John Tresch

Warburg Institute, University of London

Editorial Note: July 2024

Dear HAR readers: 

Here is a quick midsummer note on recent activity in our online journal. 

Recently: Over the past few months we’ve been serially publishing entries in a Special Focus Section on “Histories of Ethnoscience,” guest edited by Raphael Uchôa, Staffan Müller-Wille and Harriet Mercer. We invite you to peruse what is now a substantial collection of diverse and revealing perspectives on a field and set of approaches whose history has had far too little attention.  

Now: This week we’re publishing another exciting collection of essays, a round-table discussion of Bernard Geoghegan’s Code: From Information Theory to French Theorywhich places mid-century anthropology at the center of the “cybernetic apparatus”– where the technosciences of communication, major institutional funding strategies, colonial legacies and imperial ambitions all overlap– and reveals a crucial hidden history of humanist research in the digital age. Scholars from anthropology, sociology, and history of science answered the same three questions about the book: we present their essays both as stand-alone pieces, and clustered as “round table” replies to each question, followed by the author’s response.

Soon: Some of these threads will be picked up in an exchange hich we will publish later this summer between anthropologist Philippe Descola and philosopher of the social sciences Bruno Karsenti; “Anthropology and Philosophy” reflects on the epistemology of structuralism, its precursors and inheritors, and on anthropology’s current philosophical centrality. 

Many thanks to all of these authors, coming from so many different fields, nations, and specialties.

And a particular thanks to our editorial teams for all their work to realize these collections– for “Ethnosciences,” Field Notes, led by Rosanna Dent and Cameron Brinitzer, and for “Code,” Reviews editors Allegra Giovine and Michael Edwards. 

And thanks to all of you, for reading and contributing to HAR!

Now Online: First International Conference of the Histories of Anthropologies (HOAIC) Recorded Talks

We are happy to announce that recordings of the talks from the First International Conference of the Histories of Anthropologies, “Doing History, Imagining Futures” (on-line, 4-7 December 2023), are now available on the HOAIC Website (under ProgramPanelsKeynotes and Roundtable) and on the HOAN Webpage.

Thanks to Fabiana Dimpflmeier & Hande Birkalan-Gedik, convenors of the History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) and HOAIC organizers.  

International Histories of Anthropologies Online Conference: CFP Deadline June 30th; Keynotes and Roundtable Announced

HAR readers are kindly reminded that the call for papers of the First International Conference of the Histories of Anthropologies, Doing Histories, Imagining Futures (organized by HOAN, the History of Anthropology Network of the European Association for Social Anthropology) will close on June 30, 2023.

The event will be held online between 4-7 December 2023 and it is collaboratively organised by the key stakeholders in our field to discuss methodological, theoretical, pedagogical, and ethical aspects of the histories of anthropologies. Please browse the Conference Website and Panels to discover more!

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CFP: First International Conference of the Histories of Anthropologies: Doing Histories, Imagining Futures

The History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) of the European Association for Social Anthropology is happy to announce a call for papers for the First International Conference of the Histories of Anthropologies, Doing Histories, Imagining Futures.

The event will be held on-line between 4-7 December 2023 and it is collaboratively organised by key stakeholders in our field to discuss methodological, theoretical, pedagogical, and ethical aspects of the histories of anthropologies.

Please browse the Conference Website and Panels to discover more!

The call for papers will close on June 30, 2023. Notifications of accepted papers will be sent by July 15, 2023.

This is an exciting opportunity for everyone working in the field of history of anthropology to gather and learn from each other and set new directions for the field. You are warmly invited to join us and submit a paper proposal.

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‘Self in the World’ by Keith Hart

Keith Hart. Self in the World: Connecting Life’s Extremes. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2022. 314 pp., appendix, bibliography, index.

Editor’s note: This response to Keith Hart’s new book was presented at a book launch at the London School of Economics on May 10, 2022. As both a review of a recent work and a glimpse into a scholarly life, HAR is pleased to publish this essay in both Reviews and Participant Observations.

The title of anthropologist Keith Hart’s entertaining and unpredictable new book, Self in the World: Connecting Life’s Extremes, is a good case of truth in advertising: readers get a lot of views of the world, and a fair bit of Hart’s self. He follows the commandment, cited towards the end, to “only connect.” As E. M. Forster had in mind with that slogan (Forster 1910), the book connects prose and passion, inner life and outer life—but also a vast scattering of disciplines and locations. Above all, it reflects on the possibilities for using the methods, theories, and epistemic ethics of anthropology to connect the immediate and personal with the abstract, global, and world-historical.

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New Publication and Virtual Book Launch: ETHNOGRAPHERS BEFORE MALINOWSKI, edited by Frederico D. Rosa and Han F. Vermeulen

The History of Anthropology Review is pleased to announce the release of the edited volume Ethnographers before Malinowski: Pioneers of Anthropological Fieldwork, 1870-1922. Published by Berghahn Books in June 2022 this lengthy tome is the result of over three years of dedicated effort by the editors and a team of twelve scholars from ten countries in four continents, exploring largely neglected aspects of the ethnographic archive and renovating the history of anthropology. Focusing on some of the most important ethnographers in early anthropology, this volume explores twelve defining works in the foundational period from 1870 to 1922. It challenges the assumption that intensive fieldwork and monographs based on it emerged only in the twentieth century. The so-called age of armchair anthropologists was also the era of ethnographers, including female practitioners and Indigenous experts.

The volume is a 540-page comment on the thesis that Bronisław Malinowski invented intensive fieldwork, and that he and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown founded social anthropology in the annus mirabilis 1922. Largely neglected by their followers, 220 ethnographers worldwide produced at least 365 ethnographic monographs in the fifty years before 1922. Presenting a selection from this vast archive, the twelve case studies demonstrate that sensitive fieldwork resulted in ethnographic accounts with multiple layers of meaning, style, and content. By proposing a new reading of this largely neglected literature, Ethnographers Before Malinowski is a vital source for recapturing—and rewriting—the history of anthropology.

For the Table of Contents and more information about the book:

A virtual book launch will take place during a Round Table at the Royal Anthropological Institute in London, 7 July, 1.00pm-4.30pm (BST) / 2.00-5.30pm (CET). Chaired by David Shankland and Thomas Hylland Eriksen, this two-part event, entitled “Before and After Malinowski,” celebrates both the appearance of the edited volume Ethnographers Before Malinowski (2022) and the centennial of Bronisław Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922). An invitation has been sent to all fellows of the RAI and all members of the History of Anthropology Network (HOAN). The programme and further details are now live.

Three theses will drive discussion during this Round Table:

1. In the fifty years before the publication of Argonauts of the Western Pacific at least 220 ethnographers produced 365 ethnographic monographs worldwide, but much of their work was side-tracked or neglected by Malinowski and his followers.

2. Malinowski is still celebrated as the inventor of intensive fieldwork in a single society, despite the fact that he had many predecessors in other societies and continents pursuing the same goal.

3. The success of British social anthropology has been partly due to its marginalizing the relative importance of other approaches such as non-functionalist ethnographies, comparative studies and ethnohistory.

Rosa, Frederico Delgado and Han F. Vermeulen (eds.) Ethnographers Before Malinowski: Pioneers of Anthropological Fieldwork, 1870-1922. Foreword by Thomas Hylland Eriksen. New York/Oxford: Berghahn Books (EASA Series 44), June 2022. xviii + 522 pp.  

1966: The Year of Light

By François Dosse

Translated by Cameron Brinitzer & John Tresch

Editors’ note: This is a new translation and abridged version of text previously published in François Dosse, Histoire du structuralisme, Vol.1 Le champ du signe, 1945-1966: chapitres 33 à 35 (Paris: La Découverte, 1991), translated by Deborah Glassman, The History of Structuralism: The Rising Sign, 1945-1966 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997). This translation is printed here with the permission of the author and La Découverte.

Copyright © Editions La Découverte, Paris, 1991, 2012.

“Everything went downhill from 1966 on. A friend had lent me Les mots et les choses, which I was giddy to open… I suddenly abandoned Stendhal, Mendelstam, and Rimbaud, just as one stops smoking Gitanes, to devour the people that Foucault was discussing: Freud, Saussure, and Ricardo. I had the plague. The fever didn’t let me go and I loved that plague. I was careful not to cure myself. I was as proud of my science as a louse on the pope’s head. I was discussing philosophy. I called myself a structuralist, but I did not shout it from the rooftops because my knowledge was still tender, crumbly; a wisp of wind would have dispersed it. I spent my nights alone learning, stealthily, the principles of linguistics, and I was happy… I filled myself with syntagms and morphemes… If I debated a humanist, I would crush him in a single blow of épistémè … I pronounced, in a voice filled, almost trembling, with emotion, and preferably on autumn evenings, the names of Derrida or Propp, like an old soldier caressing flags taken from the enemy… Jakobson is my tropic or my equator, E. Benveniste my Guadeloupe, and the proaïretic code my Club Med. I see Hjelsmlev as a steppe… It seems to me that I am not the only one to have strayed into these canyons” (Lapouge 1986, 30).

It is in these burlesque terms that Gilles Lapouge described, twenty years later, what was in 1966 a true Saturday night fever for a structuralism reaching its peak. All the effervescence of the human sciences converged at that moment to light up the horizons of research and publication around the structuralist paradigm. 1966 is the “central landmark (…) It can be said that, at least at the Parisian level, there was that year a great, and probably decisive, mixing of the most acute themes of research” (Barthes 1981, 7). The year 1966 can be crowned the year of structuralism, and if we can speak of the children of 1848 or those of 1968, we must add the children, just as turbulent, of the luminescent year of structuralism, 1966.

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Special Focus: Structures

In the course of the twentieth century, structure became a central category of thought across a wide array of sciences. From linguistics to anthropology, psychoanalysis and history, the epistemic aim of analyzing structures guided a diverse range of research programs. And yet, the quest for immaterial or timeless structures that might underlie, order, organize—let alone determine—more readily perceptible domains of reality today appears strange, even suspicious, to most cultural anthropologists and historians of science. To grapple with these changes in the epistemic virtues guiding the work of anthropologists and their historians, as well as structures’ many afterlives outside of the academy, this Special Focus Section aims to adopt a broader historical view of the phenomenon by shifting analytic attention away from specific structuralist texts, intellectuals, and institutions toward structures as epistemic things in the history of anthropology and adjacent domains of inquiry.

Table of Contents

Toward an Anthropology of Automation: Leroi-Gourhan and the “Elementary Forms of Action on Matter” at the Musée de l’Homme

In the archives of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, I found an advertisement torn from a magazine in the late 1950s or early 1960s promoting a new electric slide projector. “Open your eyes wide,” it says, and “don’t make a single move. It’s ENTIRELY AUTOMATIC.” A well-coiffed, contented, schematically drawn face hovers over a pair of hands, their fingers snugly entwined. The thumbs twiddle idly; they have nothing to do.

From Collection “Salle des Arts et Techniques,” folder “Corps Humain.” Archives of the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac
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CFP: EASA 2020, Call for Papers on History of Anthropology

From Han Vermeulen, History of Anthropology Network (HOAN):

Having turned 30 in January, The European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) will hold its 16th Biennial Conference in Lisbon, 21-24 July 2020. Returning to Portugal on the occasion of its 30th anniversary (the first EASA conference was held in Coimbra in 1990), the theme of the conference is: New anthropological horizons in and beyond Europe. The following panel proposals relating to the history of anthropology and/or submitted by HOAN members have been accepted:

P001: “Ethnographers before Malinowski [History of Anthropology Network]” Convenors: Christine Laurière (CNRS) and Frederico Rosa (Universidade Nova de Lisboa-CRIA/FCSH);

Disscussant: Han F. Vermeulen (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

P003: “World Fairs, Exhibitions, and Anthropology: Revisiting Contexts of Post/Colonialism [Europeanist Network]” Convenors: Hande A. Birkalan-Gedik (Goethe Universität), Patrícia Ferraz de Matos (Universidade de Lisboa) and Andrés Barrera-González (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

P028: “Anthropological Perspectives: Past, Present and Future [Roundtable]” Convenors: Aleksandar Boskovic (University of Belgrade) and Virginia Dominguez (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

Discussant: Thomas Hylland Eriksen (University of Oslo)

P030: “Making and Remaking Anthropology Museums: Provenance and Restitution.” Convenors: Adam Kuper (London School of Economics) and Han F. Vermeulen (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)

P049: “Uncomfortable Ancestors: Anthropology (not) Dealing with Totalitarian Regimes” Convenors: Fabiana Dimpflmeier (University of Pisa) and Reinhard Johler (University Tübingen)

P067: “The ‘Other Europe’: Chris M. Hann and the Development of Long-Term Anthropological Fieldwork of Socialism/Postsocialism” [Roundtable] Convenors: László Kürti (University of Miskolc) and Petr Skalník (University of Hradec Králové)

P120: “The futures of visual restitution.” Convenors: Rodrigo Lacerda (CRIA/NOVA FCSH, Lisbon) and Renato Athias (Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil)

P176: “Engaged Anthropology at Times of Nationalistic Enhancement in the XX Century.” Convenors: Grazyna Kubica-Heller (Jagiellonian University) and Anna Engelking (Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences)

P179: “Curating the (Post)Colonial in Europe and Beyond.” Convenors: Chiara De Cesari (University of Amsterdam), Nelia Dias (ISCTE, Lisbon) and Wayne Modest (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam/ National Museum of World Cultures).

EASA2020 The Call for Papers has opened on 2 December 2019 and will close on 20 January 2020. Before proposing a paper, please read the conference theme, the rules on that page, and browse the list of panels. Paper proposals can be submitted online by clicking on the Propose paper button in the title section of each panel at this list of panels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full Focus Section here.

Rites of Passage

When we editors of the History of Anthropology Newsletter refer to ourselves as “the HAN Dynasty,” we’re making a (bad) joke. But we have all felt the weighty presence of the ancestors. It was a strange and awful coincidence that HAN’s first two editors died in the first half of 2013: George Stocking after long preparation, Riki Kuklick with terrible suddenness.

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‘HAU and when?’: Review of SOAS conference on The Gift

On April 30th, 2016, a conference was held in London at SOAS to celebrate Jane Guyer’s new translation and introduction to Marcel Mauss’ classic Essay on the Gift, published by HAU Books. Commenters included Marilyn Strathern, Marshall Sahlins, Keith Hart, David Graeber, and Maurice Bloch.

Dan Hicks reports and reflects on the conference in this one-page essay for Anthropology Today.

Video of the conference can be viewed on YouTube.


The first issue of the History of Anthropology Newsletter in 1973 included “CLIO’S FANCY: DOCUMENTS  TO  PIQUE THE HISTORICAL  IMAGINATION.” The entry, a pair of anecdotes suggesting that late in life, Louis Henry Morgan may have had second thoughts about his own theories, received the juicy title “DID THE ARCH-EVOLUTIONIST MAKE A DEATHBED RECANTATION?” The next issue’s contribution transcribed a 1904 letter from Franz Boas to Booker T. Washington, asking for frank advice about the eventual job prospects of J.E. Aggrey, an African-American student interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology, under the equally intriguing header: “THE TUSKEGEE NOD IN AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGY.”

The editor, George W. Stocking, Jr., closed with a deadpan plea: “We particularly  encourage readers to submit items for Clio’s Fancy. Both of these have so far come from the same source, who is by no means inexhaustible.”

Our first entry to the relaunched “Clio’s Fancy,” from Joanna Radin, adds to this tradition of archival oddities which raise the historical eyebrow; it speaks of kinship rituals, alternative histories, and ethnographies of the future. We hope you will enjoy it—and better yet, that you’ll submit gems you unearth in the archival mine.