The first issue of the History of Anthropology Newsletter in 1973 included “CLIO’S FANCY: DOCUMENTS TO PIQUE THE HISTORICAL IMAGINATION.” It was a recurring department in the newsletter for the next thirty years. We revive it here, and invite your submissions of archival oddities to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note to readers: This introduction seeks to draw attention to the three-volume collection examining Socio-Cultural Anthropology in Vienna during the Nazi period (1938-1945), recently published in German and edited by Andre Gingrich and Peter Rohrbacher. The editors’ essay below is followed by brief essays in English based on a selection of chapters byKatja Geisenhainer, Lisa Gottschall, Gabriele Anderl, Ildikó Cazan-Simányi, Reinhold Mittersakschmöller,and Peter Rohrbacher. We thank the editors and authors for making their work available in this way, as a joint effort by our “Clio’s Fancy” and “Field Notes” sections, and invite readers to follow up with the complete work.– HAR editors.
Elaborating and interpreting anthropology’s history under Nazism is not only a continuing ethical, moral, and political obligation for the field today. It also represents a set of complex challenges in many of its empirical, methodological, and conceptual dimensions, open to debate and reflection by interested laypersons and experts in the relevant languages, regions, and periods but also from all other fields of anthropology and history as well. Through the present introduction to four case examples from Vienna, the authors seek to contribute to these debates by pointing out the relevance of well-researched archival evidence within sound methodological contexts. This is the indispensable prerequisite for advancing further debates and related research.
Marianne Schmidl was the first woman in a German-speaking country to obtain a doctorate in ethnology and was one of the pioneers in the field of ethnomathematics. Her main interest for many years was the cultural-historical study of African baskets. Eighty years ago she was deported and murdered by the Nazis. Now a document has surfaced indicating that she tried to emigrate to the USA before her life was violently ended.
The following information on her life and work is based in particular on archival material and family memories. It is as an important addition to the curriculum vitae she prepared for the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars (see Fig. 1).
“We do not know what measures are planned for the resettlement of the Jewish population in the next few months; under certain circumstances we could miss valuable material by waiting too long […].”
In October 1941 Anton Adolf Plügel (1910–1945), an enthusiastic National Socialist and head of the Ethnology department of the section for “Racial and Folklore Research” at the Institute for German Studies in the East (IDO), wrote those meaningful lines from Kraków to his Vienna-based colleague Dora Maria Kahlich (born Könner, 1905–1970). This letter, which I copied in the Kraków University archive a few years ago, testifies to how deeply involved some junior anthropologists from Vienna were in preparations for the Holocaust. At the time, Plügel, a graduate of Vienna University’s Institut für Völkerkunde (Institute of Ethnology), was preparing a collaborative study of anthropometric measurements among the Jewish residents of the southern Polish town of Tarnów (see Fig. 1)—and, apparently, he was aware of the regime’s “final solution” plans.
After the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the German occupying power was faced with the question of how to effectively administer the large territory. People living in the Generalgouvernement were regarded as cheap labor. Based on the criteria of the Deutsche Volksliste (German Peoples’ List) they were classified as either being “ethnic Germans” or “inferior.” The regime’s racial policy aimed at fragmenting Polish society so as to destroy its national unity.The “scientific” foundations for the operation were provided by pro-Nazi ethnologists and anthropologists of the Reich involved in implementing these plans. Anton Adolf Plügel and his team of colleagues at the IDO in Kraków are one significant example of this complicity.
Plügel relocated to Kraków in early 1940, only a short time after his graduation from the University of Vienna. As a student he had predominantly been interested in Ancient Mexican studies, while engaging heavily in political agitation. He became an early member of the National Socialist Party (NSDAP), joined the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the Hitler Youth (HJ), and continued to be involved in Nazi activities even after the Austrian prohibition of the NSDAP in 1933. When he joined the newly established IDO in Kraków in 1941 he was merely at the starting point of his academic career. He had little scientific working experience and he certainly had no regional expertise on southern Poland. Despite that, he obtained a leading position at the Institute’s Racial and Folklore Research section and was therefore responsible not only for planning studies and examinations, but also for hiring personnel. He recruited the native Austrian anthropologist Elfriede Fliethmann (later Henseling, 1915–1987), who was also an alumna of the University of Vienna and engaged in similar political activities. Not only was she a member of the NSDAP, but during her student years she had been involved in the National Socialist female students associations. Silesia-born ethnologist Ingeborg Sydow (later married Lott, 1915–2009) was the second to join the team. She had studied in Frankfurt, Vienna, and Berlin and was especially interested in colonial ethnology. She was a member of the NSDAP and the Reichskolonialbund (Reich Colonial League) and was involved in the activities of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) as well as National Socialist Students Associations.
Plügel and his team collected biometric data among the population in southern Poland in preparation for selection and extermination. These researchers in Kraków maintained close contact with their colleagues in Vienna and used methods invented or elaborated by Josef Weninger (1886–1959) and his “Viennese Anthropological School.” The data files and questionnaires employed during some of these activities were copies of those already used during POW documentation in World War I.The examinations focused on several major groups. Poles and Ukrainians, who were scheduled for forced labor in the Reich, were examined to some extent, as well as village residents in southern Poland, if they were perceived as being of possible German genetic or linguistic background. Jews living in the Tarnów Ghetto were documented as preparations for the Holocaust were carried out.
Tarnów, once part of the former Austrian crown land of Galicia, was considered the main region of origin of those Jews who had emigrated to the west (including Vienna) at the turn of the century as a result of pogroms and economic hardship. Subsumed under and stigmatized by the prejudicial collective term Ostjuden (Eastern Jews),many of these people were subjected to “racial research” in Vienna in the late 1930s. In Tarnów, Elfriede Fliethmann and Dora Kahlich were tasked with collecting comparative data. Kahlich, an assistant at the Viennese Anthropological Institute and member of Weninger’s “Viennese Anthropological School,” announced her arrival in Kraków in March 1942. Only one month earlier, the residential area for the Jewish population had been restricted to barely a dozen streets, although the 25,000 local Jewish residents (in 1939) had been joined by thousands more who had been deported to the town. Hunger, cold, and serious infectious diseases dominated people’s everyday lives. When the Tarnów Ghetto was raided and thousands of Jews killed a few weeks after the anthropologists had left, Fliethmann wrote succinctly to her colleague in Vienna that their collected “materials” had already become a “rarity,” since there were “almost none of ours [Tarnów Jews]” left.
Besides the “racial” examination in the Tarnów Ghetto, the section’s team also collected biometric data on residents who were perceived to be of Germanic origin or to have been influenced by German settlements in former times, for example the Górale, sometimes also referred to as “Polish Highlanders.” Research among this small population group residing in the foothills of the Tatra mountains was a crucial determinant of their future treatment. Although they faced a far less life-threatening fate than the Jewish residents of Tarnów, any privileged status that might have been ascribed to them depended on so-called “Aryan evidence.” After finishing fieldwork in the area (see Figs. 2, 3, and 4), Plügel, Fliethmann, and Sydow issued a series on the Górale in the IDO’s quarterly publications. They described settlements and buildings, handicrafts and wood carvings, traditional medicine and superstition, music and arts. Plügel was especially interested in traditional costumes, which he considered to be the “essence of folklore.” He concluded, purely on the basis of assumptions, that the amount of “Nordic blood” and “Nordic racial elements” among the Highlanders was a result of German immigration in the Middle Ages. The “influence of German culture” seemed evident to him, and the Górale should therefore be classified as “special” among the population groups of the past Polish state. Overall, this was a relatively positive assessment if contrasted with his devastating judgments about Poles, and even more so the Jewish population. In 1942 he wrote about the latter: “The deportations of Jews into ghettos provided the basis for the final solution to the Jewish question.”
In 1943, when the German occupation administration dealt with the question of how to classify the Górale, Plügel’s publication was used for the legal assessment of the community. The authority responsible recommended promoting“the separation of the Górale from Polish society by increasing their awareness of the unique characteristics that make them a special tribe.” Whereas the Viennese researchers’ examinations in the Tatra mountains region did not lead to repressive action against the local inhabitants, the fate of Tarnów’s Jewish community was markedly different. In September 1943 the Ghetto was “liquidated” under the supervision of the notorious commander of the Krakau-Plaszow labor camp, Vienna-born Amon Göth (1908–1946). Almost none of them survived the Holocaust.
The section for “Racial and Folklore Research” of the IDO continued its research activities until the summer of 1944. When the Red Army approached Kraków, the department was evacuated to Bavaria. In July 1945 the Allied troops confiscated their materials and transferred them to the USA.
Anton Adolf Plügel died in combat in March 1945. Elfriede Fliethmann moved to West Berlin after the war. She worked as a teacher and died in 1987. Ingeborg Sydow relocated to the USA in the 1960s, where she became a professor of German Studies at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. Except for a death notice from Olympia, Washington in 2009, there was no further trace of her in the archives to which I had access.
The majority of those examined by the Viennese anthropologists in occupied Poland were not faced with threats to their very existence as a result of these studies. However, even for them the research was not without negative consequences. For example, the Górale’s special treatment by the German occupation authorities led to conflicts between them and other residents in the region that continued well into the post-war period.The examination of the Jewish residents of Tarnów has to be assessed differently: as relevant to the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity after 1945.
 For biographical details on Plügel, Fliethmann, and Sydow see Lisa Gottschall, Ethnic Fragmentation.
 See for instance Andre Gingrich, “Ethnography from Vienna in World War I Prisoner-of-War Camps: Premises, Implications, and Consequences for Socio-Cultural Anthropology in German,” in International Forum on Audio-Visual Research, Jahrbuch des Phonogrammarchivs 9 (Vienna: VÖAW, 2019): 23–40; figures of data files in Britta Lange, Die Wiener Forschungen an Kriegsgefangenen 1915–1918(Vienna: VÖAW, 2013): 184 and Maj / Trebunia-Staszel (2011): 550.
 Anton Adolf Plügel, “Die podhalanischen Góralen im südlichsten Teil des Kreises Neumarkt I–III,” Die Burg 2/3 (1941): 54–66, 3/1 (1942): 94–159, 3/2 (1942): 236–257; Elfriede Fliethmann, “Bericht über anthropologisch-ethnologische Untersuchungen in Szaflary und Witów, zwei Góralenorten im Kreise Neumarkt,” DFiO 2/4 (1942): 272–274; Ingeborg Sydow, “Volkskundliche Untersuchungen in dem góralischen Dorf Szaflary I–III,” DFiO 2/7 (1942): 266–271, 2/8 (1942): 305–316, 3/3 (1943): 90–99; see also Stanisława Trebunia-Staszel, “Evoked from Memory: The War and the German Racial Research,” in Anthropology and Ethnology during World War II, eds. Małgorzata Maj et al. (2019): 226–233; see also works of Lisa Gottschall mentioned in footnote 2.
 Anton Adolf Plügel, “Das Rassenbild des Vorfeldes im deutschen Osten,” Das Vorfeld 2/6 (1941): 6–15.
 Anton Adolf Plügel, “Rassen und Volkstuemer des Generalgouvernements,” Zeitschrift für Erdkunde 10 (1942): 351–361, here 357.
 BArch (Federal Archives) Berlin, R3001/20851, Reichsministerium der Justiz an Reichsminister des Innern, Berlin, May 15, 1943.
 See for instance Margit Berner, Final Pictures, 19–28, 111.
 The rediscovery of the archive collection in the Smithsonian is outlined in Schafft, From Racism to Genocide, 84–88.
In January 1940, the young Dutch archaeologist F. M. Schnitger found employment at the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, today’s Weltmuseum Wien. The position was a substantial advancement toward his goal of becoming a famous researcher. Yet his career ended abruptly only a few years later, through a chain reaction triggered partly by himself and by one of his local rival colleagues. The name of Frederic Martin Schnitger is still familiar to scholars and to a broader audience interested in Indonesian cultural histories. His best-known publication, Forgotten Kingdoms in Sumatra (1939), is still regarded as an important account of the archaeology and traditions of this part of Indonesia.
Schnitger was born on April 22, 1912 in Malang on East Java, where his father owned a sugar cane plantation and his mother worked as a teacher. His origin would later become a concern for several authorities of the Nazi state, since Schnitger’s maternal great-grandmother was Chinese. At the age of nine, Schnitger was sent to Holland where he attended primary and grammar schools. The young Schnitger developed a keen interest in Asia’s history, religion, and archaeology. He published his first article in 1929-1930, when he was still a teenager. After studies at Leiden University, he traveled to Sumatra in 1935 to conduct archaeological research across the whole island. One of Schnitger’s goals was to find evidence that Palembang in the South was the historical capital of the Srivijaya empire. In Palembang he contributed enormously to the development of the municipal museum, where he received the professional title of “Conservator.” From 1935 to 1938, Schnitger commuted frequently between Sumatra and Europe to maintain his contacts there. Disagreements with his teachers at the university in Leiden prompted Schnitger to leave the Netherlands and move to Vienna in 1935—a fateful decision, as it would later turn out.
In the archives of the Steyl Missionary Order in Rome I found a small blue notebook with the inscription Œuvre Caritative Pontificale. It belonged to Father Wilhelm Schmidt, the founder of the Vienna School of Ethnology. It proves that during his exile in Switzerland (1938–1954) the Austrian ethnologist was in close contact with military intelligence services and that, with the help of the Vatican, he supported Wehrmacht deserters interned in Swiss camps. Finally, he subversively used this Vatican money for intelligence operations against the Nazi state.
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.
One hundred and nine years ago, The New York Times ran a full-page overview of Franz Boas’s recently published book, The Mind of Primitive Man. The headline read: “DOES THE WHITE RACE GIVE THE HIGHEST HUMAN TYPE?: As a Result of Recent Researches Prof. Boas Questions Current Beliefs in Racial Supremacy, Makes a Plea for the Negro and Tells Strange Facts in European Immigration.” Above the handsome sketch of Boas were exaggerated profile portraits of “the Characteristic Round Jewish Head,” and “Characteristic Long Sicilian Head.” Coming on the heels of the media storm generated by Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants (1911), this article provided added grist for the so-called Americanization movement whose sole purpose (at least that I can discern) was the consolidation of whiteness by assimilating the not quite white. The Times highlighted Boas’s research on how immigrants quickly became an “American type,” and underscored his arguments that there are no pure or superior races, and all can participate as citizens. The paper also described vital forms of government, thrift, skill, and complex military organization in pre-colonial Africa. The Times quoted Boas explaining, “the traits of the American Negro are adequately explained on the basis of his history and social status. . . without falling back upon the theory of hereditary inferiority.” Although pictures of “the Jewish” and “Sicilian” head are cringe-worthy today, many Americans would have found most of his findings against racial hierarchy not only repugnant, but profane.
Had Selected Writings by Sigmund Freud been published by the Pelican press in 1948, it is likely Ashley Montagu—the prolific British-American anthropologist, and the work’s main compiler—would today have been recognized as a noteworthy figure in Freud’s postwar US reception. Yet after several months reading Freud’s corpus, deciding which texts and passages to include, writing an introduction, and compiling a bibliography, Montagu was forced to shelve the project, thwarted by the Freud family’s famous reluctance to allow such maverick publications. His attempts, a decade later, to initiate a sibling study under a new title, Freud Re-Examined, comprised of reprints of scholarly essays mostly by contemporary psychologists, also went nowhere, frustrated by a publisher’s aversion to the genre. By the 1980s, if Montagu discussed these works at all, he presumed them “irretrievably lost.”
2018 marked the bicentennial of the birth of Lewis Henry Morgan (d. 1881), a Rochester, New York attorney and founding figure in American anthropology and archeology. Morgan established his reputation with League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois (Morgan 1851), a comprehensive study of sociopolitical organization and material culture that grew out of his youthful fascination with Native American traditions. The book was made possible by the assistance of Ely S. Parker (Hasanoanda), who authored some sections, and his sister Caroline G. Parker (Gahano), members of a prominent Tonawanda Seneca family who facilitated Morgan’s fieldwork. Although manifestly ethnocentric, League of the Iroquois is one of the earliest recognizably anthropological accounts of culture as a distinctive and coherent system of thought and action. Morgan’s dedication of the book to Ely Parker acknowledges the fundamental if uneasy collaboration between anthropologists and their interlocutors that underlies all ethnographic research.
Editors’ Notes: In our latest addition to Clio’s Fancy, Charles Greifenstein touches on the relationship between poetry and anthropology through the letters between the poet Gary Snyder and the sociolinguist Dell Hymes.
In these folders, one
finds the most intriguing things. Drawings labelled “Chart of World Symbols”; a
letter in crayon; gossip about teachers and girlfriends; what the author is
reading, and what he thinks of it; what the author is thinking when he is not
reading; what the author is writing (other than letters); how the author and correspondent
will survive in the academic world. The author sometimes signs his letters
“Aleksandr Leitswics” (“light switch?”). And there is poetry:
The History of Anthropology Newsletter is partnering with the American Philosophical Society’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) to publish here here for the first time a 1940 syllabary for the Ho-Chunk language—a transcription of sound combinations and words for writing the Ho-Chunk language This valuable document, held in manuscript at the APS, was created through the collaboration of Sam Blowsnake and linguistic anthropologist Amelia Susman. Blowsnake wrote the story of his life using this syllabary for his autobiography, Crashing Thunder, published in 1920 with the assistance of Winnebago anthropologist and dissenting Boasian Paul Radin.
The life and works of Amelia Susman, Franz Boas’s last Ph.D. student— currently 103 years old— will be less familiar to most. Continue reading
Even if we don’t see them very often in ethnographies these days, the charts connecting up circles and triangles into lines of descent and affiliation remain iconic artifacts of anthropological knowledge. They are also compelling visual representations in their own right. As part of a larger project on how sex or gender has been codified into visual symbols — such as ♀ and ♂ — I have been looking at the history of anthropological kinship diagrams.
In 1909 Columbia University celebrated both the fifty-year anniversary of The Origin of Species and the centenary of the birth of its author with a series of lectures titled “Charles Darwin and His Influence on Science.” The first talk in the series, “Darwin’s Life and Work,” was delivered by Henry Fairfield Osborn on February 12, one hundred years to the day after Darwin’s birth. Another lecturer was John Dewey, whose talk, “Darwinism and Modern Philosophy,” became the title piece in his well-known volume The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy and Other Essays in Contemporary Thought.[i] Despite the publication and wide circulation of these other lectures in the series, the one given by Franz Boas, “The Relation of Darwin to Anthropology,” was never published. Strangely, it was also never archived with his other unpublished lectures in the American Philosophical Society (APS), nor, apparently, was it ever noted anywhere except in the announcement of the lecture series in Science.[ii]
In late June 1996, while waiting for delivery of files from the Boas archive at the APS, I passed the time flipping through the library card catalogue under “Boas, Franz” and came across a plain, typed card, with the words: “Boas, Franz– The Relation of Darwin to Anthropology.” Surprised and intrigued, I asked librarian Roy Goodman if he could locate it. He returned a few minutes later with a 33-page typed manuscript, with Boas’s additions and corrections in pen. It had been hiding– not quite in plain sight– for many years.
The history of anthropology was once a genealogy of silverbacks: Elsie Clews Parsons, Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead excepted, a genealogy of venerated men who contributed something perceived definitional to the field, worth rearticulating in the present. The histories of those who died early or outside of institutions, who had written or done something that no longer squared with anthropology’s rapidly swinging moral arc (such as practicing as an ethnologist), or who had the misfortune of being born female, non-white, or outside of Europe and the United States, were often left forgotten, and their recovery more recently has changed the field and its historical accounting. Continue reading
Archivist Alex Pezzati of the Penn Museum was on the verge of discarding a “curious collection” in the fall of 2016, when I invited him to present at a workshop I was then co-organizing with other members of the Penn Humanities Forum. “Translation beyond the Human” was our chosen theme, and I was hoping he could divert us with anecdotes about the history of early computing in anthropology. Continue reading
On the morning of November 23rd, 1981, Rosamond (Roz) Spicer joined her fellow participants for the third day of the 89th Wenner–Gren Foundation International Symposium. As the morning discussion took shape, Roz, a noted Native Americanist anthropologist, drifted from her note-taking as she started to sketch the people around her (see figures 1–5).[i] Etched with light pencil, these elegant and unassuming illustrations capture a transitional moment in the larger history of the Foundation. Continue reading
Sol Tax is well known for developing the concept of “action anthropology,” which takes the goals and problems of research subjects as its point of departure ahead of the researcher’s desire for knowledge. However, he began his career with a much more conventional philosophy of science, and during the 1940s vigorously defended “basic” research against calls for anthropology to emphasize its political relevance.Continue reading
Many HAN readers will be familiar with George Stocking’s work on the history of anthropology; not all will know that he was also an artist. Until his last year of high school, while living in Manhattan, he thought of himself as bound for a career as a painter (Stocking 2010:25-26). After college, he worked in a meat packing factory, seeking to organize a union; he grew disillusioned with the Communist Party and entered graduate school in 1956, “to understand why American culture was so resistant to radical change” (69). That set him on the path of a scholar and teacher.
Yet in the 1970s, when George was settled on the faculty at the University of Chicago, he returned to his artistic pursuits. Not in painting, however—but in needlepoint. At first, he purchased kits for a footstool and pillows. After the birth of a grandchild, he needlepointed a Christmas stocking, using a standard design. In 1980, he dispensed with the kit and designed his own Christmas stocking, creating an original pattern with biographical details tailored to the recipient: his seven-year-old grandson, Jesse, who was much taken with The Incredible Hulk. The stocking portrayed Santa as a muscular, green-skinned superhero who seems to have arrived on a garbage truck, punching through a brick wall, to the amazement of a Krazy-Kat like Mickey Mouse. Continue reading
One summer afternoon in 1958, two young girls stood on the hot tarmac at Idlewild (later JFK) airport, awaiting the arrival of the famous German choreographer Albrecht Knust. Knust was in America to promote Labanotation, a technique for capturing dance on paper developed in the 1920s by his mentor, Rudolf Laban. In Knust’s honor, the girls had emblazoned the edges of their wide, white skirts with Labanotation’s characteristic symbols, and as he disembarked, they eagerly extended their arms to display their creations. Continue reading
The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research has been a hub for information about the comings and goings of anthropologists since its founding in 1941 as the Viking Fund. Its vast archives maintained in its current office on Park Avenue South in New York City contain countless treasures, including this wedding announcement:
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.”
Since 1973, the History of Anthropology Review (formerly the History of Anthropology Newsletter) has been a venue for publication and conversation on the many histories of the discipline of anthropology. We became an open access web publication in 2016. Please subscribe to our emails below to receive updates as we publish new essays, reviews, and bibliographies.
The History of Anthropology Review became an online publication with volume 40 in 2016, and changed its title from History of Anthropology Newsletter to History of Anthropology Review on October 18, 2019. Content is updated continually, and subscribers receive weekly emails with links to new content.
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