of Race’: Anti-Racism and Social Science at UNESCO, 1950-1962,” will be held on Monday, October 30 from 3:30-5:00pm as part of the Department of History and Sociology of Science workshop series and will take place in Room 337, Claudia Cohen Hall, University of Pennsylvania. See poster for abstract and additional details.

Editors’ Introduction: Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in the History of Anthropology

In 1973, the first issue of the History of Anthropology Newsletter opened with a statement of purpose from the editorial committee, called “Prospects and Problems,” by George Stocking. The editors were self-consciously defining and claiming a field. They let loose with territorial metaphors: occupation, soil, furrows, forays. Now, as we continue our relaunch of HAN, we return to this 40-year-old manifesto as a starting point for thinking about the past, present, and future of the field.

The 1973 essay noted a sense of disciplinary crisis as a spur to growth; it asked whether this history should be done by anthropologists, intellectual historians on “one-book forays,” by “anthropologists manqué,” or by a new generation of interdisciplinarians; it announced the need for “landmarks” including lists of archival holdings, bibliographic aids, research in progress, recent publications—which HAN would provide. It ended with a call for participation from readers.

Seeking to continue HAN’s role as a site for debating the field’s present state and shaping its future, in late 2016 we invited a series of scholars from various fields to respond to this manifesto. In February 2017, eight distinguished authors responded with generosity, insight, experience, good humor—and impressive speed. Continuing our reappraisal of Stocking’s inaugural editorial statement, in August 2017 we added nine additional surveys of the field’s potential terrain. These contributions covered new ground, unearthed skepticisms, and sowed a set of new questions. Now, in October 2017, we close the series with a third set of reflections from an impressive group of early career scholars. They imply a rich future for the study of anthropology’s past.

We encourage HAN readers and subscribers to make use of the comments section to respond to individual pieces, or to the section as a whole. Dig in and leave a mark.


This editorial was originally published on February 1, 2017. It was updated on August 15, 2017 and on October 21, 2017.


Transcript: Collaborations: Envisioning an Engaged Multimodal Future for Anthropology

This is the transcript from the conversation on August 18th, 2017, between Ruth Goldstein, Ugo F. Edu, and Patricia Alvarez Astacio that led to the piece “Collaborations: Envisioning an Engaged Multimodal Future for Anthropology.”


Ruth: Now we are officially starting [with the recording]. So I will officially say thank you both for collaborating with me on this. It is definitely an experiment. My thought was that we would talk through questions that we want to tackle and then, maybe, that fits really well with thinking about doing research in different modalities. So that we have a spoken component that is part of the written text too? How does that sound? Continue reading

Collaborations: Envisioning an Engaged Multimodal Future for Anthropology


“The present was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell.”
Zora Neale Hurston


I asked two colleague-friends to collaborate in this exercise of envisioning the future of the field: visual anthropologist and filmmaker Patricia Alvarez and medical anthropologist and playwright Ugo Edu. We first circulated written ideas and then Edu suggested a conversational format à la Hartman and Wilderson (2003).  With the limits of time and space, we reproduce only parts of that conversation here. To render this collaborative work visible, see our transcript. Continue reading

Disentangling Ojibwe Botanical Medicine

As a new graduate student in the history of science, technology, and medicine, I was interested in circulations of medical practices and medicinal plants between Ojibwe communities in northern Minnesota and non-native, non-professional medical practitioners in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[1]

Casting about for archival materials, I found many historical documents that directly discuss medicinal plants had been produced by anthropologists, ethnologists, and their forbears. Medicine writ large—medicinal plants, songs, and recipes, ideas and stories about medical practice, and general concerns about sickness and health—figured frequently in the field notes, professional correspondence, and publications of such varied figures as Aleš Hrdlička (1869-1943), Frances Densmore (1867-1957), and Sister Mary Inez Hilger (1891-1977). In these documents, medicine and anthropology were deeply enmeshed. Continue reading

Entangled Tensions

The history of archaeology, as a field, has always seemed (to me) to be playing catch up with work in the history of anthropology.[1] Yet, reading the contributions to HAN’s “Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks” Special Focus Section suggests to me that the histories of archaeology and anthropology now operate on the same plane in terms of the tensions that drive their production. Anyone working on archaeology’s history should be willing to grapple with the many tensions inherent in acknowledging the field’s geopolitical entanglements in the same way as historians of anthropology. Indeed, these shared but distinct histories of knowledge production can be put to good analytical use. As their investigations are driven by similar—and often entangled—tensions, are bounded categories like ‘the history of archaeology’ or ‘the history of anthropology’ still useful?

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Anthropological Genealogies, Anthropological Kinship

For me, the most affecting part of the prospectus for HAN was not George Stocking’s use of settler colonialist metaphors, but finding Regna Darnell’s name among those on the original editorial board. Continue reading

Putting History on Display

Confronted with all the limitations of my stiff training as a historian of science, I have become enchanted by the narratives taking shape at the intersection of academic research and museum work with texts, things, space, and people. In March 2018, we are opening the exhibition FOLK: From Racial Types to DNA Sequences at The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo. Every time I utter these words, my heart starts beating faster. For me, this is where the history of anthropology comes alive, where we can test its contemporary relevance, and where all could go wrong. Continue reading

The Witches’ Stock

George Stocking was the anthropologist’s historian of anthropology: a “professional stranger” who plowed furrows in department halls arm-in-arm with anthros tending fields and chickens.[1] The horticultural trope–his for us–strikes me as more taboo than totemic today, but I’ll take it anyway.[2] I suspect he would’ve liked the image of toil in common.[3]

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Special Focus: Fields, Furrows, and Landmarks in the History of Anthropology

Read the full Focus Section here.

Job Opportunity: Department of European Ethnology at the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich

The Department of European Ethnology at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich have released three postings for postdoctoral/doctoral positions allocated to the research project ‘Social Sketches and the Formation of Ethnographic and Sociological Knowledge (1830-1860)’, a research group funded by the German Research Foundation which investigates early sociographic journalism (“social sketches”) in relation to the formation of sociological, ethnological, and ethnographic knowledge. More information on each of these positions can be found below:

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The Death of an Indian Leader and His Afterlife in U.S. Imagery and Rhetoric

Hollow Horn Bear (1851-1913), a Brulé Lakota warrior and leader, was the first American Indian man whose portrait appeared on a U.S. postage stamp. Continue reading

CFP: Panel on “Resurgent Racism: Perspectives from History and Anthropology,” ICA 2018

Julia Rodriguez (University of New Hampshire) and Carmen Martínez-Novo (University of Kentucky and FLACSO) invite submissions for a, panel on “Resurgent Racism: Perspectives from History and Anthropology” (01/51) which will be presented at the 56th International Congress of Americanists (ICA), an interdisciplinary conference that gathers together researchers who study the American continent from the analysis of politics, economy, culture, languages, history and prehistory. They seek papers that will recognize and document the continuities in racialized thought and practice, processes of cultural erasure, and the various forms of resistance and challenges to racial schema, segregation, marginalization, erasure, and violence across time and space. The full panel abstract and details for submission are provided below:

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Event: History of Anthropology Workshop in Berlin, October 5, 2017

For the 12th time, a history of anthropology workshop will be convened in the framework of the German Anthropological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für VölkerkundeDGV), to take place at the Free University of Berlin on October 5, 2017. The workshop is convened by the DGV- Working Group “History of Anthropology” around the central theme “From the History of Anthropology to its Future: Historical, Moral, and Political Affinities.”

The conference will include  eight papers and a keynote address by Bernhard Streck, Professor Emeritus of the University of Leipzig.

Program titles and abstracts can be found here under “Workshop 17.”

Event: International Bérose ANR VISA Conference “1950’s : On the roots of French Contemporary Anthropology,” October 17-19 2017, Paris: EHESS and Musée de l’Homme

The International Bérose ANR VISA Conference “1950’s : On the roots of French Contemporary Anthropology,” will take place from October 17-19 at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and Musée de l’Homme in Paris, France.

This conference will examine the history of French contemporary anthropology, focusing particularly on the postwar period. These years were promising and polyphonic, as they marked the beginning of a dynamic field, and the introduction of a variety of theoretical and ethnographic points of view. This colloquium will map the forces in action that created this environment, identify certain important players, identify new objects of study, view this history in the context of the colonial wars and the decolonization process, and discuss how ideas circulated across borders.

A complete schedule of the conference can be found on the event website.

‘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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New Resource: BEROSE-Online Encyclopaedia on the History of Anthropology and Ethnography

BEROSE is an online encyclopaedia dedicated to the history of anthropology in the broadest sense, including ethnography, ethnology, folklore studies and related disciplines. The freely accessible repository rests on three cornerstones, which are constantly being expanded: topical dossiers, an original collection of e-books (Carnets de Bérose), and scientific meetings related to the research programme. The dossiers cover: the lives and work of anthropologists and ethnographers; the development of anthropological and ethnographic journals; the history of anthropological institutions, broadly defined.

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Event: “The History of Anthropology and Ethnology in Spain and the Hispanic American World,” XIV Congress of the FAAEE, Valencia, Spain, September 6

XIV Congress of the Spanish Federation of Anthropology Associations (FAAEE), Valencia, Spain

“The History of Anthropology and Ethnology in Spain and the Hispanic American World”

Where: Conference Hall, Faculty of the Social Sciences, University of Valencia

When: Wednesday, September the 6th, 11:00 to 12:30

The purpose of this reunion is to bring together in an open academic meeting scholars and researchers working in the field of the history of Spanish anthropology and ethnology. One explicit aim is to explore the feasibility of setting up a history of anthropology network in the framework of the Spanish Federation of Anthropology Associations (FAAEE). Four scholars have been invited to present and speak about current or past research carried out in the field, followed by commentaries from two discussants and an open debate with all participants in the room.

A complete  schedule of this meeting be found on the event website.

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

Web Roundup 8/5–8/18

This week, we’re presenting the second installment of our biweekly roundup! For this HAN feature, we are compiling lists of new, interesting pieces on the history of anthropology our editors have been reading around the web. This installment spans August 5 – August 18.

Ethnographic Presents

Ethnographic presents are of course as much in history as any other phenomena, although anthropologists sometimes writing in the ethnographic present may be deliberately avoiding a historian’s trajectory. It has of course long ceased to be necessary to point to what once led anthropologists to be explicit on this point: they wanted to get away from the kinds of ‘conjectural histories’ that were then dominating explanations about human institutions. It is precisely because issues cease to be necessary that we need a history of anthropology.

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George and Me

I hope you’ll indulge a personal reminiscence.

When HAN was founded in 1973 I was a graduate student in History at Harvard, just focusing on my dissertation. George Stocking visited Harvard sometime before that and offered a seminar in the Anthropology Department. I sat in on the course—our first encounter.

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Anthropology Has a History

Why is the history of anthropology necessary and vital now? Why the history of anthropology (instead of other approaches to its content and questions)? Why the history of anthropology (instead of other human sciences or political/intellectual/material intersections)? At the risk of seeming to be a curmudgeon, I have to register my doubts that these questions merit the affirmative elaborations that they seem to presuppose. Any historical phenomenon merits its history being recorded and engaged. Anthropology has a history and so is a worthy subject of historiographical inquiry, and as Stocking amply demonstrated, a historiography that cannot legitimately be confined merely to its intellectually internal twists and turns.

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The Charge of the Untimely

I came to HAN relatively late, 20 years after it got going. But there’s a sense in which the history of anthropology is always a belated field. I caught the bug as an undergraduate in two seminars with Stocking at Chicago— he was an inspiring, exacting teacher—and I pored over HAN, even subscribed to it, in the years to come. It had an obscure, retro charm, even then: the cover, which must have been mimeographed a hundred times; the stapled pages of typed-up and dot-matrix text. It was like a church circular from 1965, a decommissioned card-catalog entry, a zine, or an indie-label 45 to which only a few were privy.

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