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Enslaved remains, scientific racism, and the work of counter-history (Part Two)

This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read part one and more reflections from this series here.

Part 2. ‘Recollection’

Dr. Holmie recalled the skull had belonged to one of his former patients, a child “owned” by the hospital’s keeper and who died under his medical care. “The boy,” Holmie wrote to Davis:

…was owned by the keeper or headman of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s hospital at Fort Vancouver, Columbia River, in 1840 and previously under my medical care. He was when in health a very fat, well featured, cheerful little fellow much liked by those he came in contact with on account of his mild and obliging disposition and he died after a few days illness—apparently inflammation of the brain, or its membranes.[1]

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Special Focus: Engaging ‘The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology’

Why have Black ancestors been largely excluded from anthropology’s intellectual history and canon? In this series of pieces, Tracie Canada talks with the authors of the 2018 volume The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology. Based on interviews she conducted with eleven of the fifteen contributors, Canada’s dialogue with the authors addresses these many erasures and advances ways to center, celebrate, and engage with these essential figures. Drawing on a vibrant set of current conversations in the broader field of anthropology, this series– a collaboration between HAR’s Reviews and Field Notes departments– offers a richly textured vision for new histories of anthropology and new anthropological futures.

Begin with the Table of Contents

Author’s Introduction: Engaging ‘The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology’

Why have Black ancestors been largely excluded from anthropology’s intellectual history and canon? As a Black anthropologist mentored by several historians of the discipline, I have often asked this question. This is likely why I became so interested in The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology (2018) upon its publication. Edited by Ira E. Harrison, Deborah Johnson-Simon, and Erica Lorraine Williams, The Second Generation presents the intellectual biographies of a cohort of fifteen Black anthropologists who earned their degrees between 1960 and 1969. It acts as the second volume to Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison’s African-American Pioneers in Anthropology (1999), which focuses on scholars trained after World War I.

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Reflection: Reorienting the History of Anthropology through Generations of Black Anthropologists

Friends of mine know that one of the first things I do when I buy a new academic book is read the acknowledgements. Learning about the people deemed important enough to the scholar that they are mentioned in their book—family, mentors, colleagues, editors, institutional partners—adds a textured layer to the scholarship that lies ahead. I’m always interested in those who influenced the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of the work.

The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology (2018), edited by Ira E. Harrison, Deborah Johnson-Simon, and Erica Lorraine Williams, has no formal acknowledgement section, save for a short musing from one of the three co-editors. Instead, I’d argue the entire book acts as an acknowledgement to an older generation of Black anthropologists. Through intellectual biographies, a more junior group of Black anthropologists recognizes a cohort who earned their degrees between 1960 and 1969. This book gives thanks to fifteen pioneers who shaped the discipline through their administrative and leadership roles, theoretical interventions and intellectual labor, activism on and off campus, and commitment to their students and peers.

Co-editors Ira E. Harrison, Deborah Johnson-Simon, and Erica Lorraine Williams at the AAA book launch in 2018. Photo courtesy of Erica Lorraine Williams.

This generous presentation of a previous generation inspired me to speak with the authors who profiled these pioneers. In October 2020, I organized group interviews with eleven of the book’s contributors. I was interested to learn how these scholars chose their pioneer, what they found surprising during the research process, and what drew them to participate in a project that highlighted an older generation. Over the course of the interviews, we discussed their own work, the work of the person they wrote about, the current state of anthropology, and why the research of these Black scholars matters. The intergenerational nature of my interviews informed conversations that were temporally and historically grounded.

The book acts as a call to recognize and reclaim Black anthropologists who studied and worked during a time not too long ago. This foundation lends itself to thinking of the various histories of anthropology and rethinking the discipline’s narrative of itself to center the intellectual labor of Black scholars. I have crafted an argument that combines the contributors’ interview insights with the book’s intellectual biographies to capture the parallels between the experiences of multiple generations of Black anthropologists. All of these scholars demonstrate their commitment to calling out the impacts of white supremacy, racism, and colonialism in anthropology, institutions of higher education, and US society.

The Need to Rehistoricize Anthropology

Notions of time, history, and what constitutes the past are complicated when considering experiences of Blackness. This is particularly true when analyzed through the lens of Black studies, given, as Christina Sharpe notes, “in the wake, the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present” (2016, 9). Through this frame, we can acknowledge the ways that events, narratives, and practices that took shape chronologically before us, particularly those rooted in anti-Blackness and white supremacy, have implications for contemporary Black life. Thus, living in the wake and the various afterlives of slavery (Sharpe 2016, Hartman 2007) disrupts normative notions of linear time because the past consistently reappears in the present.

The very real entanglements of the not-so-distant-past with the everyday, lived reality of Black folks has been explored ethnographically by a number of scholars. Their recent works include, but are not limited to, Deborah A. Thomas’s Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation (2019), Karla Slocum’s Black Towns, Black Futures (2019), Dána-Ain Davis’s Reproductive Injustice (2019), Savannah Shange’s Progressive Dystopia (2019), and Laurence Ralph’s The Torture Letters (2020). This understanding of history, as necessary to quotidian life, further underlines the importance of The Second Generation. The stories in the book skillfully demonstrate how the discipline’s colonial and racist foundations, thought to be addressed by the liberal anti-racism of the Boasians (Anderson 2019), continued to impact Black scholars in the 1960s as they moved through the academy and larger society.

The interconnectedness of the recent past and the present is woven through this book. In the first Pioneer volume, the editors write that “Anthropology’s critical reconstruction […] can be achieved only through a rethought historicism, a rehistoricization that repossesses both exposed and hidden dimensions of the past” (Harrison and Harrison 1999, 5). This continues to be the project of The Second Generation because of its focus on Black anthropologists who were attempting to create space for themselves only a few decades ago. As these pioneers are the “black classmates and counterparts of some of American anthropology’s most recognized and esteemed (white) anthropologists” (Harrison and Harrison 1999, 8), acknowledging their accomplishments reconfigures the stories that are often told of the discipline. When we center the narratives of Black anthropologists, we shift the discipline’s historical frame and reorient our views of what counts as decisive scholarly interventions.

As Elgin L. Klugh stated in our interview, these scholars were “coming into anthropology in a highly segregated society at a time when anthropology was not necessarily as committed to the ideals of inclusion.”[1] By focusing on the lived experiences and theoretical contributions of the Black pioneers, instead of their white peers, the contributors succeed in bringing attention to often erased aspects of twentieth century intellectual life.

The contributors spoke directly to this need to rethink the discipline’s history by bringing attention to the term “pioneer.” Perhaps most importantly, the use of the term in the title acknowledges the book’s predecessor, Ira E. Harrison and Faye V. Harrison’s African-American Pioneers in Anthropology (1999), which focused on scholars trained in the period after World War I. Pioneers are those who are “the first and are forging this path for us to follow,” says Alice Baldwin-Jones. One of the book’s co-editors, Erica Lorraine Williams, points to the significance of the pioneers’ accomplishments: “They were the first Black person to be tenured, or Black woman to be tenured, the first woman president. So, they’re still occupying a lot of different roles where they were the first to do certain things.” Bertin M. Louis, Jr. adds that these were pioneering scholars because of their roles in developing different institutions, programs, and disciplinary fields. Not only were those profiled in the book foundational in shaping certain institutions, they were also creating space for future generations by leading the way forward. By claiming these under-recognized scholars as pioneers, we force the discipline to rethink the intellectuals it frequently celebrates as its founders.

Riché J. Daniel Barnes and Faye V. Harrison at AAA in 2018. Photo courtesy of Riché J. Daniel Barnes.

To further emphasize the importance of rehistoricization, consider the number of interviews included in The Second Generation. Nine of the fifteen pioneers—James Lowell Gibbs Jr., Diane K. Lewis, Niara Sudarkasa, Johnnetta B. Cole, Ira E. Harrison, Audrey Smedley, Oliver Osborne, Anselme Remy, and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan—were still living at the time that research was collected for the book. Therefore, rather than solely relying on an archive of texts to piece together a narrative, some contributing writers spoke directly with their pioneer and contributed interview data to their intellectual biography. The fact that this is partially an oral history project speaks powerfully to the relative newness of Black scholars in anthropology and shifts the frame of what we consider as historical and in the past.

Organizing in Professional Associations

Beyond exposing different histories of anthropology, The Second Generation highlights racist and anti-Black experiences within the discipline that are frequently written out of more liberal accounts. Many such narratives appear throughout the book. Charles Preston Warren II was a military forensic anthropologist whose work was purposely excluded from textbooks and stolen by other scholars. Diane K. Lewis experienced blatant racism and sexism at every level as she journeyed through the academy, which led her to study anthropology and contribute to the Black feminist movement. Niara Sudarkasa was initially denied promotion to full professor at University of Michigan because her courses were seen as only tangentially relevant to her department. 

It is because of these kinds of institutional and bureaucratic barriers that the Black pioneers came together in creative ways, despite their educational experiences and faculty appointments across various universities. Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson remind us that “anthropology’s resistance to the epistemologies of ethnic‐studies scholarship to examine disciplinary praxis led underrepresented anthropologists of color to create their own institutional spaces in the AAA [American Anthropological Association] from which to develop critical and theoretically informed scholarship” (2011, 551).

For Black anthropologists, this process began in 1968, when pioneers Council Taylor, Delmos Jones, Diane K. Lewis, Johnnetta B. Cole, and Oliver Osborne established the Minority Caucus in the AAA. This group, formally institutionalized in 1970 as the Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA), was also led by pioneers Ira E. Harrison, Vera Mae Green, Sheila S. Walker, and Glenn Jordan. Transforming Anthropology, the flagship journal for the ABA, was established in 1990 by linguistic anthropologist Arthur Spears. Its roots can be traced back to ABA newsletters, Notes from the Natives and Notes from the ABA, which first appeared in 1973 and were spearheaded by Sheila S. Walker. Together, the creation of this association and its publications demonstrate Black anthropologists’ efforts to shift “the center of authority and legitimacy in research and scholarship from those established institutions which our people do not control to more democratically structured bases which embody the interests and priorities of ordinary Black folk” (Harrison 1990, 11). With these new institutions, there was space for Black anthropologists to come together, as thinkers and as writers, to critically consider structures of power that shaped both the discipline and their lived experiences.[2]

Riché J. Daniel Barnes, A. Lynn Bolles, and Marla F. Frederick, all past or present Presidents of the ABA, at the National Women’s Studies Association conference in 2014. Photo courtesy of Riché J. Daniel Barnes.

Even 50 years later, the need for the Association of Black Anthropologists persists—perhaps even more so now. The current President of the ABA, Riché J. Daniel Barnes, spoke to the continued importance of the organization and her role in it, saying, “the reason why I was okay with being told to run for president was because of how much ABA has done for me and I wanted to be able to continue to do that for others, and even expand our offerings. Our ability to continue to mentor young anthropologists, to continue to help mid-career anthropologists get to associate and tenure, to support our applied anthropologists and make sure they have a platform as well within anthropology and especially within the Association of Black Anthropologists.” These aims, and more, are outlined as original goals of the ABA (Harrison 2010). It is through the leadership of the association’s Presidents, several pioneers included, that the organization has been so successful over time.

Betty J. Harris, Alisha R. Winn, and Rachel Watkins at the AAA book launch in 2018. Photo courtesy of Erica Lorraine Williams.

Black anthropologists are still working to bring representation to the field’s subdisciplines. Biocultural anthropologist Rachel Watkins recently referred to this discrepancy during a SAPIENS/Wenner-Gren panel discussion. “Western science, as an extension of western knowledge creation, is largely about racial ordering in relation to a human standard that puts people who are not white, cis, hetero, able-bodied, on the margins,” she explained. “So the people’s remains who are in laboratories and institutions reflect being on those margins. By extension, western science and western knowledge also racially order what roles different groups of people play in the production of knowledge relative to where they are to the center or the margins. Given that legacy, I think that’s a large part of the reason why there are so few folks of color in archaeology and biological anthropology, in particular.” This contemporary concern is particularly reflected amongst the pioneers, as most of the second generation were cultural anthropologists. Only a few were affiliated with subfields or subdisciplines, with Oliver Osborne in medical anthropology as a trained nurse, Claudia Mitchell-Kernan in linguistic anthropology, and Charles Preston Warren II in military forensic anthropology. 

In response to this discrepancy, groups for anthropology’s subdisciplines were recently developed. This is an interesting call back to the organizing work done by the pioneers to form the ABA. It also speaks to the importance of creating space for scholars to thrive outside of, but alongside, organizations that are racially unmarked, but coded as white:

Hope and Optimism for this Critical Moment

I ended each group interview with a question about hope. At a time of overlapping crises rooted in anti-Black racism and state and police violence which recall struggles experienced by earlier generations of Black scholars, what might be the potential of this particular moment?

The contributors’ answers addressed the chaos that has been added to the already taxing experience of being a Black anthropologist and educator. For example, Angela McMillan Howell explains that putting “out fires for Black students who are struggling right now,” as they deal with COVID-related illness, mental illness, food insecurity, and academic struggles, is a “very practiced and applied” process. Riché J. Daniel Barnes added that because of how these moments converge, “I’m trying to do so much and I think many of us are trying to do so much to move things in these moments,” but “it’s very difficult to believe in a longer lasting movement or change.” They noted how challenging it can be to remain hopeful when Black people are consistently under attack and disproportionately at risk of experiencing systemic, state-sanctioned violence. 

Still, the contributors displayed optimism. For example, they considered the idea of letting anthropology burn (Jobson 2020) to be one of great potential. “I think a lot of the new work coming out by people like Savannah Shange and Ashanté Reese is thinking about anti-Blackness in really critical ways,” said Erica Lorraine Williams. She continued, “In terms of highlighting white supremacy, highlighting Black resistance, highlighting all these different things, they’re building upon the past and the contributions and the things that we’ve learned from the past.”

Bertin M. Louis, Jr. added, “I see it as not really like anthropology burning, but more as a moment of restructuring. In the ashes of not just the discipline but also of the world that’s burning now to hopefully do something better with this. I think Black studies and Black anthropologists have a lot to say about this tradition of not just preserving Black life, but preserving our species.” He continues by saying that simultaneous to arguments for restructuring, “we also need to pay attention to these folks who are part of this Black anthropological lineage and what they do with their anthropological knowledge outside of the discipline to affect other parts of academia and society.” Antoinette Jackson agreed: “If you let anthropology burn, you can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. So, you don’t want to throw out people like Vera Green, who spent her life inside of the academy. These are things we need to highlight and maybe we’re throwing out the canon, but not Anthropology.”

David Simmons, Ira E. Harrison, Riché J. Daniel Barnes, Tony Whitehead, and Johnnetta B. Cole at the ABA Legacy Awards Ceremony in 2009. Photo courtesy of Riché J. Daniel Barnes.

The most consistent hopeful response referred to the “critical mass” that currently exists within the discipline. This exact wording was repeatedly used to speak to the relative power Black anthropologists have gained through their heightened presence and intergenerational solidarity and mentoring. “We now have a critical mass of scholars who can bring attention to these things and talk about these things within anthropology,” begins Rachel Watkins. “I think that the fact that a number of the contributors to this volume are people in my cohort, in terms of when you’re in school, the fact that we’re all in anthropology departments is a manifestation of the labor that the previous generation poured into us. What they poured into us allowed us to be able to secure those positions.”

Alisha R. Winn, Elgin L. Klugh, and Erica Lorraine Williams at the AAA book launch in 2018. Photo courtesy of Erica Lorraine Williams.

Elgin L. Klugh continues reflecting on changes in the profession, “It’s been interesting to see that critical mass that Rachel’s talked of, these newcomers, these young folks. I see more people at the AAA conference and not just more, but more people in the subdisciplines. For example, Justin Dunnavant, the archaeologist, doing this interesting underwater archaeology. I had him come and speak to Coppin State because he’s from Maryland and he’s a graduate of Howard University. The idea that we’re actually getting so big in number we don’t even get a chance to know each other, quite frankly, and just integrating into all the various nooks and crannies of anthropology.” In short, the greater number of Black scholars with doctoral degrees in anthropology has helped to create a space in the discipline for their scholarship and voices.

Further, Alisha R. Winn points out that key to this critical mass is the visibility of Black anthropologists in various leadership positions. This provides an opportunity to take “advantage of the positions we are in to voice, or encourage, or push for incorporation.” For example, several of the contributors currently act as department chairs (Angela McMillan Howell, Antoinette Jackson, Riché J. Daniel Barnes, and Erica Lorraine Williams), department administrators (Elgin L. Klugh and Bertin M. Louis, Jr.), company founders (Alisha R. Winn and Deborah Johnson-Simon), and members of leadership boards of AAA sections (Riché J. Daniel Barnes and Bertin M. Louis, Jr.). It matters that there are more Black anthropologists present in the discipline and in these positions because it creates opportunities to guide structural change.

Emulating the Pioneers

Rachel Watkins stated that the contributors in various leadership positions are “actually emulating the pioneers” because “it was their kind of radical imaginings of anthropology that allowed them to claim anthropology, while they were doing all of these things that within the context of Western knowledge production, were not anthropology.” Watkins speaks directly to institutional and disciplinary barriers that determine what is included and excluded as anthropological theory and knowledge. Because of their positioning in relation to other disciplines, particularly Black studies, and their critiques of the need to remain “objective” to contribute critical interventions, Black anthropologists have been able to shape conversations within the field to stretch the narrow boundaries of what is classified as worthy of study and who is able to conduct this research– a potential intensified when Black anthropologists hold positions of authority.

Irma McClaurin, Johnnetta B. Cole, Bianca C. Williams, Corliss Heath, and Rachel Watkins at AAA in 2013 after presenting on a panel together. Photo courtesy of Riché J. Daniel Barnes.

Their desire to reimagine the field is just one of the ways that the experiences of the pioneers and contributors mirror each other. Another is in the way that both cohorts prioritize working with and connecting with local communities, given their shared understanding that research is not meant to be circulated just within the walls of the academy. Consider, for example, Elgin L. Klugh’s work with the Laurel Cemetery project, Angela McMillan Howell’s participation in The Hill Community Project, and Antoinette Jackson’s commitment to The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.  

One of the book’s co-editors, Deborah Johnson-Simon, believes that the local Black community is integral to her work and research in Savannah, Georgia, especially because of her commitment to museum anthropology.  She desires “to work with communities enough so they see that the things you’re interested in are all the things that are of interest to them. I think that should be our guiding piece because that’s the only way we’re going to get young people to be able to come into this field and make any kind of difference. It’s to take seriously that we need to engage with communities in really meaningful ways that are important to them.”

This kind of approach is one that Cheryl R. Rodriguez credits to pioneer Diane K. Lewis: “she encouraged Black anthropologists to work in Black communities. Those ideas that Black anthropologists should work in Black communities and not only take from Black communities to create scholarship and knowledge but also contribute back to them. She talked about applied anthropology and the ways in which we should be contributing to Black communities and that has been a legacy among Black anthropologists. Many of us have really tried to do that.” Another exemplary pioneer in this respect is Vera Mae Green; Antoinette Jackson said “we’re producing and reproducing Vera Green all time” in the applied anthropology program at the University of South Florida. Through such public-facing projects, the contributors are working against a form of anthropology that extracts knowledge from people and communities in order merely to perform its theorization in the academy. As anthropologists, we should constantly be circling back to the people and the places we work with and learn from.

The contributors also emulate the work of the pioneers through their prolonged commitment to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The pioneers were deeply rooted in HBCUs: Ira E. Harrison was a graduate of Morehouse College and conducted research at Hampton University, Anselme Remy taught at Fisk University, Johnnetta B. Cole served as the president of Spelman College and Bennett College, and Niara Sudarkasa was president of Lincoln University. Not only are several in the contributors’ cohort HBCU alumni, including Alisha R. Winn, Rachel Watkins, Elgin L. Klugh, Riché J. Daniel Barnes, and Angela McMillan Howell, but several have also joined the faculty at these institutions, either previously or currently, including Alisha R. Winn, Erica Lorraine Williams, Deborah Johnson-Simon, Angela McMillan Howell, and Elgin L. Klugh. Connections to HBCUs demonstrate how important these institutions remain in educating Black undergraduates, introducing them to anthropology, and creating a pipeline to graduate programs in the discipline. 

Alisha R. Winn, Ira E. Harrison, Flordeliz T. Bugarin, Deborah Johnson-Simon, Claire Greene Crooks-Harrison, and Angela McMillan Howell pose outside after their AAA panel presentation on HBCUs in 2011. Photo courtesy of Alisha R. Winn.

An AAA panel about HBCUs and anthropology organized for the 2011 Montreal meetings included several of the contributors. Alisha R. Winn participated in the panel and explained that “we were describing the importance of having anthropology programs and anthropology courses at HBCUs because for the majority of us, anthropology was introduced to us through these HBCUs.” Despite how important these institutions have been in introducing anthropology to young Black scholars, there are now only one or two trained anthropologists employed at these institutions. This makes it difficult for the few who are there to encourage interest in the discipline and to be the discipline’s sole representatives to large groups of undergraduate students. Deborah Johnson-Simon noted that “you have to fight with people to get more anthropology. The only thing we can keep is intro, so I do everything with intro. I do it all.” Referring to the critical mass suggested by others, Elgin L. Klugh added, “I’d like to see the growth of the fields within HBCUs. I understand some of the historical context as to why anthropology is not necessarily present in HBCUs, but now is the time where that critical mass can start to spill over into that arena, too.”

Johnnetta B. Cole, Bianca C. Williams, Bertin M. Louis, Jr., Omotayo Jolaosho, David Simmons, and Karen G. Williams at an ABA mentoring event in 2012.  Photo courtesy of Riché J. Daniel Barnes.

A number of networks surfaced when tracing the intergenerational and institutional connections between the pioneers and the contributors to the volume. Johnnetta B. Cole was president of Spelman College when Riché J. Daniel Barnes was an undergraduate. Subsequently, the former was a distinguished presidential professor in anthropology at Emory University when the latter attended graduate school there. Because of his connection to Morehouse College, Ira E. Harrison was a mentor to Elgin L. Klugh. Rachel Watkins was introduced to biological anthropology at Howard University through W. Montague Cobb’s Black scholar activist tradition and Michael Blakey’s continuation of this tradition, and she also worked with Delmos Jones at that time. Antoinette Jackson and Alisha R. Winn were the first winners of The Vera Green Publication Award, an award named for the pioneer to highlight the work of public anthropologists. Alisha R. Winn and Ira E. Harrison were both archivists for the ABA, with the latter mentoring the former while she held the role. Alice Baldwin-Jones worked with Yolanda Moses as an undergraduate at City College of New York, during which time she learned of Laurence Foster, and then she worked with George Clement Bond as a graduate student at Columbia University.

This is just one way to consider the threads that link the pioneers and the contributors. By coding their institutional connections in this way, it becomes clear that the pioneers were committed not only to their own success in the academy, but to nurturing, supporting, and mentoring forthcoming generations in ways that have continued to shape the discipline.

Honoring Dr. Ira E. Harrison

When discussing mentors, I would be remiss if I did not focus on Dr. Ira E. Harrison, who passed away in April 2020. Dr. Harrison was a co-editor of both Pioneer volumes and was also profiled by Alisha R. Winn in The Second Generation. He was described as “a historian and preserver of history” with a commitment “to locate and identify past and present African American anthropologists. As the ABA’s first archivist, Harrison sought to ensure that the accomplishments and works of ABA members as well as ABA events and meetings were recorded and preserved” (Winn 2018, 121). Angela McMillan Howell affectionately referred to him as “the dean of all things Black anthropology.”

Almost every contributor shared a story about him; they collectively narrate a lighthearted personality which shines through in his love of photographs and poetry, his spirit of inclusiveness and collegiality, his unmatched approach to mentorship and community-building, and his persistence to the project of reclaiming Black scholars.

Bertin M. Louis, Jr. noted, “He was very special in the sense that he did a lot of the behind the scenes work that put things together that you don’t necessarily hear about or is published about. But he did all this behind the scenes work that kept the ABA going and he contributed something that was much bigger than himself.” As an example of this background work, several contributors described how Dr. Harrison quietly bestowed upon them a pioneer to research during the AAA meetings in Montreal in 2011. It appears that when the panelists met to discuss the relationship between HBCUs and anthropology, Dr. Harrison was already tinkering with the idea of a second Pioneers book. Co-editor Deborah Johnson-Simon describes his years-long dedication to seeing the book come to fruition as a “real labor of love.”

To celebrate Dr. Harrison’s life and legacy, Riché J. Daniel Barnes said that we must “make sure that the Association of Black Anthropologists continues to do the work of being that voice within American anthropology and also continuing the mentoring of those that are coming behind us.”

Moving Forward

It is because of this ongoing legacy that I found my conversations with the contributors to be so powerful: the President and President-elect were present as we discussed those who provided the foundation for the Association of Black Anthropologists in the 1960s; Dr. Harrison’s presence was made clear through the comments of others; anthropologists both in the academy and in the public space participated in the interviews; and, through the pioneers, the contributors, and me, sixty years of Black anthropology was represented.

Savannah Shange notes that “writing is ancestor work” (2019, ix) and this truth was felt throughout the various layers of this work. On every level, this project is an acknowledgement of the brilliance that Black anthropologists, as intellectual contemporaries, elders, and ancestors, offered a discipline that continues to participate in the erasure of their work. It is a concerted effort to write against the fact that, according to Cheryl R. Rodriguez, “we as Black people, as African Americans and as Black people throughout the diaspora, we had been so misrepresented by anthropologists, so exploited.” Even more, “Black women were brutally misrepresented or just completely invisible in anthropology.” Because of how it chronicles the pioneers’ experiences, The Second Generation is a bold and necessary celebration of all that Black anthropologists have accomplished.

But there’s still work to be done to ensure that Black anthropologists are adequately recognized for their theoretical interventions, intellectual contributions, and labor in and beyond the academy. When describing the project of anthropology for Black students and scholars, Rachel Watkins says, “There’s an intellectual prowess associated with the challenge of having to theorize yourself into humanity on a daily basis.” It is with this in mind that we must work to recognize scholars, narratives, and histories that continue to be taken for granted. 

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Works Cited

Anderson, Mark. 2019. From Boas to Black Power: Racism, Liberalism, and American Anthropology. Redwood City: Stanford University Press.

Brodkin, Karen, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson. 2011. “Anthropology as White Public Space?American Anthropologist 113 (4): 545–56.

Davis, Dána-Ain. 2019. Reproductive Injustice: Racism, Pregnancy, and Premature Birth. Anthropologies of American Medicine: Culture, Power, and Practice. NYU Press.

Harrison, Faye V. 1990. “From The President.” Transforming Anthropology 1 (1): 10–11.

Harrison, Ira E. 2010. “The Association of Black Anthropologists: A Brief History.” Transforming Anthropology 18 (2): 120–27.

Harrison, Ira E., and Faye V. Harrison, eds. 1999. African-American Pioneers in Anthropology. University of Illinois Press.

Harrison, Ira E., Deborah Johnson-Simon, and Erica Lorraine Williams. 2018. The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Hartman, Saidiya. 2007. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Jobson, Ryan Cecil. 2020. “The Case for Letting Anthropology Burn: Sociocultural Anthropology in 2019.” American Anthropologist 122 (2): 259–71.

Ralph, Laurence. 2020. The Torture Letters: Reckoning with Police Violence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Shange, Savannah. 2019. Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Antiblackness, and Schooling in San Francisco. Duke University Press.

Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke University Press.

Slocum, Karla. 2019. Black Towns, Black Futures: The Enduring Allure of a Black Place in the American West. University of North Carolina Press.

Thomas, Deborah A. 2019. Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation: Sovereignty, Witnessing, Repair. Durham: Duke University Press.

Winn, Alisha R. 2018. “Ira E. Harrison: Activist, Scholar, and Visionary Pioneer.” In The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology, edited by Ira E. Harrison, Deborah Johnson-Simon, and Erica Lorraine Williams, 114–25. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.


[1] Volume contributors’ names are bolded throughout these pieces and, unless otherwise noted, their quoted words are drawn from the interviews that form the basis for this series as described in the author’s introduction.

[2] The association’s fiftieth year and the journal’s thirtieth year were marked in 2020. To celebrate these anniversaries, the October 2020 issue of Transforming Anthropology honors the fiftieth anniversary of the ABA through commentaries that reflect on the elders’ contributions to the discipline. The volume’s cover art includes a drawing rendition of Ira E. Harrison.

Interview Highlights: The Book’s Contributors Describe the Pioneers

When given the opportunity to describe something surprising or particularly interesting about their pioneer, the contributors to The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology offered rich accounts that spoke to various aspects of their lives and careers. These answers echo observations that appear in the book, but in our conversations, the contributors were able to ground their insights within the context of their own experiences and those of other contributors. The fact that these were group interviews allowed the contributors to be in conversation with one another. 

These highlights are arranged in the order they appear in the book, with the corresponding chapter listed alongside the names of the contributor and the pioneer profiled. The interviews were transcribed by Alissa Rae Funderburk and these snippets were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Alice Baldwin-Jones on Charles Preston Warren II (Chapter 2)

“I guess in today’s lexicon, Charles Warren would be considered an applied anthropologist. He went to school at the University of Chicago and then he did some ethnography in the Philippines. He worked in a museum in the Philippines as well, and then he was in the military, and he worked for the military as a forensic anthropologist at the birth of forensic anthropology—so, learning and developing the methods as he went along. I think one of the things that I found surprising is we often hear these stories in school that Black people are not smart. And then I’m reading Warren’s papers, and there it is. He’s basing his [academic] work on his work for the military in identifying the dead in the Vietnam War, the Korean War. He goes to Korea. He goes to Japan, and he’s coming up with all these methodologies, but because he’s working for the military, the military has all these rules and regulations, and he can’t publish his work. He’s presenting the methodologies that he came up with during his work and oftentimes he’s working with a Japanese forensic anthropologist as well. I mean, this was the beginning of forensic anthropology, because the military made an executive order that all its war dead must be identified. Then he’s going to conferences, he’s sharing his work and then he sees his work being published by the top forensic anthropologist at the time. So, he’s having to work with people who are stealing his work and publishing it as theirs.”

Cheryl R. Rodriguez on Diane K. Lewis (Chapter 4)

“Diane Lewis is a very courageous, very brilliant, and determined woman who had such a vision for her work as an anthropologist. I wasn’t surprised at how brilliant this woman is. I am a Black person living in America who grew up with brilliant people so I know what Black people are capable of. That’s not anything I’ve ever had to be convinced of. But, more than that, what really struck me was her determination to stand up to racism and sexism, which she experienced quite vividly during her undergraduate years. And this was all in the 1950s and 60s, so you can imagine just how frustrating it must have felt for a Black intellectual at that time to be trying to break down these barriers in the midst of so much oppression and not enough protection, not enough legal protection, not enough policy protection. But one of the things that also impressed me about her was just the kinds of writing that she did. She wrote this article, “Anthropology and Colonialism,”  which has been cited so many times because she published that in 1973. It conceptualized and analyzed the historical relationship between anthropologists and the non-white people that they study. She was really looking carefully at what anthropology really meant, even though she was a part of it. She looked at its colonial context and she looked at that in many different ways. Another article that I wrote about here is her piece called “A Response to Inequality: Black Women, Racism, and Sexism” (1977), which was really pioneering at its time. This article has been published in several different places and a lot of people don’t even know that this exists, that she wrote this before many other Black feminists actually wrote about the intersection of gender, race, and class for Black women.”

Elgin L. Klugh on Delmos Jones (Chapter 5)

“To this day, I use Delmos Jones’s “Social Responsibility and the Belief in Basic Research: An Example from Thailand” (1971) in my teaching when I’m in the section about ethics. When I teach ethnography, what I want to convey to students is who you are as the ethnographer matters in terms of the kind of relationships you’re able to form in the field, the kind of information that people feel comfortable sharing with you, and the kind of biases and predispositions that you bring to your research and you’re thinking about the individuals. Delmos Jones, being somebody who was born in a sharecropping family in the South, throughout his career, his perspective was that he was able to identify with poor and marginalized people no matter where they were on the planet, whether they’re Native Americans, Australians, or individuals in the highlands of Thailand. And he put their well-being first in a real way that trumped his career goals. I find that is a really good case study that students can identify with when I’m trying to drive home the point of the personality of the ethnographer and also this right, this duty to our populations that we study. The ideas of really doing no harm and putting your people first, it’s a great example for those.”

Erica Lorraine Williams on Niara Sudarkasa (Chapter 6)

“Niara Sudarkasa was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her original name was Gloria Marshall and her parents and grandparents were from the Bahamas. I feel like her early work made really important contributions to feminist anthropology because her work pushed back against the generalization and the universalization of the feminist anthropologists who would say that “this” is how gender plays out in the world. Her work in Nigeria showed that actually, it doesn’t really play out like that. After she finished her PhD, she worked. She was assistant professor at NYU, and then she went to the University of Michigan. She was the first Black woman to earn tenure at the University of Michigan and she was also involved in the Black Action Movement, which was led by Black students who were really mobilizing and organizing on Michigan’s campus. Speaking of the impact of racism and sexism, she was actually initially denied tenure. That was really interesting to look at; I did research in the archives. There was a rich kind of documentation of the process, the different letters that were written by her pushing back against the decision because a lot of the things that the anthropology faculty said were racist. So, she ended up earning tenure and becoming full professor. And then she became the first Black woman, or the first woman, president of Lincoln University, which is the oldest HBCU in Pennsylvania. In her later work, she did a lot of work on extended families and pushing back against the universalization of the nuclear family, pushing back against the idea that Black families, single mother households, or different things like that were stigmatized. She argued that there were certain values implicit in them, that they were multi-generational, different things like that. A lot of her work was really pushing back against these dominant narratives.”

Riché J. Daniel Barnes on Johnnetta B. Cole (Chapter 7)

Johnnetta B. Cole and Riché J. Daniel Barnes at the AAA in 2017, as the two celebrate Dr. Cole’s retirement from the Smithsonian. Photo courtesy of Riché J. Daniel Barnes.

“My pioneer is Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole and she has been my long, long, long time mentor and scholarly everything. One of the things that was really cool to me was the way that she changed her perspective about sexuality. It was her friendship with Audre Lorde that helped her to understand Black sexuality in a broader context. And that was really something that I would not have known to ask about because my perspective of her, having known her since I was an undergrad, has always been that she’s just been very open to every way in which you can show up as a human being. And not that she wasn’t prior. She talks about how she grew up with these images, these ways of being in community with people but had not really interrogated her own thinking around those things. And for Spelman to now have this endowed chair that is about doing work on Black sexuality, the groundwork for that kind of thing was laid while she was there because she was working with Beverly Guy-Sheftall to make those things happen. I uncovered her impact in all of these arenas, and how she got to the place of being able to unpack those things and make a substantial contribution in those arenas. And then, of course, there’s the frustration of seeing that she’s not recognized as an anthropologist. She’s recognized as an educator and now, of course, as someone in the museum world, and has always been recognized as a Black woman leader. But it’s so hard, you know, for her and so many others to be recognized as anthropologists.”

Deborah Johnson-Simon on John Langston Gwaltney (Chapter 8)

“A lot of what I did with Gwaltney was because he appeared on another list for me that I was studying with Blacks in museums and I was surprised by that directory that I received that there was even a category among museum professionals that was anthropologists. Because of his tutelage, I was able to use that with my students at an HBCU, where a lot of students coming into that class had never even heard the word ‘anthropology.’ So, they didn’t know what they were signing up for and by the end of a semester students had coined the term ‘Gwaltneyites’ because they were so passionate about the way he went about doing his work. They want to be Gwaltneyites. And doing that native anthropology and becoming African American museum anthropologists, I mean it was just amazing what you get from learning with these pioneers. So, they’re more than just theories and they become real to you when you start to do the work, when you write it, and then you start to feel like an anthropologist. And that’s what I wanted my students, even though they were just taking an introduction class, to come out of it feeling like: that they were doing something and that they could contribute to the field.”

Alisha R. Winn on Ira E. Harrison (Chapter 9)

“I didn’t know Dr. Harrison was a poet. He was like a big-time poet, he had written so many books of poems and every time I talked to him, he would quote some line in his poetry. Every single time. Or he would make up a poem right on the spot that included me, or whatever we were talking about, or something encouraging. Or as we get off the phone, he would leave me with a line. I expected it every time. He’s literally a pioneer in such a great way. [He accomplished] so many things. I didn’t know that he did a lot of his research and particularly his dissertation on the desegregation of churches and storefront churches. And that’s because he thought, initially, he was going to go into the ministry. And so, he still got a chance to look at faith and religion by doing his research on that extensively and by serving on boards related to church work in Ohio and in other places. And so, I learned that about him, being a poet and initially wanting to go into the ministry, which I found fascinating. But also, how he used all of that to build in his profession and in his life’s work. So, they weren’t these separate things. Even though someone from the outside might say, ‘Oh, he did this and this.’ No, all of those things connected together. His work with looking at HBCUs in anthropology and how Hampton got its program started in anthropology. I mean, all of these things connected to his curiosity and his pioneering work of wanting to make sure that African American anthropologists are recognized for their contributions. And so, his work is so broad, but is a holistic work that tells so much of a life’s work of someone who embodies all these things in one.”

Ira E. Harrison and Alisha R. Winn at the book launch in 2018. Photo courtesy of Alisha R. Winn.

Rachel Watkins on George Clement Bond (Chapter 11)

“We all kind of come to our research by way of exploring who we are, in some ways. I knew that I would learn about George Clement Bond as part of learning about his research and learning about his research would allow me the opportunity to do what I love to do, which is to be a biologically oriented anthropologist who’s learning more about the subfields. Bond is an Africanist anthropologist, whose work extended into education and he was based at Columbia University in the Teachers College. What I learned about him is that he was very much so a generalist. He started out as an Africanist and he used the research that he did and his particular departure from structural functionalism, he used his particular way of thinking and doing research to extend that to other questions. He thought about, ‘Okay, how can the methodological and theoretical kind of developments that come out of my research in this particular area be applied to other areas,’ to the point that he had several edited volumes he was co-authoring long before that was something that—well we still kind of struggle with that in anthropology. He was about creating space for exploring the breadth of application of the work of Black scholars and Black scholar-activists.”

Bertin M. Louis, Jr. on Oliver Osborne (Chapter 12)

“Dr. Oliver Osborne was a pioneering nurse anthropologist. He grew up in New York, his family was originally from Barbados. What was interesting about his trajectory is the odd way he came to nursing first and then anthropology. And he came to nursing, despite being in law school at the time. He decided to work in nursing and specialize in mental health issues. In his interview [with me for the book] he talked about how he was able to quench his thirst for all the different types of things he wanted to learn about through anthropology. And his studies, he wanted to do, he went on to do field work in the area of psychosocial nursing in Nigeria and he did a lot of back-and-forth trips between the United States and Nigeria. When he finished his PhD, he went on to pioneer a lot of different things within the area of psychosocial nursing. First, he was a Black man who blazed the trail for Black folks in the white women-dominated profession of nursing. He also was able to articulate a holistic view of nursing, as well as touting the utility of anthropological studies for nurses. He also was a pioneer in the sense of the different institutions that he helped to build up, like the first department that was related to psychosocial nursing at the University of Washington, as well as other professional organizations related to nursing and his emphasis on delivering mental health nursing services to the marginalized and the oppressed. Reflecting on Dr. Osborne, the main thing that really impressed me was the way that he applied good aspects of anthropological methods and knowledge towards pioneering this field of psychosocial nursing.” 

Angela McMillan Howell on Anselme Remy (Chapter 13)

Anselme Remy and Angela McMillan Howell at the AAA in 2014. Photo courtesy of Angela McMillan Howell.

“I think the most fulfilling part of Anselme Remy’s career, he would say, was the component of it which was really around Black studies and what he was able to do with Fisk University and connecting with other Black scholars who saw their research as an activist lifestyle. That it wasn’t just for the sake of curiosity, but it was about needing to connect and to radically change people’s everyday situations. And the other part that was incredibly fulfilling for him was the ways in which he worked outside of the academy directly to impact the Haitian government, to impact US policies towards Haiti, and then eventually returning to Haiti. And so these were spaces that were not mainline anthropological spaces, even though he had that masters from NYU, even though he was ABD at Brandeis. And because he chose the activist’s route and he chose to return to his home, he basically was an unknown scholar in a lot of ways. And then the last thing I wanted to just add was I believe he is the only non-American in the book. It’s really interesting as well that our perspective in anthropology is still so American-centric and Western-centric. I just think his presence in the [book] opens the door for people to also wonder. Americans are not the only anthropologists; African Americans are not the only anthropologists. How do we continue to access other people’s ways of knowing the world who are in Senegal, in Kenya, in Haiti, in wherever they are, that are anthropologists? They’re trained, they’re Black, potentially, but they’re not recognized because they’re just not even in the English canon.”

Antoinette Jackson on Vera Mae Green (Chapter 14)

“Vera Green was a cultural anthropologist, very much a public anthropologist. She actually put into practice many of the anthropological tenets. In the chapter, I was really struggling to find a little bit of a different angle on her that wasn’t quite tapped into fully. And it was the fact that she was a Quaker. I decided to really focus on how that influenced part of her life. In addition to her being a public anthropologist, she seemed to always operate outside the box or go against the grain of what you typically think of as a Black person doing something. In her work she was always talking about heterogeneity, like ‘don’t look at every Black person the same.’ So, looking at the Quaker experience was a chance to highlight something different about her in the sense [of what] people typically think about Black folks’ religious practices and really figure out how that informs her. Also, she stressed looking at intersectionality before that word became a word. She was looking at the socioeconomic differences between how people experience location or parts of their life or cultural experiences. She looked at Black folk outside of the typical ways that people are talking about them. She’s looking at folk in the Netherlands Antilles. And she’s seeking out Black people in areas where people weren’t really doing a lot of research on Black folk and then looking in different contexts. Seeing how she was able to elaborate on Black people’s experiences and environments really made it okay, or just helped me hone my own way of thinking and looking. She gave me a way to do that.”

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Theory: Centering the Intellectual Labor of Black Anthropologists

Throughout the course of my interviews, I asked the contributors, “What texts should all anthropology students be familiar with by the time they complete their undergraduate or graduate programs?” I knew they would point me to the works cited throughout both African-American Pioneers in Anthropology and The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology, but I was interested to learn the texts that guide their research and are incorporated in their teaching. Who are they and their students thinking alongside?

This seemingly innocuous question encouraged conversations about the circulation of particular histories of and in the discipline, and it centered our attention on canonization and citation practices. And rightfully so, given the ways that anthropologists of color, in general, and Black anthropologists, in particular, have been underrecognized in the field.

In their interrogation of anthropology’s success towards its goal of racial inclusivity, Karen Brodkin, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson concluded that anthropology departments are institutionally organized as “white public spaces,” thus participating in “a hegemonic, daily, unreflexive praxis that marginalizes faculty and students of color” (2011, 554). One of the ways departments constitute themselves in this way is by establishing clear “boundaries by theoretical perspectives and explanatory projects as well as subject matter” (552). These boundaries determine which ideas and perspectives “belong” in anthropological thought, and make it difficult to include courses, research, and writings on race and racism. For these reasons, anthropologists of color are often met with resistance and have been excluded from theory building exercises which are imperative to the perpetuation of the discipline.   

Drawing on Sylvia Wynter’s theorization of the Western Man, one could argue that disciplines are “storytellers who now storytellingly invent themselves” (Wynter and McKittrick 2015, 11) by relying upon the circulation of scholars, ideas, readings, and histories that best fit the story they are hoping to tell. In anthropology, these narratives have favored Western scholars who are white and male, often hoping to portray some authentic truth about “other” populations and cultures. Together, these theoretical boundaries and the systemic privileging of certain scholars contribute to an idealized canon that tends to over-represent the historical and contemporary scholarship of white male cis-gender thinkers.

Alternatively, as Joshua Bennett and Imani Perry brilliantly reflect, we should challenge the fraught and often fetishized canon. Instead we should consider its purpose to simply “create a set of common texts, and common texts function as ways for us to have sustained conversations.” With this in mind, a kind of deliberate curation should be invested in ensuring that “canons are elastic, or they should be, and they should make room for beauty.” We can take this as a call to uplift legacies and make visible the intellectual labor of Black anthropologists who have been pushed to the margins of the discipline or have had to find disciplinary homes in other departments.

Suggestions for how to meaningfully reimagine the discipline and the canon are plenty. Moreover, demands to decolonize and transform anthropology have circulated for decades. Ashanté Reese calls for the elevation of ethnography that draws on epistemological elsewheres, including “from Black studies, ethnic studies, women and gender studies, and the lives we lived before the academy” (2019). In her estimation, the field’s harsh disciplinary boundaries are limiting, monotonous, and uncreative.

“We need to overhaul the way we teach anthropology,” Riché J. Daniel Barnes explained (2013). “We cannot be afraid to talk about the way anthropology has been complicit in the degradation of cultures and the accompanying oppression of people. We cannot continue to begin with the ‘primitive’ and the ‘savage’ and expect students whose ancestors were part of those populations to find merit in the field.”

Angela McMillan Howell and Elgin L. Klugh considered institutional ways to combat this alienation. Howell and Klugh, both alumni and faculty members at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), believe that “their history, student characteristics, and overall learning environments uniquely position HBCUs to give voice to a number of perspectives that would add texture to the anthropological canon” (Klugh and Howell 2013). It is our responsibility as educators to ensure that students and scholars of all identities and subject positions do not feel alienated and ostracized by a discipline with a deeply colonial history.

Overall, these suggestions point to the need to combat the erasure of certain voices and highlight the theoretical interventions of those whose existence is often written out of the discipline. “We have this legacy of African American pioneers who have decolonized and we could use them to further decolonize the discipline,” Alice Baldwin-Jones explains, referring not only to those scholars profiled in the book, but to all those elders who contributed their intellectual labor to anthropology.[1] This would require an incorporation of their work in courses, as well as tangible engagement with their theory in our own writing, particularly given the importance of citation to the academic enterprise.

Erica Lorraine Williams, whose current book project deals with Black feminist activism in Bahia, expounds: “It’s really important that we document these stories and document people’s trajectories and their work, reviewing their work and the contributions that it made so that we don’t continue to be marginalized and kind of left out of the canon.” Christen A. Smith’s #CiteBlackWomen movement, a collective of which Williams is a member, is one such commitment to crediting the life and work of Black women intellectuals. Another is Black feminist anthropology, which Irma McClaurin defines as an intervention that “constructs its own canon that is both theoretical and based in the politics of praxis and poetics” and “seeks to deconstruct the institutionalized racism and sexism that has characterized the history of the discipline of anthropology” (2001, 2).

Therefore, to keep these scholars “active and alive” and to “keep building and highlighting them,” as Antoinette Jackson implores, I present a reading list curated by the volume’s contributors (with a few suggested additions of my own). This kind of list is in good company, as existing examples include the Zora’s Daughters Podcast syllabi and the Decanonizing Anthropology Syllabus Project. These collections, and others similar to them, are living documents that might shift and grow over time, but remain committed to centering the voices of marginalized folks and respecting them as knowledge producers, rather than mere research subjects. Across theories and geographies, disciplines and subfields, and methodological approaches, these texts speak to a past and present of anthropology that takes seriously the lived realities of race and racism.

Theory List

Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press.

Anderson, Ryan. 2013. “Race, Racism, Anthropology #1: Mullings on ‘Interrogating Racism.’” Savage Minds (blog). February 27, 2013.

Baker, Lee D. 1998. From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896-1954. Berkeley: University of California Press.

———, ed. 2003. Life in America: Identity and Everyday Experience. Blackwell.

Barnes, Riché J. Daniel. 2015. Raising the Race: Black Career Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community. Families in Focus. Rutgers University Press.

  • See also Mark Anthony Neal’s interview with Riché J. Daniel Barnes on the Left of Black video podcast (season 8, episode 12: “When Black Professional Women Redefine Marriage, Motherhood, and Community”).

Bolles, A. Lynn. 2001. “Seeking the Ancestors: Forging a Black Feminist Tradition in Anthropology.” In Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis, and Poetics, edited by Irma McClaurin. Rutgers University Press.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2017. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. 5th ed. Rowman & Littlefield.

Browne, Dallas. 2016. People You Should Know: Biographies of William Shack and James Gibbs. Self-published.

Buck, Pem Davidson. 2001. Worked to the Bone: Race, Class, Power and Privilege in Kentucky. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Cox, Aimee Meredith. 2015. Shapeshifters: Black Girls and the Choreography of Citizenship. Duke University Press.

Fernández-Kelly, Patricia. 2015. The Hero’s Fight: African Americans in West Baltimore and the Shadow of the State. Princeton: Princeton Univeristy Press.

Franklin, Maria, and Robert Paynter. 2010. “Inequality and Archaeology.” In Voices in American Archaeology: The 75th Anniversary Volume of the Society for American Archaeology, edited by Wendy Ashmore, Dorothy T. Lippert, and Barbara J. Mills, 94–130. Washington, D.C.: Society for American Archaeology.

Harrison, Faye V. 1992. “The Du Boisian Legacy in Anthropology.” Critique of Anthropology 12 (3): 239–60.

———, ed. 2005. Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights. AltaMira Press.

Howell, Angela McMillan. 2013. Raised Up Down Yonder: Growing Up Black in Rural Alabama. University Press of Mississippi.

  • See also Angela Howell’s video introduction to the book. This video was part of a collaboration between Howell and Territa Poole, profiled here by Morgan State University.

Hurston, Zora Neale. 1935. Mules and Men. J.B. Lippincott.

Jackson, Antoinette T. 2012. Speaking for the Enslaved: Heritage Interpretation at Antebellum Plantation Sites. Left Coast Press.

———. 2020. Heritage, Tourism, and Race: The Other Side of Leisure. New York: Routledge.

Kendi, Ibram X. 2016. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Nation Books.

Kincaid, Jamaica. 1988. A Small Place. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Ladson-Billings, Gloria. 1994. The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. Jossey-Bass.

Lamphere, Louise. 2004. “Unofficial Histories: A Vision of Anthropology from the Margins.” American Anthropologist 106 (1): 126–39.

Louis, Jr., Bertin M. 2014. My Soul Is in Haiti: Protestanism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas. New York University Press.

  • See also Bertin Louis’s interview with Kevin Michael Foster on Blackademics TV (Austin, PBS: 2015).

McClaurin, Irma, ed. 2001. Black Feminist Anthropology: Theory, Politics, Praxis, and Poetics. Rutgers University Press.

McKittrick, Katherine, ed. 2015. Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis. Duke University Press.

Mullings, Leith. 1997. On Our Own Terms: Race, Class, and Gender in the Lives of African American Women. Routledge.

Pattillo-McCoy, Mary. 1999. Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class. University of Chicago Press.

Remy, Anselme. 1976. “Anthropology: For Whom and What?The Black Scholar 7 (7): 12–16.

Rickford, John Russell, and Russell John Rickford. 2000. Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English. Wiley.

Robinson, Cedric J. 1983. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Zed Press.

Rodriguez, Cheryl R., Dzodzi Tsikata, and Akosua Adomako Ampofo, eds. 2015. Transatlantic Feminisms: Women and Gender Studies in Africa and the Diaspora. Lexington Books.

  • See also Cheryl R. Rodriguez’s interview about the book in the Black Agenda Report (2019).

Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Duke University Press.

Smedley, Audrey, and Brian D. Smedley. 2011. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview. 4th edition. Routledge.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1992. “The Caribbean Region: An Open Frontier in Anthropological Theory.” Annual Review of Anthropology 21 (1): 19–42.

———. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Beacon Press.

Watkins, Rachel J. 2020. “An Alter(Ed)Native Perspective on Historical Bioarchaeology.” Historical Archaeology 54 (1): 17–33.

Williams, Erica Lorraine. 2013. Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements. University of Illinois Press.

Wynter, Sylvia, and Katherine McKittrick. 2015. “Unparalleled Catastrophe for Our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations.” In Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, edited by Katherine McKittrick, 9–89. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Pioneers’ Papers

While interviewing the contributors and collecting these suggested readings, an interesting detail arose. Several pioneers have donated or stored their papers across sites and platforms, an act that inevitably speaks to their understanding of the importance of collecting, recording, documenting, and archiving. I have included a non-exhaustive list below:

  • Angela Gilliam’s papers have been digitized and can be found online here and here.
  • Vera Mae Green’s papers are located at the Tuskegee University library, but many of the holdings have yet to be digitized.
  • Anselme Remy’s papers, mostly published in French, can be found at the Library of Congress.
  • The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University houses both Ira E. Harrison’s papers and the archives of the Association of Black Anthropologists. Dr. Harrison also has papers at Emory University.

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Additional Works Cited

Barnes, Riché Daniel. 2013. “Anthropology Is for Us, Right? (Section News, Association of Black Anthropologists).” Anthropology News 54 (11).

Brodkin, Karen, Sandra Morgen, and Janis Hutchinson. 2011. “Anthropology as White Public Space?American Anthropologist 113 (4): 545–56.

Klugh, Elgin, and Angela Howell. 2013. “Decolonization Continued: Anthropology and HBCUs (Section News, Association of Black Anthropologists).” Anthropology News 54 (6).

Reese, Ashanté. 2019. “When We Come to Anthropology, Elsewhere Comes with Us (Opinion: Ethnography from Elsewhere).” Anthropology News 60 (1): e113–17.


[1] Volume contributors’ names are place in bold type throughout these pieces and, unless otherwise noted, their quoted words are drawn from the interviews that form the basis for this series as described in the author’s introduction.

Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning from Black Anthropology

Following the model of the Society for Cultural Anthropology’s lesson plans, I offer a curriculum guide for The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology. This book could be assigned and incorporated into class discussion in a number of ways. Its potential lies especially in its discussion of various themes, including race and racism, gender and sexism, class and labor inequality, fieldwork and ethnographic methods, intersectionality, and decolonizing and diversifying disciplines.

I agree with Antoinette Jackson: the book “provides a means of broadening the conversation and enables students to experience different ways of critiquing and applying anthropology.”[1] Also, since all the pioneers and contributors are Black, incorporating this text onto syllabi is just one way to respond to Laurence Ralph and Aisha Beliso-De Jesús’ critique of how whiteness is privileged in anthropology syllabi.

Erica Lorraine Williams remarks that “you go through your whole graduate training and there’s still these people that you just haven’t heard of, that you don’t know about, that you haven’t been taught.” This book helps correct this silence, providing a valuable resource in its own right because of its skillful recovery of prominent anthropologists for a contemporary cohort of scholars. But the potential of the book is not limited to the text. During a recent ACLS/SSRC conversation with Alondra Nelson and Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Bianca C. Williams stated, “you can’t understand race and racism and you can’t understand the utility of the humanities and social sciences if you’re not engaging the work of Black studies, Black feminist studies, and Black queer studies.” This call echoes the pioneers’ reliance on the Black Power and Black studies movements (Anderson 2019) to critique and challenge anthropology as a discipline largely implicated in colonialism and racism. We should take Williams’ contemporary assertion seriously and the pioneers’ work is a place to start.

Thus, in addition to the book itself, the pioneers’ articles and books should be used to prepare new generations of scholars. Their scholarship includes, but is not limited to, ethnography across Africa and the diaspora, Black feminist thought, critiques of colonialism, white supremacy, racism, and sexism, and critical methodological interventions. With this in mind, here is just one example of how the pioneers’ areas of research could be organized and taught:

  • Military forensic anthropology: Charles Preston Warren II
  • Medical anthropology: Oliver Osborne
  • Linguistic anthropology: Claudia Mitchell-Kernan
  • Africanist scholarship: George Clement Bond, Niara Sudarkasa, James Lowell Gibbs Jr., William Shack
  • Anthropology of race: Audrey Smedley
  • Applied and public anthropology: Johnnetta B. Cole, Vera Mae Green, Ira E. Harrison, Diane K. Lewis
  • Native anthropology: Delmos Jones, John Langston Gwaltney, Anselme Remy

Now for tangible ways to assign the book itself: I’ll start this guide by offering my own idea first. Twenty-eight Black anthropologists are highlighted across both installments to the Pioneers archive. However, these are not autobiographical entries; each anthropologist is profiled by a more junior anthropologist. As a final assignment, students could provide a Pioneers-like entry for one of the contributors to either volume. For example, what would they write in a chapter about Betty J. Harris or Janis Faye Hutchinson? A student could flex multiple methodological muscles for this assignment, as oral history collection, interviews, archival research, digital ethnography, and close reading could come in handy. The final product might include an overview of the scholar’s educational background, their published works and intellectual contributions, their approach to the discipline, and their engagement with a community outside of academia. If relevant, it would also be interesting to include a reflection on the connection between the contributor and their pioneer: why might Deborah Johnson-Simon have profiled John Langston Gwaltney? What connects Dallas Browne and William Alfred Shack?

Once this research has been conducted and these biographies are written, one might encourage students to submit pieces to History of Anthropology Review. An analysis of a pioneers’ foundational work could be contributed to Generative Texts or a surprising archival detail could find a place in Clio’s Fancy. For work based on the Pioneer archive, there are plenty of outlets at HAR that could result in a student publication.

Rachel Watkins: “Thinking about how the work of scholars in the book is obscured, I like the idea of pairing chapters in The Second Generation with some of the scholars’ work—or work they inspired. I think Karen Field’s ‘Witchcraft and Racecraft’ piece in [George Clement Bond’s edited volume] Witchcraft Dialogues: Anthropological and Philosophical Exchanges (2001) would be great to assign alongside my podcast episode on race. I don’t think a lot of people know this—in terms of the way that our pioneers have created space for all sorts of things—in his edited volume Witchcraft Dialogues, that’s actually where Karen Fields first wrote about Racecraft. She has a chapter in there because the edited volume was focused on kind of turning this idea of witchcraft on its head and not using witchcraft to amplify this exotic African trope at what it means. There are also pieces Bond authored that frame things like ancestor worship in rather ‘decolonized’ ways that are important for students to learn sooner than later.”

Angela McMillan Howell: “I used the first Pioneers book the last time I taught anthropological theory and this is an activity that went really well in my class. Everybody was assigned certain pioneers. It was a small seminar class and we had a roundtable with the pioneers. You had to embody that person that you read about. You had to read their chapter, you had to dress like them, you had to read other stuff about them. And then I made little placards with each of their names in front of them. I was the interviewer and I asked everybody about their lives and they had to answer as if they were their person. They weren’t going to read every biography of every person, but they were able to really connect to that one person. And then they were able to hear how other people answered and asked them about their family life, where they feel like they had been recognized in the academy, and all these different things. I loved it.”

How might you choose to incorporate these scholars and their work into your courses? Perhaps you would appreciate Bertin M. Louis, Jr.’s suggestion to use both contributions to the Pioneer archive in a “Black anthropology course which charts the growth of anti-racist/pro-Black anthropological research.” Instead, if interested in discussing Black intellectual contributions to anthropology, alongside scholars’ experiences of racism and discrimination in the academy, you might consider Alice Baldwin-Jones’s approach to assign Zora Neale Hurston’s Tell My Horse with writings from Audrey Smedley, Katherine Dunham, Laurence Foster, and Louis Eugene King. Or perhaps, Zora Neale Hurston might be better suited for a discussion of ethnographic methods, as Riché J. Daniel Barnes assigns Mules and Men and centers “Hurston for a discussion on insider/outsider methodology, subjectivity, and US-based ethnographies.”

The possibilities are endless for how The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology, African-American Pioneers in Anthropology, and the scholarship of these 28 Black pioneers could be used in a classroom and in one’s writing. As, in the words of Hortense Spillers, we strive to “rediscover” and “reassert” “all these earlier pioneers in the institutional works of the black intellectual” (2007, 301), I welcome suggestions for further pedagogical techniques that highlight this rich archive.

Return to the Table of Contents

Read the previous piece in this series

Read about the contributors to The Second Generation

Browse the Zotero library for this series

Works Cited

Anderson, Mark. 2019. From Boas to Black Power: Racism, Liberalism, and American Anthropology. Redwood City: Stanford University Press.

Bond, George Clement, and Diane M. Ciekawy, eds. 2001. Witchcraft Dialogues: Anthropological and Philosophical Exchanges. Ohio University Press.

Fields, Karen E. 2001. “Witchcraft and Racecraft: Invisible Ontology and Its Sensible Manifestations.” In Withcraft Dialogues: Anthropological and Philosophical Exchanges, edited by George Clement Bond and Diane M. Ciekawy, 283–315. Ohio University Press.

Spillers, Hortense, Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Shelly Eversley, and Jennifer L. Morgan. 2007. “‘Whatcha Gonna Do?’: Revisiting ‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book’: A Conversation with Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Shelly Eversley, & Jennifer L. Morgan.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 35 (1/2): 299–309.


[1] Volume contributors’ names are in bold type throughout these pieces and, unless otherwise noted, their quoted words are drawn from the interviews that form the basis for this series as described in the author’s introduction.


I interviewed eleven of The Second Generation’s contributing authors to better understand their motivations for participating in the volume. Since they appear numerous times throughout these texts, quick professional sketches of their current affiliations help to place them:

Alice Baldwin-Jones, an applied anthropologist at LaGuardia Community College and William Paterson University of New Jersey

Riché J. Daniel Barnes, Associate Professor and Chair of Gender Studies at Mount Holyoke College, and current President of the Association of Black Anthropologists

Angela McMillan Howell, Associate Professor of Anthropology and interim Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology department at Morgan State University

Antoinette Jackson, Professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of South Florida

Deborah Johnson-Simon, a museum anthropologist in the social and behavioral science program at Savannah State University, and the founder and CEO of The African Diaspora Museology Institute, Inc., which specializes in Africa diaspora museums

Elgin L. Klugh, Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Social and Political Sciences, and Coordinator for Social Sciences and Anthropology at Coppin State University

Bertin M. Louis, Jr., Associate Professor of Anthropology and African American & Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky, and President-elect of the Association of Black Anthropologists

Cheryl R. Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Anthropology at the University of South Florida

Rachel Watkins, Associate Professor of Anthropology at American University

Erica Lorraine Williams, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Sociology and Anthropology department at Spelman College, and the Book and Film Review Editor for Transforming Anthropology

Alisha R. Winn, an applied and practicing cultural anthropologist at Palm Beach Atlantic University and founder of Consider the Culture, a business that infuses anthropology in governmental institutions, religious institutions, and educational institutions to impact communities

Additionally, all contributor biographies from the book are reprinted below, courtesy of University of Illinois Press. Please keep in mind that these were originally published in 2018, so some details may have changed.

  • This image shows the first page of the list of contributors from the volume

Return to the Table of Contents

Browse the Zotero library for this series

Recording Kastom: Alfred Haddon’s Journals – Webinar and Book Launch

The Royal Anthropological Institute will host a webinar and book launch for Recording Kastom: Alfred Haddon’s Journals from his Expeditions to Torres Strait and New Guinea, 1888 and 1898, with the book’s editors Dr. Anita Herle (University of Cambridge) and Dr. Jude Philp (University of Sydney) on April 20, 2021 at 12:00 pm GMT (7:00 am EST).

To register, please click here.

Recording Kastom brings readers into the heart of colonial Torres Strait and New Guinea with the personal journals of Cambridge zoologist and anthropologist Alfred Haddon. Haddon’s journals highlight his comprehensive vision of anthropology and preoccupation with documentation and reveal the central role played by named Islanders who worked with him to record their kastom. The work of Haddon and the members of the 1898 Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait was hugely influential on the nascent discipline of anthropology and remains of great interest to Islanders and scholars working in the region.

Join the authors and editors for a discussion of the content and process of publishing the journals, involving collaboration with Islander communities and descendants of the people with whom Haddon worked. The session will also provide an opportunity to reassess the importance of Haddon’s work and consider the far-reaching value of anthropological archives today.

Recording Kastom: Alfred Haddon’s Journals from his Expeditions to Torres Strait and New Guinea, 1888 and 1898 is published by Sydney University Press.

Enslaved remains, scientific racism, and the work of counter-history (Part One)

This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read more reflections from this series here.

The recent debate over the relocation and restitution of over 50 human crania of enslaved people in Samuel George Morton’s collection at the Penn Museum prompts a reflection on anthropology’s entanglements with the history of slavery. When the HAR editorial team asked me to offer some thoughts a propos this event, I revisited my research notes in search of archival traces of these complex crossings. This short note is an analytical reflection about one such trace—a letter exchange found in the private papers of another notorious race scholar and skull collector and Morton’s contemporary) British surgeon Joseph Barnard Davis (1801-1881). I ask how enslavement becomes epistemically and politically embedded in collections of human remains. I ask how historiographical work may help us to counter, subvert, heal, and remember the presence and effects of these past processes today.

Part 1. ‘Inscription’

Fervently devoted to racial craniology, Joseph Barnard Davis spent his life and wealth assembling a comparative anthropological collection of human crania. By 1880 he was the owner of the world’s largest private collection of skulls, an achievement inspired partly by Samuel George Morton (1799-1851) in Philadelphia.[1] Davis’s skull collecting and investigations were, like Morton’s, founded upon conceptions grounded in scientific racism. It reflected his belief, for example, that specific physical features of the cranium represented differences and hierarchies in mental attributes and moral and social states; and that (inferior) African “black” and (superior) “white” European human races were separate “natural” occurrences with separate origins.[2] Davis’s collection was based on a vast network of skull suppliers and collaborators based in a number of different colonies and territories outside Europe. His manuscript catalogues and letters, held in the Royal College of Surgeons in London, along with what survives of his cranial collection, show how the collection was generated and how certain human skulls entered the museum embedded in histories of enslavement.

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Reminder: History of Anthropology Working Group, “Visualization,” April 7, 2021

The next meeting of the History of Anthropology Working Group, hosted by the Consortium for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, will be held on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 at 12:00 p.m. ET. The topic for the discussion will be “Visualization.”

The discussion will be led by Abigail Nieves Delgado and Iris Clever, and will take a broad view of visualization from the 18th to 20th centuries across a range of traditions. It will focus on the following readings:

  • Keevak, Michael. 2011. “Taxonomies of Yellow: Linnaeus, Blumenbach, and the Making of a ‘Mongolian’ Race in the Eighteenth Century.” In Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking. Princeton University Press.
  • Qureshi, Sadiah. 2012. “Peopling the landscape: Showmen, displayed peoples and travel illustration in nineteenth-century Britain.” Early Popular Visual Culture 10(1): 23-36.
  • Evans, Andrew. 2020. “‘Most Unusual’ Beauty Contests: Nordic Photographic Competitions and the Construction of a Public for German Race Science, 1926–1935,” Isis 111(2): 289-309.
  • Stinson, Catherine. 2020. “Algorithms Associating Appearance and Criminality Have a Dark Past.” Aeon, May 15, 2020. https://aeon.co/ideas/algorithms-associating-appearance-and-criminality-….

The readings are available for download via the Working Group home page. Additional details about the group and information on how to attend may also be found on the site.

The Penn & Slavery Project: On Visualizing The Afterlives of Slavery at Penn

This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read more reflections from this series here.

In both 2006 and 2016, the University of Pennsylvania released statements denying any connections to the institution of slavery. Since 2017, The Penn and Slavery Project (P&SP) has repeatedly challenged and disproven that claim, revealing the many ways in which “America’s first university” benefitted from and contributed to the institution. But that denial is not unique to Penn; it reflects the tendency to value optics over functions, the idea of focusing on the way things look instead of the way things work. That’s a U.S. tradition. In the U.S., we release statements, circulate textbooks, and wave flags that paper over histories that make us uncomfortable. We have statues that elevate some historical figures and cast others in shadow. 

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New Release from BEROSE – Cole and Andreson on Landes

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: two articles in English on Ruth Landes, the “scandalous” disciple of Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. 

Andreson, Jamie Lee, 2021. “In the City of Women: The Life and Work of Ruth Landes,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

URL: article2218.html

Cole, Sally, 2021. “The End of Chastity and Modesty: Ruth Landes Writing Race and Gender in 1930s Anthropology,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

URL: article2219.html

Jamie Lee Andreson presents the life and work of American anthropologist Ruth Landes (1908-1991), the famous disciple of Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict who contributed to the development of Afro-American Studies and Feminist Anthropology. Landes did ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil from 1938 to 1939. Her work that had the greatest impact was the dynamic narrative ethnography, The City of Women (1947) published in Brazil as A Cidade das Mulheres (1967), which documented the lives of prominent head priestesses of Candomblé temples and argued that the religion was a matriarchy, based on the prominence of Black women’s leadership and community reverence for the priestesses as Mothers. Her close collaboration with Brazilian colleague Edison Carneiro granted her privileged access to research sites and subjects, producing an historical archive of Candomblé still available at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) of the Smithsonian Museum. However, her research approach and relationships in the field were considered scandalous by prominent male colleagues, who negatively impacted her career opportunities in the United States. Nevertheless, her legacy remains strong in Brazil both in academia and among Candomblé practitioners themselves.

Sally Cole’s article focuses on Ruth Landes writing race and gender in 1930s anthropology. City of Women (1947) was anomalous in its time for its focus on women’s agency and gender fluidity among Afro-Brazilian Candomblé practitioners in 1930s Bahia and for its personal memoir writing style. Melville Herskovits (1895-1963) and Arthur Ramos (1903-1949), who were then working to establish the field of Afro-Brazilian studies, severely critiqued Landes’s study of cultural creativity and internal dynamics and her failure to engage in their search for African survivals.  Twenty-first-century historians of anthropology now describe the text as um espelho, a mirror, on gender and race in 1930s Brazil. This article traces the singularity of Landes’s ethnography to her autobiographical experience of gender conventions in the Russian Jewish labor Zionist immigrant milieu she was raised in; her training by Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) to pay attention to the experience of “culturally unprovided for” individuals; and, Landes’s method of intensive fieldwork with Indigenous collaborators – prior to coming to Brazil with Ojibwa elder Maggie Wilson (1879-1940) in Canada that resulted in the book, The Ojibwa Woman (1938) and, in Bahia, with Salvador-born folklorist, Edison Carneiro (1912-1971).  

“Death, Dignity, and Descendants”

This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read more reflections from this series here.

I have long been uncomfortable with the public display of human remains.[1] As a child, it disturbed me that museums would display mummified bodies in glass cases. I was equally uncomfortable at funeral homes, but the juxtaposition between the two sites troubled me. I wondered then, as now—why are some dead bodies accorded such respect and ceremony, while others are objectified and subjected to our gaze? 

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New Release from BEROSE – Marquet on Colonial India

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article in French on the caste system in Colonial India and more specifically about the production of law in British- and French-ruled territories in the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. 

Marquet, Julie, 2021. “Le régime des castes dans l’Inde coloniale. Productions du droit dans les territoires sous domination anglaise et française, XVIIIe‑XXe siècles” (“The Caste System in Colonial India. Making Law in the Territories under British and French Rule, 18th through 20th Centuries”), in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

URL: https://www.berose.fr/article2181.html?lang=en

As they gradually asserted their domination over parts of the Indian subcontinent, the British and the French initially committed themselves to respecting the rights, customs, and manners of Indian peoples. In matters of caste, they established a specific legal regime, constituted by local regulations, justice decisions actively sought by the Indians, and collections of jurisprudence. This surprising article by Julie Marquet focuses on this legal regime as a lost chapter in the history of anthropology. It sheds light on the constitution and implementation of the caste legal regime in colonial India, from the eighteenth century to independence. From a comparative historical perspective, it examines both the legal rules regulating the functioning of castes and the methods of their production. It is published as part of the BEROSE research theme “History of the Relationship between Law and Anthropology,” directed by Frédéric Audren (CNRS) and Laetitia Guerlain (University of Bordeaux).

Bring the Old People Home

This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read more reflections from this series here.

It was good to learn recently of the decision, by the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum, to arrange for the decent burial of the crania of fifty-three enslaved people; crania which were acquired by Philadelphia physician and anthropologist, Samuel George Morton (1799-1851). Along with many other U.S. institutions, the Penn Museum has complied with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in repatriating Native American crania from the collection. Hopefully the burial of the bones of these enslaved people will encourage the Penn and other U.S. museums to take a more active approach in returning the enslaved ancestors of Australian Indigenous communities for burial.

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New Release from BEROSE – Laurière on van Gennep

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article, in French, on French anthropologist and folklorist Arnold van Gennep, who coined the famous concept of “rites of passage.”

Laurière, Christine, 2021. “L’ethnographie pour raison de vivre: un portrait d’Arnold van Gennep” (“Ethnography as a reason for living: A Portrait of Arnold van Gennep”), in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

URL: https://www.berose.fr/article1899.html?lang=en

Contrary to scholarly clichés, this biographical essay on French anthropologist and folklorist Arnold van Gennep does not treat him as a cursed figure under the shadow of the Durkheimian school. Nor should he be remembered solely for having coined the famous concept of “rites of passage” in 1909. Christine Laurière reconstructs disciplinary, ideological, institutional, and personal clashes underpinning van Gennep’s entire scientific career, which was marked by numerous failures and bifurcations, but was also remarkably productive.

The article follows his intellectual transformation in the course of exchanges with historians of religion and later attempts at rapprochement with Durkheimian sociologists. This failed due to theoretical and methodological divergences, but also for political reasons related to van Gennep’s anarchist Weltanschauung and his views on the place of the individual in society. This startling essay puts forward an alternative understanding of van Gennep’s trajectory, avoiding the trap of focusing on Rites of Passage or his later, impressive works on French folklore. To understand van Gennep’s career and scientific choices, it is necessary to consider his crucial yet underexplored rivalry with Marcel Mauss, rather than his opposition to Durkheim, which has been the subject of several studies.  Rivalry with Mauss, Laurière argues, is one of the main reasons for van Gennep’s definitive abandonment of “classical,” “exotic” anthropology to devote himself solely and entirely to the field of French folklore from the 1920s onwards. After burning all his bibliographical files on general anthropology, he fiercely defended ethnography as an autonomous discipline, rejected the great divide between “Us” and “Them,” and advocated the import of ethnographic fieldwork “at home.” Thanks to his many editorial and institutional initiatives, which never ceased to challenge and stimulate methodological and theoretical reshufflings in French anthropology and museology throughout the first half of the twentieth century, van Gennep was a dynamic maverick with a decisive role in the history of the discipline.

A Reckoning Renewed: Museums and the Legacy of Scientific Racism Today

This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read more reflections from this series here.

In 2006, while working at the Colorado Historical Society, I played a small role in helping prepare a collection of ancient American Indian human remains for their journey home. As a recent college graduate with some professional experience related to repatriation, I thought I knew something about the problematic history leading to the widespread exploitation of Native remains and the creeping expansion of scientific racism. With this project, however, my eyes were about to be opened to this story and its importance.

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Latest Additions to the Bibliography, March 2021

This page displays our most recent batch of citations; a comprehensive bibliography of citations we’ve collected since 2016 (going back as far as 2013) and a search tool are also available.

We welcome suggestions from readers. If you come across something of interest during your own fieldwork in the library, whether that be physical or virtual, please let us know by emailing us at bibliographies@histanthro.org.

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Red Power, Black Lives Matter, (Historians of) Anthropology and Other Friends: Thinking with Vine Deloria in 2021

David Martínez. Life of the Indigenous Mind: Vine Deloria Jr. and the Birth of the Red Power Movement. New Visions in Native American and Indigenous Studies. 480 pp., notes, bibl., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019.

I discovered David Martínez’s biography of Vine Deloria, Jr. a few years ago while looking for books that might offer some background on the Red Power Movement and its impact on developments in mid-twentieth century American anthropology. An enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Deloria advocated for Native American rights throughout his life and became (and remains) one of the most prominent and influential voices on the subject of Indigenous sovereignty. Martínez, who teaches American Indian Studies and is of Akimel O’odham and Mexican descent, notes Deloria’s seeming omnipresence within discourse on Native American activism from the book’s start. As he reflects: “I am uncertain of how I first heard of Deloria. He is one of these figures who seems to have always been a part of my life as an Indigenous person” (11). As a historian of anthropology interested in the discipline’s “period of crisis” during the 1960s and ’70s, I was aware of the way Deloria and his well-known critique of “anthropologists and other friends” likewise had embedded themselves in my mind as critical markers of this historical moment. I realized, however, that despite my passing familiarity with Custer Died for Your Sins—his first and probably most famous book—I knew relatively little about Deloria beyond what had coalesced alongside the now iconic images of the American Indian Movement’s takeovers of Alcatraz in 1969 and the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in 1972.

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Medicine, Racism, and the Legacies of the Morton Skull Collection

This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read more reflections from this series here.

In the summer of 2011, I made my one and only visit to the Morton skull collection. While it seemed absurd that Morton could speak so categorically about something so transparently false, standing among those skulls was provocative. There, whether imagined or real, I began to feel how the possession, collection, and storage of thousands of dead individuals must have been empowering. Not just defined by Morton, craniometry combined with anatomists’ sense of authority over corpses shaped the future of both physical anthropology and anatomical training.[1]

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New Release from BEROSE – Amos on Lorenzo Dow Turner

HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article in English on Lorenzo Dow Turner, the first African-American linguist.

Amos, Alcione M., 2021. “Connecting Communities through Language: Life and Work of Lorenzo Dow Turner,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

URL BEROSE: article2198.html

The anthropological legacy of Lorenzo Dow Turner (1890-1972), the first African-American linguist, has an impact beyond linguistics, namely in African-American, Afro-Brazilian, and transatlantic history. Turner’s research started in the early 1930s in South Carolina and Georgia when he interviewed Gullah speakers. It continued in the 1940s in Brazil, when he worked with the people of the Candomblé houses of worship (terreiros); and in Africa in the 1950s, when he researched mostly in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. In this inspiring article, Alcione Amos, curator at the Anacostia Community Museum, sustains that the essence of Turner’s linguistic ethnography consisted of connecting communities of the African diaspora – even before he was able to go to Africa – through language. Starting with his pioneering work among the Gullah, continuing with his studies in London and his visit to the Exposition Internationale in Paris, through his sojourn in Bahia and finally into his visit to African countries, Amos reveals how Turner could always connect his audiences to other peoples by playing his recordings. Much of the material collected by Lorenzo Dow Turner among the U.S. Gullah, in Brazil, and in Africa, remains unexplored to this day. Appearing in a BEROSE topical dossier giving access to audio and video files, photographs, and other resources at Anacostia Community Museum and other institutions, Amos’s article encourages a new generation of researchers to dedicate themselves to further explorations of this important material. 

‘The Self as Other: Franz Boas between Psychology and Anthropology’

The Warburg Institute presents an online seminar via Zoom: Noga Arikha (Associate Fellow, Warburg Institute): ‘The Self as Other: Franz Boas between Psychology and Anthropology’

March 3, 2021 at 2:00 p.m. GMT

Psychology and anthropology have deep connections, since both are concerned with the study of humankind. The one focuses on the functioning of the embodied mind. The other focuses on how minds create culture. The psychology of our day, especially that concerning the embodied self, which is Arikha’s central focus, has established (and continues to show) how culture, which anthropologist Margaret Mead defined as “experiments with what could be done with human nature,” is indeed an aspect of our nature, and how biological evolution is a handmaiden to cultural adaptations. Insofar as we humans have evolved as social animals, and that anthropology can also be seen as a type of comparative psychology, the respective realms of these disciplines overlap – as Aby Warburg knew well – and have done so since their formation in the nineteenth century, in particular after Darwin. Arikha’s current project, a commissioned intellectual biography of Franz Boas, the German founder of cultural anthropology who created the first ever chair in the subject at Columbia University (and was a teacher of Mead, inter alia), is an occasion to unravel the complex interplay of ideas about biological constants and cultural variations in light of the history of the debates about what we understand as nature and what as culture, what as individual and what as social, what as evolved and what as acquired. In this talk, she will show how the history of the inherently multidisciplinary field that is anthropology, navigating as it does between empirical investigation and theoretical speculation, can throw light on the origins of current concerns about the embodied self in psychology. 

The Work in Progress seminar explores the variety of subjects studied and researched at the Warburg Institute. Papers are given by invited international scholars, research fellows studying at the Institute, and advanced Ph.D. students.

This program is free, but registration is required. Please sign up for the seminar here.

Ignoble Trophies: The Samuel G. Morton Collection, Repatriation, and Redress for the 21st Century

This essay is one of a series of “Participant Observations” on the removal of the Samuel Morton Cranial Collection from public display and legacies of scientific racism in museums. Read more reflections from this series here.

When “Police Free Penn: An Abolitionist Assembly,” a coalition of staff, faculty, and students at the University of Pennsylvania, called for the Morton Collection to be abolished, I was struck, yet again, by the inevitable resonance of the past in the present—if I may be so cliché. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, my hometown, spurred Police Free Penn into action, and they included in their central goals the “redress [of] the legacy of racism, colonialism, and slavery on campus.” Since this summer, some of the skulls from the Morton Collection that were previously stored in a classroom behind glass have now been removed from anyone’s view. Similarly, early in this Black History Month (February 2021), a public Facebook post telling the story of “The Man Fortune,” has been making the rounds in a few anthropology and archaeology groups. Fortune, a husband, father, and slave in Connecticut, died accidentally in 1798, and his body was cut up and used as an anatomical specimen and then a museum display. Work by a coalition composed of the Mattatuck Museum’s African American History Project Committee, the NAACP, and Howard University culminated in his lying in state at the Connecticut capitol and his burial in a Waterbury cemetery in 2013. I hope the small acts of redress represented by Police Free Penn’s activism (along with that of other groups on and beyond Penn’s campus) and Fortune’s laying to rest may lead to a similar fate of repatriation and (re)burial for the entirety of the Morton Collection.

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Bernhard J. Stern, an American Apologist for Stalinism

The June 1944 issue of the American Sociological Review featured an article by Bernhard J. Stern entitled “Soviet Policy on National Minorities” (Stern 1944). In it the author argued that “the Soviet Union can claim with a high degree of accuracy that it has solved the difficult problem presented by the existence of national minorities in a strongly centralized state” (ibid.: 229). In extolling the virtues of Soviet nationalities policy, Stern took at face value all of the rights that the ethnic Soviet republics supposedly enjoyed, including the right to secede from the union. Moreover, drawing on the new Soviet constitution and Stalin’s speeches, he praised the dictator, whose “skillful statesmanship” was said to have laid the foundation of the wise ideology behind this policy (ibid.: 230). Given the fact that just a few months prior to this paper’s publication, the Soviet secret police had accused entire ethnic groups, such as the Chechens, the Crimean Tatars and several others, of being Nazi collaborators and exiled them from their historic homelands in Europe to Central Asia under extremely harsh conditions, Stern’s piece was not much more than a piece of pro-Soviet propaganda. The aim of this paper is to explain why an American scholar, trained in both sociology and anthropology, and a respected pioneer of medical sociology, came to be regarded as an expert on the Soviet nationalities policy and produced a piece of such questionable scholarship. My goal is also to challenge the one-sided portrayal of Stern as an innocent victim of McCarthyism presented in the works of David H. Price (2004).


Born in Chicago in 1894 to a Jewish émigré family, Bernhard J. Stern studied for a BA and an MA at the University of Cincinnati from 1913 to 1917. In 1923 he travelled to Europe, where he studied at the University of Berlin and the London School of Economics. Returning to the US that same year, Stern entered Columbia University to study sociology under a prominent left-leaning scholar, William F. Ogburn. While sociology remained his main discipline and his doctoral thesis was in it, in 1925 he also undertook an intensive study of anthropology with Franz Boas and his degree was actually in both sociology and anthropology. Stern’s Ph.D. thesis, Social Factors in Medical Progress, completed in 1926 and published as a book in 1927, earned him a reputation as a serious medical sociologist and historian of sociology (Bloom 1990:19). In fact, he is considered one of the earliest American historians of science (see Bloom 2002 passim). While Stern’s early academic works revealed his critical attitude towards Western, and particularly American, economic systems as well as the way in which its science and medicine were organized, his left-wing views, including pro-Soviet sympathies, were even more clearly revealed in his conduct as a young college instructor. Nonetheless, in the late 1920s he was not yet a member of any leftist political organization (Bloom 1990:21). Charlotte Todes, however, whom he married in 1923, was a whole other story. A labor movement activist since the early 1920s, she joined the Communist Party USA in 1926 and encouraged her husband to become a member as well.

In 1927 Bernhard secured a three-year renewable tenure-track assistant professor position in the Sociology Department at the University of Washington. His experience at that school was similar to the one at City College: he was a popular instructor and productive researcher, but his politics made him suspect in the eyes of the administration. Hence at the end of his second year, he was put on probation by the department chair. During his sojourn in Seattle, Stern strengthened his position as a left-leaning liberal who was becoming gradually more sympathetic to Communist ideas but was not yet willing to join the Party (Bloom 1990:22). 

Despite the setback in Seattle, Stern did not break stride and managed to get a job as an associate editor of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences and in 1934 a part-time teaching appointment as a Lecturer in Anthropology at the New School for Social Research, known for its outstanding progressive faculty (CS, Audio Interviews 1-3). That same year he also began teaching as a lecturer in the sociology department at Columbia, initially on a single course basis as well. Two years later, after significant pressure from his senior colleagues in the department, Columbia finally appointed him Lecturer in the School of General Studies but without rank; that was the position he occupied until the end of his life in 1956 (ibid.). Thanks to the respect Stern enjoyed among his Columbia colleagues and students as a scholar and teacher he was not fired from the university during the McCarthy era, when the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated him for his Communist activities (Bloom 1990:24-32; Price 2004:136-153).

Stern’s journey towards becoming a Communist appears to have begun with his joining the John Reed Club in 1932. By 1933 he had already become a member of the Club’s executive committee. Founded in 1929 by the staff members of a pro-Communist magazine The New Masses to support Marxist writers and artists, that organization was originally politically independent but in late 1930 became officially affiliated with Moscow and the Communist Party USA. In 1932 Stern also joined a group of active Communists as well as representatives of several Communist front organizations to form an American anti-war committee (Lyons 1970: 148). Delegates representing similar organizations from various countries met in Amsterdam in August 1932 to form the World Congress Against Imperialist War. The organization’s main goal was to “support the peace policies of the Soviet Union” and sabotage (through peaceful means) the war preparations in their own countries. By the mid-1930s Stern had definitively joined the Communist Party USA. This was the time of the Popular Front, when the Party, having proclaimed a new policy of cooperation with all the progressive anti-fascist groups and organization in the country, increased its membership significantly and enjoyed greater sympathy in the wider American society. It appears that Stern was a member of one of the New York branches of the Party, which was composed mainly of writers and other intellectuals. In 1936 Stern became one of the founders and editors of a Marxist social science journal, Science and Society. In addition, he contributed articles on social evolution and other anthropological subjects to a Communist periodical New Masses under a pseudonym Bennett Stevens and taught occasional courses at the Workers’ School affiliated with the Communist Party (Price 2004: 138-141). 


While still at the University of Washington, Stern developed an interest in the history of the social sciences and conducted archival research on the papers of Lewis H. Morgan. Using previously unpublished writings, journals, and correspondence from the Morgan archive preserved at the University of Rochester Library as well as his published works, Stern tried, in his words, “to cast new light on the development of Morgan’s theories and to evaluate them in light of contemporary knowledge” (Stern 1931:VI). This work resulted in a 1928 article “Lewis Henry Morgan: American Ethnologist,” a 1931 monograph Lewis Henry Morgan: Social Evolutionist, and several publications of valuable primary sources from the Morgan archive (Stern 1930, 1933; Kan and Arzyutov 2016). 


Given Stern’s work on Morgan and the new developments in his political orientation in the first half of the 1930s, it made perfect sense for him to be eager to establish contacts with Soviet ethnographers and visit the land of socialism. Consequently in 1931 he initiated correspondence with Mark Kosven, a Soviet anthropologist who had also been working on Morgan. By this time Morgan had already become a key “ancestor” venerated by Soviet anthropologists as the precursor of Marx’ and Engels’ theory of the evolution of human society. In his letter Stern informed Kosven that he had just published a study “of Morgan’s anthropological theories in terms of his milieu and in the light of contemporary anthropology and have told of the use of his work by Marx and Engels” (BJS. Box 1, f. 3. Stern to Kosven, 2/1/1931) and claimed that his study of Morgan was written “from a historical materialist standpoint.” Eager to demonstrate to the Soviet scholar his credentials as a “fellow-traveler,” if not (yet) a Communist, for whom a critical evaluation of the book by a Soviet scholar was of particular importance, Stern wrote “As a member of the John Reed Club, an organization of revolutionary artists and writers, and as a contributor to the New Masses, I would greatly appreciate your critical comments on the book when you read it” (ibid.). Two months later Stern received a courteous response from Kosven and thus their seven-year long correspondence was established.

Stern’s next letter to Kosven, sent in early July 1932, contained an important piece of news: he and his wife were planning to visit the USSR in August on their way to Amsterdam. This was to be largely an “exploratory visit,” as Charlotte Stern called it, which was to last for two weeks. Here is how Ms. Stern described the goals of their trip: “We decided we must see the Soviet Union. I decided I must see it from the standpoint of what the Communists had achieved, and my husband wanted to see it from the standpoint of whether it was the ideal society” (CS, Audio Interviews 1-4). According to Bernhard himself, “the primary purpose of learning what the Soviet is [sic] doing in the field of anthropology and related subjects” (BJS. Box.1, f.3. Stern to Kosven, 7/4/1932).

The Communist Party USA did not provide Charlotte with the names of any contact persons in Russia, but given her interests in organized labor, she and her husband asked for and were granted permission to visit several factories. While admitting that this visit had been “entirely a surface experience” and that the only people they had been able to speak to were English speakers, Charlotte asserted that both of them were very impressed with the “great spirit of achievement, and effort, and love of the society itself among all of the people that we met” (CS Audio Interview 4). As far as the political situation was concerned, she stated that they had been completely uninformed about it and did not notice anything dramatic, even though this was the time of a major internal struggle within the Communist Party as well as the expulsion of Trotsky from the USSR. Charlotte’s evidence of the general contentment among the academics they met shows how naïve she and her husband were. What made Bernhard even more enthusiastic about the USSR were the impressions he got from interacting with Soviet anthropologists and other social scientists. As his widow reminisced,

In Moscow my husband was very warmly welcomed as a young scientist—social scientist—by the anthropologists and the people in the social science field. They were very kind to him and since he was interested in anthropology, they spent many hours telling him of their plans for the native peoples—who had no written language and whose knowledge of the world outside their own little communities was absolutely primitive. The plans they had and the efforts that they made so impressed him that he became quite convinced that this was a world he could support. Furthermore, he was tremendously impressed with the developments there (CS Interview 4).

One specific experience that made an enormous impression upon Bernhard was a plenum of the Committee of the Peoples of the North he attended in Moscow as a guest of Vladimir Bogoraz, a senior Soviet scholar specializing in the ethnology of the ethnic minorities of Siberia. Without any knowledge of Russian or understanding of the true nature of the nationalities’ politics of the early Stalinist era, Stern took everything that was said from the podium at face value. As he wrote a decade later in the article being discussed here, “I was then struck by the eager exchange of data between the native leaders and the Soviet leaders on both economic and cultural problems of these pre-literate peoples” (Stern 1944: 234; cf. BJS. Box 1, f.3. Stern to Kosven, 10/24/1932). To him such active participation of ethnic minorities in the decisions and policies affecting their own lives contrasted sharply with the discriminatory and paternalistic policies of the federal and state governments in the US toward African Americans and Native Americans. 

The two and a half weeks spent in the USSR not only turned Stern into a diehard supporter of the Soviet regime but also strengthened his relationship with Soviet anthropologists. From now on, he not only looked to the Soviet Union as a model of a progressive and just society but also became a champion of its anthropology, despite some serious disagreements on specific issues. This relationship became so important for the Columbia lecturer that, following his 1932 visit to Russia and especially after a second one he made in 1937, he would frequently mention it in his public presentations and published works, and use it to legitimize his status as an expert on Soviet ethnic groups and state policies towards them.

The irony of Stern’s enthusiasm about Soviet cultural anthropology is that despite his unquestioning loyalty to the USSR, being a serious scholar, he expected Kosven and his colleagues to apply Morgan’s-Engels’-Marx’s theory of social evolution creatively and without dogmatism. In reality it was precisely the Soviet research on the evolution of “primitive” society that had already become quite dogmatic and was becoming even more so. Stern, who kept a close watch on that research had to be aware of this trend but chose to downplay and excuse it, attributing the dogmatism to the growing pains of a new and young Marxist social science. Thus, when a Russian émigré scholar alerted Stern to a senior Soviet ethnologist’s misrepresentation of the reason for Stern’s dismissal from the University of Washington and asked him whether he intended to do something about that, Stern replied, “I see no purpose in pursuing this correction further. Undoubtedly few people have even noticed it. I am certainly not in sympathy with any attempt to discredit [the] Soviet scientific endeavor, which, though in this field still crude, is making, I believe, valiant efforts and has vast potentialities which should not be gainsaid because of crudities manifested in the formative period. I therefore prefer omission” (BJS. Box 1, f. 9, Stern to Fedotov-White, 1/29/1937).


In the spring of 1937, Stern and his wife made their second trip to the Soviet Union. Stern signed up to lead a summer travel seminar/excursion to the USSR for schoolteachers and social workers, organized by the Compass Travel Bureau of New York City. The Sterns and their twelve students were supposed to arrive in Leningrad on July 19. After spending two days there, they were to travel to Moscow for a four-day stay. Their itinerary also included Kharkiv, Tbilisi, Erevan, Kiev and several other cities. They were to depart from the USSR on August 19. Since this trip was billed as an educational one, Stern was anxious to have as many Soviet scholars as possible lecture to the participants, and asked Kosven and other colleagues for help in lining up such lectures. He also asked them to arrange presentations for his group by people in the national republics who were “most likely to impress the visitors… with the great significance of the Soviet approach to the treatment of national minorities and the superiority of the socialist method as opposed to the imperialist” (BJS. Box 2, f. 3. Stern to Kosven, 3/3/1937).[1]

As for his expectations from the trip as a whole, Stern already knew he was going to be impressed. Since his previous visit, he had become an even greater fan of the USSR. In fact, in mid-1934, having finished his work at the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, he asked Kosven for assistance in arranging a long-term visit to the USSR, which would enable him to teach and possibly do research there. Despite Kosven’s efforts, this plan did not work out. Science and Society, a Marxist journal co-edited by Stern, made frequent references to the Soviet political and social system, its economy and high culture, all of them laudatory. Stern’s own scholarly paper published in that journal in 1937, which dealt with the obstacles to technological progress in capitalist societies, offered high praise to the new forms of that progress as well industrial production (e.g., the Stakhanovite movement) in the USSR. Continuing to take the propaganda generated by the Soviets at face value, he was in awe of the new (Stalin) constitution of 1936, referring to it in a letter to a Soviet colleague as “very inspiring to us here” and “having a tremendous symbolic value to the world in its struggle against Fascism” (BJS. Box 1, f. Stern to USSR, Stern to Meshchaninov, 11/27/1936). And like all of the American Communists and quite a few of the liberals, he was convinced that the Old Bolsheviks and other prominent Soviet leaders paraded in Stalin’s show trials of 1936-1937 were indeed guilty of the most heinous crimes.[2]

The Sterns must not have realized that they had picked the worst time to visit the USSR. According to Charlotte, the couple was unable to see any of the people they had met on their previous trip, because they did not want to see Americans. As she put it, “There was such a restrictive atmosphere in the country. The Soviet government was discouraging people from seeing foreigners. The fear of meeting foreigners was great” (CS, Audio Interview 4). According to Ms. Stern, she and her husband did not know what to think, but they did not suspect that some of the people they had met before had been arrested, since nobody talked to them about the purges. Despite those disappointing experiences in Moscow and Leningrad, the Sterns enjoyed their trips, especially to the outlying regions where they observed the (seeming) enthusiasm of the Soviet people continuing the construction of socialism (ibid.). Four years later, when the USSR was already fighting Hitler, Stern summed up his impression of the 1937 visit in an unpublished paper The Soviet Fight Against the Nazi Invasion as follows, 

Everywhere we saw the courageous effort of workers and farmers to build a society without the exploitation of man by man. We saw the prodigious advances in education and science, the remarkable strides in the standard of living, not merely in a small segment of the population, but in the masses of people. The efforts that were being made to enlarge the range and extent of the depth of human happiness were apparent to us . . . Beyond that we saw a nurturing of the creative forces among the people, a fostering of their senses of beauty and their love for knowledge and truth . . . [Yet] the people and the government were wisely alert to the danger of attack from abroad. They were ever vigilant and ready to sacrifice” (BJS. Box 5, f. 6).

Upon his return, Bernhard seems to have never mentioned the negative aspects of Soviet life in 1937, which he must have justified by the threat of fascism and the need to be on alert for foreign and domestic enemies. Consequently in 1938 without any hesitation he added his signature to a letter signed by 150 left-wing and liberal American scholars and artists expressing their support for the trial of Bukharin and other enemies of the USSR (Lyons 1970: 246-250). And unlike a large number of American Communists, who left the Party after Soviet Russia signed the infamous pact with Nazi Germany in August of 1939, Stern, despite being a passionate anti-fascist, remained steadfast in his pro-Soviet views, following the party-line as far as justifying and even praising Stalin’s sudden about-face. Of course, once Hitler attacked the USSR in the summer of 1941, Stern became a staunch advocate of the need for the United States to aid Soviet Russia and eventually join the anti-Nazi coalition.

In the wake of World War II, the radical Columbia sociologist produced another piece of pro-Soviet propaganda: a co-edited anthology entitled Understanding the Russians: a Study of Soviet Life and Culture (Stern and Smith 1947), which aimed at covering a variety of aspects of Soviet life, from its constitution to music.  Produced explicitly to counter a negative image of the Soviet Union widely promoted in the US during the Cold War, this collection featured either Soviet authors (including Stalin himself) or strongly pro-Soviet Western ones.  Despite being criticized as a piece of pro-Soviet propaganda by several reviewers, Understanding the Russians appears to have been read fairly widely, at least by those who still refused to believe that the USSR was not really the land of freedom and democracy.


The case of Bernhard Stern could serve as a cautionary tale for anthropologists and other social scientists who let their scholarship be guided by strong sympathies towards totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, be they right- or left-wing. In Stern’s case, his blind devotion to Communism and the Soviet Union led to a number of publications representing propaganda rather than serious scholarship. Moreover, in my opinion, it is not right to discuss the persecution suffered by leftist American scholars like Stern during McCarthyism without discussing their misguided advocacy of Stalinism, as David Price (2004: 136-153) has done.

Works Cited

Archival Collections:

BJS – Papers of Bernhard J. Stern. Archive of the University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.

CS – Audio Interviews with Charlotte Stern. Archive of Columbia University.

SPF ARAN – Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography Collection. St. Petersburg Branch of the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Published Works

Bloom, Samuel W. “The Intellectual in a Time of Crisis: the Case of Bernhard J. Stern, 1894-1956.”  Journal of History of the Behavioral Sciences 26 (1990): 17-37.

———. The World as Scalpel: A History of Medical Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Kan, Sergei. “‘My Old Friend in a Dead-End of Empiricism and Skepticism’: Bogoraz, Boas, and the Politics of Soviet Anthropology of the late 1920s-Early 1930s.”  History of Anthropology Annual, vol. 2, edited by Regna Darnell and Frederick W. Gleach. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Kan, Sergei and Dmitry V. Arzyutov. “The Saga of the L. H. Morgan Archive, or How an American Marxist Helped Make a Bourgeois Anthropologist the Cornerstone of Soviet Ethnography.” History of Anthropology Annual, vol. 10, edited by Regna Darnell and Frederick W. Gleach. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

Lyons, Eugene. The Red Decade. New Rochelle: The Arlington House, 1970. 

Price, David H. Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists.  Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 

Stern, Bernhard J. Social Factors in Medical Progress.  New York: Columbia University Press, 1927. 

———. “Lewis Henry Morgan: American Ethnologist.”  Social Forces 6 (1928): 344-357.

———. “Selections from the Letters of Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt to Lewis Henry Morgan.” American Anthropologist vol. 32, no. 2-3 (1930): 257-279; 419-453.

———. Lewis Henry Morgan: Social Evolutionist.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931.

———. “The Letter of Asher Wright to Lewis Henry Morgan.” American Anthropologist 35, no. 1 (1933): 138-145.

———. “Resistance to the Adoption of Technological Innovations.” In Technological Trends and National Policy, edited by David I. Walsh. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1937. 

———. “Review of Leninism: Selected Writings by Joseph Stalin.  American Economic Review 33, no. 2 (1943): 395-397.

———. “Soviet Policy on National Minorities.”  American Sociological Review 9, no. 3 (1944): 229-235.

Stern, Bernhard J. and Samuel Smith, eds. Understanding the Russians.  New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc, 1947.

[1] This time the Communist Party USA gave the Sterns the names of some people they were to contact in the Soviet Union (CS Audio Interview 4).

[2] Not surprisingly, Stern signed the infamous “Letter to American Liberals,” published in the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker and reprinted in the pro-Soviet propaganda magazine Soviet Russia Today, which attacked the Preliminary Commission of Inquiry organized in 1936 by the Committee in the Defense of Leo Trotsky and headed by a distinguished American philosopher and educator John Dewey. The letter, signed by eighty-eight Communists, Communist sympathizers, and a few liberals warned American liberals that the Committee in the Defense of Trotsky was a Trotskyite front and hence an ally of fascist and reactionary enemies of the Soviet Union.

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