Simon Torracinta

On the Planned Closure of Berkeley’s Anthropology Library

On 23 February 2023, the University of California, Berkeley announced in a campus-wide email its intention to close its George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library, long housed in the Anthropology and Art Practice Building on campus.

Although a small departmental library was already present in the early years of Berkeley’s Anthropology Department and Museum (both founded in 1901), it was only in 1956 that the Anthropology Library was established as an official branch of the Berkeley system, after vigorous efforts by Berkeley archaeologist John Howland Rowe (1918–2004). It has since acquired significant collections of some 80,000 volumes in the department’s four subfields (sociocultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, and linguistic anthropology), as well in related fields such as folklore, medical anthropology, and ethnic studies.

In 1997, the Anthropology Library was officially renamed to honor cultural anthropologist George McClelland Foster (1913–2006), professor at Berkeley from 1953 to 1979 and expert in Mexican peasant societies, who also helped found the joint Berkeley-UCSF program in medical anthropology in 1975, as well as the anthropological linguist Mary (Mickie) LeCron Foster (1914–2001), who specialized in the anthropology of peace and the origins of language. It currently remains one of only a handful of dedicated anthropology libraries in the United States (leaving aside anthropological collections in the libraries of natural history and art museums), including the Tozzer Library at Harvard University, the Penn Museum Library at the University of Pennsylvania, the John Wesley Powell Library of Anthropology at the Smithsonian, and the Anthropology Library at SUNY Buffalo.

Under the university’s current plans, which cite an estimated $400,000 in annual savings, the library’s dedicated space would be closed and its volumes would be merged with the collections of the Main (Gardner) Stacks Library, with many volumes held in storage off-site. The university’s announcement drew immediate criticism from both students and faculty in the Department of Anthropology, as well as the wider public, including public figures such as Ralph Nader and former Governor of California Jerry Brown. Several have noted that this closure is the culmination of longstanding resource and budgetary reductions to the library; indeed, opening hours were only maintained after two previous student sit-in protests in 2009 and in 2012. The Anthropology Department’s website hosts both testimonials and an open letter related to the closure, and students have been engaged in a continuous occupation of the library since April 21 in protest, prompting coverage in national news outlets such as the New York Times.

The Peripeteia of The Gift: Gift Exchange by Grégoire Mallard

Grégoire Mallard. Gift Exchange: The Transnational History of a Political Idea. xi + 293pp., notes, bibl., index. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Is there a more celebrated and contested text in the history of anthropology than Marcel Mauss’s The Gift?[1] Tucked away in the pages of Émile Durkheim’s old Année Sociologique upon its initial publication in 1925, this careful, erudite, even gnomic essay by the doyen of French anthropology contained a thicket of five hundred footnotes so dense they often relegated the main text to a few sentences adorning the top of its hundred-and-fifty-odd pages. Its interest in forms of exchange in “sociétés dites primitives” was predated by the works of Richard Thurnwald and Bronislaw Malinowski, yet unlike these pioneers his writings were not informed by direct ethnographic study.[2] The Gift (hereafter TG, subtitle: “The Form and Sense of Exchange in Archaic Societies”) was instead, in our contemporary academic parlance, something more like a review essay of armchair anthropology.

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UNDERTONES: Leiris, Lévi-Strauss and Opera

By Jean Jamin

Translated by Simon Torracinta

Editors' note: The editors of the History of Anthropology Review are delighted to publish this essay by Jean Jamin. As readers will know, Jamin is one of the most original historians of anthropology anywhere and a pioneer of the discipline in France. Born in 1945, he conducted ethnographic work on initiation and traditional knowledge in Côte d’Ivoire; he later pursued a singular set of studies of the intersections of anthropology with literature, visual arts, and music (notably jazz) and was one of the first to explore the intersections of surrealism and anthropology at the Musée de l’Homme. Among his works are Les Lois du silence (1977), Faulkner: le nom, le sol, et le sang (2011), and recently, Littérature et anthropologie (2018). Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales until his retirement in 2013, Jamin co-founded the review Gradhiva: Revue d’anthropologie et d’histoire des arts, now based at the Musée du quai Branly, and was editor of L’Homme: Revue française d’anthropologie from 1997 to 2005. His works have been frequently noted in our journal, but this is his first full-length essay here; it is a revised excerpt from Chapter IV (p. 119-135) of Littérature et anthropologie (Paris, CNRS Éditions, 2018). 
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Histories of Anthropology at the History of Science Society, Seattle, 2018: Conference Report

The 2018 History of Science Society (HSS) conference in Seattle, Washington, was blessed with a rich offering in the history of anthropology, staking the field’s relevance to growing conversations around science in the world, Indigenous knowledges, and comparative cosmology.

For the first time, a formal land acknowledgement was explicitly incorporated into the plenary opening the conference. The settlement now known as Seattle sits on the historical territory of the Duwamish. After an introduction by Eli Nelson (Williams College), member of the Kanien’kehá:ka and historian of Native science, Cecile Hansen, Chairwoman of the Duwamish tribe, rose to the podium. She extended a welcome to members of HSS and detailed the tribe’s history in the area, including its ongoing struggle for federal recognition, and invited the packed audience to visit the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center.

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