Participant Observations (page 1 of 2)

Participant observations are reports from conferences and other gatherings. To submit such news, please email us at news@histanthro.org.

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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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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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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“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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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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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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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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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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Editor’s Introduction: The Morton Cranial Collection and Legacies of Scientific Racism in Museums

This essay introduces 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.

As part of ongoing discussions about racism and calls for anti-racist work, and with an eye toward thinking about how anthropology has historically contributed to structures of inequality, the History of Anthropology Review is beginning a new series of Participant Observations. This series of essays was provoked by the summer 2020 removal of the Samuel George Morton cranial collection—which includes the remains of over 50 enslaved people born in Africa—from public display at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. Penn, and more recently Harvard, have committed to historical research of their physical anthropology collections and to pursuing repatriation, reburial, commemoration, and other futures for the remains of African-descendant and enslaved people contained within them. The shifting fates of these collections creates space for critical discussion of other anti-racist reckonings, the push toward decolonization in museums, ethical concerns about the collection, analysis, and display of human remains, and the intertwined histories of racial science, medicine, and anthropology. 

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Affective Responses to Normalized Violence in Museums

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.

Over the past year, many museums have reflected on their internal structural inequalities. Anthropology museums face the added challenge of addressing the history of anthropological collecting, display, and research. Reflecting on recent protests concerning the Penn Museum’s ownership and use of human remains, I find myself considering the variability of museological encounters, and the diversity of affective responses to everyday museum practices. I share the following vignette to highlight the emotional impacts of normalizing and encouraging the routine handling and display of ancestors whose bodies—“specimens” in the museum—represent historical violence against Black and Brown people, and others. 

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Morton, the Maya and Me: Reflections from a Yucatec Maya Graduate Student

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.

My second day as a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, I entered classroom 190 in the CAAM labs of the Penn Museum—what I would later half-jokingly term the Penn Museum’s catacombs. As I sat, I took in the crania sitting on shelves lining the walls, naively assuming they were ethically collected medical specimens or realistic models. Later that week, one of my colleagues informed me: “those are Morton’s skulls.” My second time in the classroom, uneasy in my seat, I looked at the skulls immediately to my right, and observed that one of them had the number 990 and a label across its forehead: “Maya from Yucatan.” [1]

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Colonizing the Indigenous Dead

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 ideological claims and scientific practices that transformed Indigenous Native American bodies into public specimens emerged from racial prejudices that colonized both the living and the dead. Philadelphia physician Samuel George Morton inferred that European “conquering invaders” had some measurable innate superiority over the “aboriginal races.”[1] His efforts inspired other researchers, who manipulated dead bodies to support their search for evidence of a social hierarchy that placed white Europeans topmost. This research was considered necessary: as Franz Boas put it, “It is most unpleasant work to steal bones from a grave, but what is the use, someone has to do it.”[2]

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Activist Realignments in the History of Anthropology: The Association of Senior Anthropologists’ Panels at “Raising our Voices”

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, an online event titled “Raising our Voices” was offered as a substitute. I had organized a history of anthropology-themed panel for the cancelled meeting, but along with my fellow panelists, elected to put it on hold as we all prepared for the transition of service and teaching to online platforms. I was therefore delighted when the Association of Senior Anthropologists announced that they had organized two panels for “Raising our Voices.” It was clear from the panel abstracts that the ASA sought to bring an historical dimension to the activist theme implied by the title of the new event, emphasizing the continuity of activism throughout the history of the discipline.

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Tripod: Performance, Media, Cybernetics by Jennifer Cool

A New Way of “Staging” the History of Anthropology

Jennifer Cool, Assistant Professor (Teaching) of Anthropology at the University of Southern California, is both a social anthropologist and ethnographic filmmaker. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that she has spent the past few years experimenting with staged performances and film in an attempt to draw out what she has described as “the performative entanglements of media.”[1]

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“Who’s Zoomin’ Who”: A Reflection on the 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropology Association

Editors' note: We are delighted to announce that Participant Observations is widening its remit. We welcome shorter reactions to conferences, exhibitions, research projects, and reflections on elements of the history of anthropology as a field. How has your experience of organizing or participating in remote conferences been? What online resources have caught your eye in this moment? What works, events, or conversations that you've recently encountered seem to capture vital new or ongoing conversations in the history of anthropology? If you have an idea for a piece, please email news@histanthro.org or one of our News editors. In this spirit, we are pleased to publish HAR editor Nick Barron's short reflection on the 2019 American Anthropology Association Meeting.

In the crowd, I caught your eye
You can’t hide your stuff
You thought I’d be naive and tame
(You met your match) but I beat you at your own game

Such were the lyrics from the song that emanated from Lee Baker’s smart phone as he prepared to give his comments for the panel “Re-Presenting Historical Legacies: A Decolonial Reckoning with Anthropology’s Ruin.” Alongside his co-discussant Christien Tompkins, Baker considered an assortment of papers focusing on the discipline’s tangled historical encounters by centering analyses from the perspectives of those who call field sites “home.” Each of the panelists explored cases at the interstices of anthropologist-community engagements in regions that have been heavily mined for ethnographic knowledge including the Brazilian Amazon, Canadian Pacific Northwest, U.S. Southwest, and Egypt. Less concerned with the “truth” of past ethnographic depictions, the panelists, in various ways, considered what happens when anthropologists (and other social scientists) leave the field. What it is that these interlopers leave behind? How do the people that call “the field” home come to live with the debris of ethnography?

As a participant and panel co-organizer, I was quite intrigued by Baker’s theatrical introduction. As Tompkins underscored post-panel, “all panel papers should have entrance music.” But of course, the choice of this particular song from the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was hardly trivial as were the sincere and challenging comments from Baker and Tompkins. [1] As Baker noted, the song tells a story of romantic role reversals in which the seduced becomes the seducer (“you thought you had me covered… but you’re bound to be my love”). While the papers from myself, Rosanna Dent, Taylor Moore, and Joseph Weiss and the panel abstract conceived by myself and Hilary Leathem were perhaps light on romance (at least of the non-platonic variety), they did speak of collaboration, intimacy, affect, magic, and the ways in which these phenomena have continued to bind communities of study to the discipline and vice versa. Importantly, the song indexes an obfuscated and creative agency (“here stands an experienced girl/I ain’t nobody’s fool”). The papers, though hardly unequivocally celebratory in their examination of agency, motioned toward the enduring ways in which the “objects” of ethnographic inquiry have long been engaging, salvaging, adopting, and enchanting anthropology on their own terms. 

I reflected on the keen observations of my fellow panelists the following morning as I sat in on the panel “Hate USA,” an appropriately sobering title for an 8:00 a.m. timeslot. In a series of wonderful papers, I was most struck by Nancy Scheper-Hughes comments on Benjamin Teitelbaum’s Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Radical Nordic Radical Nationalism.[2] Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with this book before the panel. However, as Scheper-Hughes summarized, Lions of the North is a recently published ethnography concerning alt-right, white nationalist groups in various Nordic countries. Scheper-Hughes was invited to comment on one of Teitelbaum’s recent articles for a forum in Current Anthropology.[3] She expressed great consternation in the face of Teitelbaum’s self-proclaimed “immoral anthropology,” which has led him not only to observe these groups, but take an active role in their dissemination of propaganda. After a couple of exchanges with members of the audience who made a respectful plea for the value of Teitelbaum’s work and the spirit of his relativism, Scheper-Hughes’s response did not mince words: we are not simply here to parrot the views of others, to be “handmaidens to informants.”[4] With Ms. Franklin’s lyrics still ringing in my ears, I couldn’t help but think, “Who’s zoomin’ who?”

On my return flight to California, I took it upon myself to read Teitelbaum’s article as well as Scheper-Hughes’s published comment. The characterization of Teitelbaum as a “handmaiden” remained most prominent in my mind. In my own research, I consider how anthropologists become wittingly and unwittingly enrolled in the political projects of their research subjects—specifically indigenous groups living in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.[5] Seen from the perspective of the historian (and the self-reflexive anthropologist), the roles of “ethnographer,” “advocate,” and “handmaiden” exists on a continuum, and anthropologists do not necessarily determine where they will fall. The ethnographic method is shot through with dialogical twists and turns that are hardly the exclusive design of the anthropologist.

To be fair, Teitelbaum underscores the dynamic nature of participant-observation when explaining his questionable engagements with white nationalists. “So long as we prefer dialogic and intersubjective models of understanding to those of observation and monologue, we are led to embrace a research practice laced with political and moral compromise.”[6]

I suppose this is a helpful reminder for anyone just starting out in the field who might be inclined to take a naive view of knowledge production, which assumes they can stand outside the webs of power in which they operate. However, recognizing the inherently dynamic and situated nature of the ethnographic approach in no way invalidates Scheper-Hughes’s critique nor does it justify Teitelbaum’s rationale. One might assert that all anthropologists are handmaidens of one sort or another. Perhaps there is always some degree of zoomin’. But the important aspect of Franklin’s question (“Who’s zoomin’ who?”) is not just the “zoomin’” but the “who.” Is it not one thing to be a handmaiden of a small community of borderlands Indians, for example, and another thing to be a handmaiden of white nationalists? Veiling such a question behind invocations of the inherently intersubjective nature of the discipline’s signature method is not just morally dubious—it is historiographically hollow.

Ms. Franklin may have passed away, but her acute anthropological commentary remains relevant to the discipline and persistent debates within the ranks regarding the relationship between anthropologists and their interlocutors.


[1] Aretha Franklin, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?” (Arista, 1985).

[2] Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, Lions of the North: Sounds of the New Nordic Radical Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

[3] Nancy Scheper-Hughes, “The Case for a Moral and Politically Engaged Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 60, no. 3 (2019): 427–30.

[4] I am paraphrasing from my notes.

[5] Nicholas Barron, “Assembling ‘Enduring Peoples,’ Mediating Recognition: Anthropology, the Pascua Yaqui Indians, and the Co-Construction of Ideas and Politics,” History and Anthropology (2019).

[6] Benjamin R. Teitelbaum, “Collaborating with the Radical Right: Scholar-Informant Solidarity and the Case for an Immoral Anthropology,” Current Anthropology 60, no. 3 (2019): 415.

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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History of Anthropology at NAISA 2018: Examining “Archival Diasporas”


Native American and Indigenous scholars often consult archival holdings in multiple sites and collections. Archival materials are frequently split, scattered, or dispersed across various repositories, and researchers will have to visit multiple institutions to access the papers and materials of previous anthropologists. For instance, the records and manuscripts of Margaret Mead are kept at the Library of Congress, American Philosophical Society, American Museum of Natural History, and other sites. Thus, scholars have over the years considered archival dispersion as a lens to examine the very nature of archives. What are the challenges and opportunities of studying the stories and contexts of dispersed collections? Continue reading

History of Anthropology at NAISA 2017 in Vancouver, BC


The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) held its annual conference in Vancouver, Canada, on the traditional and unceded lands of the Musqueam Nation.  Hosted by the University of British Columbia (UBC), the conference reflected the vibrant explosion of work in this field, and brought together a group of scholars, artists, activists, and community members from nations across all continents (except Antarctica) for three days of work, play, and celebration. Continue reading

Histories of Anthropology: Transforming Knowledge and Power, Cambridge, 2017: Conference Report

 

Histories of Anthropology: Transforming Knowledge and Power” was a two-day conference held at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, on 18–19 September 2017. Papers ranged widely in geographical scope, in their methodological approach, and in their focus on different anthropological subfields. This report analyses submitted abstracts to give a suggestion about the state of the field and summarizes the contributions of each of the speakers made in their presentations.

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History of Anthropology Panels at the 18th IUAES World Congress at Florianópolis, Brazil, July 2018

The 18th International Union of Anthropological und Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) World Congress was held at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) in Florianópolis, Brazil, July 16-20, 2018. Approximately 2,000 participants discussed the Congress theme “World (of) Encounters: The Past, Present and Future of Anthropological Knowledge” across 236 panels. Four panels dealt with the history of anthropology, among them one convened by History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) members.

Federal University of Santa Catarina campus in Florianópolis

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History of Anthropology Panels at EASA 2018: Conference Report


From 14-17 August 2018, Stockholm University in Sweden hosted the 15th biennial conference of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA). This year’s conference included four panels on the history of anthropology, as well as one session on a fifth panel, for a total of 38 papers on different aspects of the field’s history. This large number of papers suggests an upsurge of interest in the subject in Europe and worldwide. Since its reactivation in 2016, EASA’s History of Anthropology Network (HOAN) has aimed at facilitating this process, and its membership has nearly doubled since early 2017. All panels on the history of anthropology during this EASA conference were convened by members of HOAN; two of the panels were organized under the auspices of this network. Continue reading

History of Anthropology and a Name Change at the German Ethnological Society Meeting in Berlin: Conference Report


The 12th History of Anthropology workshop took place during the biannual conference of the German Ethnological Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde, DGV) at the Free University of Berlin on October 5, 2017. Convened around the theme “From the History of Anthropology to its Future: Historical, Moral, and Political Affinities,” the workshop was organized by Peter Schweitzer (Vienna, Austria) and the present author. It featured seven papers out of sixteen submissions, as well as a keynote address (see program under “Workshop 17”). Continue reading

‘All the World Is Here’ Exhibition Review


All the World Is Here: Harvard’s Peabody Museum and the Invention of American Anthropology. A new exhibit (opened April 2017) at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, curated by Irene Castle McLaughlin, Ilisa Barbash, and Diana Loren.

In celebration of its 150th anniversary, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University has curated All the World Is Here: Harvard’s Peabody Museum and the Invention of American Anthropology. The exhibition boasts an impressive array of ethnographic artifacts, which range from a Feejee mermaid to Hopi baskets to a bracelet from the Iron Age. Photographs, correspondence, and newspaper clippings set the historical contexts during which the artifacts were created, collected, and circulated. Together, these materials document the late-nineteenth-century ambitions behind the founding of the museum, while granting particular attention to the work of Frederic Ward Putnam, who served as the Peabody’s second director (1875-1909) and trained the first generation of ethnographers in the country, including Franz Boas. The exhibit argues that the Peabody Museum, as a hub for the aggregation of artifacts and intellectual engagement, provided an initial scaffolding for anthropology as an academic discipline in the United States.

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‘Collecting Mesoamerica’ Exhibition Review


Collecting Mesoamerica: The Hemispheric Roots of U.S. Anthropology. A recent exhibit (May 8 – July 7, 2017) at the Kislak Center, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, curated by Lindsay Van Tine.

Editor’s Note: Due to the participatory nature of museum exhibits, the HAN Editors have chosen to publish this piece both as a “Review” and as part of its “Participant Observation” series. The Editors welcome and encourage future multi-purpose submissions in the form of reviews, reports, or other reflections on interactive projects and exhibits related to the history of anthropology.

The name of Daniel Garrison Brinton is not one that is on the tip of the tongue for many anthropologists specializing in studies of Mesoamerican cultures, languages, and history. Nevertheless, in a recent exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections, Collecting Mesoamerica: The Hemispheric Roots of U.S. Anthropology, curator Lindsay Van Tine elucidates how Brinton—a prolific late nineteenth century “armchair anthropologist” par excellence—played a considerable role in defining what we now know as “Mesoamerica,” both as a bounded geographic space and as a field of scholarly specialization. As such, Van Tine’s exhibit contributes to an archaeology of the discipline in a Foucauldian sense of the term, exposing some of the deep and at times forgotten roots of Mesoamerican studies. The exhibit also contributes to an archaeology of the discipline in a somewhat literal sense. To curate the exhibit, Van Tine sifted through and uncovered objects and documents that had long been dispersed in a number of different archives at the University of Pennsylvania in an effort to reconstruct Brinton’s collection of Mesoamerican materials as it was constituted at the end of the nineteenth century.

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Cosmologies of Becoming: A review of “Knowledges in Contact”: 6th Annual Natura Conference on Science and Epistemology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, March 31, 2017


This year’s conference on science and epistemology was organized by Natura, an interdisciplinary research group at Rutgers. It was themed Knowledges in Contact, and drew on a variety of issues pertaining to the history of anthropology, science, and, more broadly, knowledge. The central theme of the conference focused on the historical and ethical issues in understanding epistemology, and was explored through a range of interdisciplinary papers. In simple terms, the papers examined the processes through which diverse scientific ‘knowledges’ come into being. In the following reflections of the presented papers, I identify some theoretical points of interest to the history of anthropology, including themes relating to ‘contact’, ‘encounters’, ‘agency’, ‘representation’, ‘gaze’, ‘voice’ and ‘authority.’ Continue reading

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