Field Notes (page 1 of 4)

Field Notes is a forum for focused, engaged reflections on the history of anthropology, broadly conceived. We welcome contributions including (but not limited to) short articles, theoretical musings, reports on cultural and academic events and displays, and discussions of intellectual resources of interest to our readers. We are particularly interested in expanding the boundaries of the history of anthropology and challenging normative interpretations of the field. This includes, but is not limited to, decentering Western Europe and North America as the primary sites of the discipline’s development, and white, Western experts as its only arbiters of knowledge production. If you’re interested in submitting such a piece, please email us at notes@histanthro.org.

Socio-Cultural Anthropology under Hitler: An Introduction to Four Case Studies from Vienna

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 by Katja 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.

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Marginalized in Central European Anthropology and Persecuted as a Jew: The Case of Marianne Schmidl

Editors’ note: This essay is part of the series Socio-Cultural Anthropology under Hitler: Four Case Studies from Vienna

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.[1] 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.[2]

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).

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Assisting in the Holocaust: Pro-Nazi Anthropologists from Vienna in Occupied Poland (1940–1944)

Editors’ note: This essay is part of the series Socio-Cultural Anthropology under Hitler: Four Case Studies from Vienna

“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 […].”[1]

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),[2] 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.

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Rivalries with Fatal Consequences

Editors’ note: This essay is part of the series Socio-Cultural Anthropology under Hitler: Four Case Studies from Vienna

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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A Priest in the Resistance: Father Wilhelm Schmidt and His Alliances in World War II

Editors’ note: This essay is part of the series Socio-Cultural Anthropology under Hitler: Four Case Studies from Vienna

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.[1]

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“Orientalism alla Turca”: Evolutionary Desires, Imperial Nostalgias, and Western Anxieties in Ahmed Midhat’s Avrupa’da Bir Cevelân

Introduction

On November 15, 1889,[1] Ahmed Midhat (1844–1912), a prolific Ottoman journalist and novelist, announced in his newspaper Tercümân–i Hakîkât (Interpreter of Truth): 

The pleasant travelogue of the compassionate Ahmet Midhat Efendi, his grace, where all his observations, thoughts, and expertise on events from his previous journey to Europe are presented, will be published as of tomorrow! (Tuğluk 2018, 145).[2]

The account of his impressions and ideas on the European cities he visited between August 15 and October 25, 1889, first appeared in a daily series as Avrupa’da Bir Cevelân (A Tour in Europe, hereafter Cevelân).[3] It was published as a book in 1890, read widely in Istanbul and beyond.[4] The Ottoman Sultan, Abdulhamid II (1842–1918), even ordered its distribution to the European and American diplomatic missions (Asiltürk 1995, 576). These two different audiences—one at home and one abroad— invite closer analysis of the textual and ideological features of this remarkable text.

As the official appointee of Abdulhamid II, Ahmed Midhat joined the eighth Congrès international des orientalistes as an Ottoman delegate. He began his trip on a steamer in Istanbul and, disembarking in Marseille, traveled throughout Europe by train. After the Congress in Stockholm-Cristiana (Oslo), Ahmed Midhat spent twelve days at the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) in Paris before extending his trip to Geneva, Montreux, Luzern, Konstanz, Vienna, and onto Trieste, where he took a ship back to Istanbul. 

In Cevelân, Ahmed Midhat revealed an “Other” of the Ottomans: Europe. He wrote in particularly vivid terms of his admiration for European machinery. During his travels and at the Exposition Universelle he encountered European material developments he could only have imagined when writing his earlier novels. Interestingly, Ahmed Midhat found another “Other” at the fair—the Muslim Arab, who also became a subject of his gaze.

Ahmed Midhat’s interests in evolutionist and materialist writings framed his own work. Moving beyond the dichotomies of “East and West,” “Self and Other,” and “colonizer and colonized,” he conceived all developments as medeniyet-i umumiyye, the global civilization that belongs to all peoples. He brought to light different sides of development and progress, with particularly revealing viewpoints on technological, social-cultural, and moral issues, managed with unusual savoir-faire. However, at times, his stance—despite his wish to be “objective”— was a partial one, his attention wavering between the material and the spiritual qualities of European development. Like European ethnographers, he was not immune toward ethnocentrism or homogenizing discourses towards complex societies and cultures. 

In what follows, I focus on Ahmed Midhat’s impressions of the Exposition Universelle 1889 in Paris in Cevelân. First, I make sense of Ahmed Midhat’s “evolutionary desires,” the term I use to describe his commitment to the idea, informed by Social Darwinism, that Ottomans should aspire to match Europe’s level of material development. Ahmed Midhat’s evolutionary desires encapsulate—but cannot be reduced to—his keen interest in (and envy of) the material, infrastructural, and industrial developments in Europe as he experienced them firsthand on his journey. He aspired for the Ottomans, too, to build grand avenues and boulevards, majestic bridges, impressive squares, and well-kept public gardens. He also wanted the Ottomans to produce and utilize the latest infrastructural technologies, such as rapid transport tools like locomotives and tramlines as well as electricity and lighthouses. These desires can only be understood in the context of his “imperial nostalgias” and “western anxieties,” imbued with longing for the glorious Ottoman past. Ahmed Midhat deployed this necessarily ethnocentric “imperial nostalgia” as a critical strategy to cope with, if not to overcome, his western anxieties, which he mainly expressed through discontent with European modernity and what he perceived as its weak morals.

Passenger train in front of the Pavilion of Algeria on L’Esplanade des Invalides (Library of Congress)

Cevelân is notable not only for its literary merits but also for its distinctively positioned ethnographic insights into “Europe.” Ahmed Midhat himself defined travel literature as a cornerstone for the advancement of knowledge (Herzog and Motika 2000, 140). Cevelân offers evidence of a cross-cultural production of knowledge and conveys issues of transculturation, border crossing, and self-location, long before they emerged in twentieth and twenty-first century anthropology. Furthermore, Ahmed Midhat’s writing should be evaluated as an important and understudied contribution to the history of Ottoman anthropology and ethnology.

In the 1850s, scholars in Turkey created a complex and dynamic non-Western anthropological tradition, which flourished by way of “traveling theory” (Birkalan-Gedik 2018, 2019). It incorporated theories of evolution, materialism, and development, which carried considerable social and political weight in Ottoman society at the turn of the 19th century (Kerim 1941; Hanioğlu 2005; Göçek 1996). Edward Said understood “traveling theory” as a process through which theory changes as it is transported into new geographical or historical contexts, reframed according to the intentions of its new adopters (Said 1983, 226; 2001). In this sense, travel is not a unidirectional movement but can ramify into polyvalent roots and routes. Delving into multiple ways of traveling—literary and metaphorical—and their implications for the history of anthropology (Rubiés 2000; Clifford 1989), Cevelân sheds light on an underexamined era of Ottoman anthropology, in which the eloquent gaze of an “Orientalist” (Dumont 2010; Findley 1998; Sagaster 1997) traveler illuminates both his own culture and those he observed. 

Ahmed Midhat: Cosmopolitan and Cultural Broker

Ahmed Midhat wore many hats. An impressive intellectual, he authored novels, short stories, and opinion pieces in the Tanzimat Era (1839–1876), when the Ottoman Empire was widely seen to be in decline (İnalcık 1976). He was a cosmopolitan, entrepreneur, and cultural broker who navigated the complexities of the nineteenth century Ottoman Empire. 

Multiple ideological mainstreams defined this period; at different points of his life Ahmed Midhat seemed to fit each of them. The Young Ottomans insisted on modernization and keeping the millet system, which was based on the idea of non-territorial autonomy, whereby various religious groups were categorized as culturally autonomous, despite their geographic dispersion (Barkey and Gavrillis 2016); Islamists leaned on the idea of restoring and strengthening the Caliphate; Turkish nationalists relied on Turkish-ness as the dominant identity base (Berkes 1959). Political societies, like the Young Ottomans, believed that new “scientific” developments could coincide with and enrich religious knowledge. They aimed to show Islam as a contemporaneous religion in accord with science and development. While this idea stood in contrast with the view of certain elites who thought of Islam as one of the main causes of the country’s declining fortunes, debates on science and religion continued in following years. Again, introducing science was not a simple shift from “religion” to “science” (Yalçınkaya 2015; Poyraz 2010). Attitudes towards science and scientific development that were sympathetic to religion further smoothed developments in philosophy, anthropology, and medicine, enabling disparate disciplinary spheres to knit together in distinct ways (Shefer-Mossensohn 2015, 3). 

Born in Istanbul to a family of merchants, Ahmed Midhat grew up in dire conditions. A “Jack-of-all-trades” (Findley 1998), as a young man he received the patronage of Midhat Paşa (1822–1884), a western-oriented political leader under whom his transcultural perspectives bloomed. Later, as an entrepreneur, Ahmed Midhat set up his own printing house in Istanbul and maintained strong relations with the Ottoman government, working as the deputy manager of the sanitary commission (Okay 1989).

Scholars name Ahmed Midhat as the “first social Darwinist” among the Ottoman literati (Doğan 2012 [2006], 133–176). Ottoman social scientists also widely debated materialism, a framework which allowed the elite to discuss the origins and diffusion of humans, outside the confines of religious thought (Öktem 2012, Poyraz 2010). None of these developments were free of turbulence, as the secular elite had to navigate these ideas under the Muslim Sultan. 

Some scholars have argued that Ahmed Midhat was exiled for his close relationship with materialist and positivist thinkers (Mardin 2000 [1962]). But though his journals and newspapers circulated the German materialism of Ludwig Büchner (Hanioğlu 2005; Kalaycıoğulları 2016, Mardin 2000 [1962], 66), he publicly defended Islam, a point that complicates his intellectual position. His stated stances in Cevelân reveal “the conformity of Ahmed Midhat’s ideas with the cultural politics of the Hamidian regime” (Çekiç 2009, 4). In this travelogue, the author locates himself as a border-crosser, relying on his social and political relations such as with the Sultan Abdulhamid II, the benefactor who appointed him to attend the congress in Sweden and provided the funds for his European travel in Europe.

Avrupa’da Bir Cevelân between Literature, Travel, and Anthropology

While Ahmed Midhat’s writings have been studied by scholars of Turkish literature and history, anthropologists have neglected them.[5] Cevelân offers critical perspectives for the study of the history of anthropology in Turkey, and for the global history of anthropology. Notably, his route from the Ottoman Empire to Europe and back subverts the conventionally recognized directions of “colonial travel” (Clifford 1989), challenges the immobility of the “Other,” and brings an important twist to the study of travel literature, especially within the frameworks of alterity and hybridity. 

Before anthropology became an academic discipline, travelers, missionaries, merchants, and bureaucrats supplied ethnographic knowledge to diverse audiences. As James Clifford argues, such documents helped constitute cultural anthropology (1997, 64). Other scholars discuss the factual errors of earlier European travelogues saturated with Christian piety and cultural prejudices. Eriksen and Nielsen situate what they call “proto-anthropology” between “travel writing” and “social philosophy”; it is when these two discursive modes are fused, “when data and theory are brought together, that anthropology appears” (Eriksen and Nielsen 2013, 6–10).

Furthermore, Clifford asserts that the “geography of distance and difference alters in postcolonial/neocolonial situations, as power relations of research are reconfigured, as innovative technologies of transport and communications are deployed, and as ‘natives’ are recognized for their specific worldly experiences and histories of dwelling and traveling” (Clifford 1996, 7). His words may guide our approach to the contexts of colonialism in the Ottoman Empire and particularly to an “Orientalism alla turca” a term that illustrates the changing roles of what was earlier thought to be the “immobile” Other. Orientalism alla turca defines the complexity of Ottoman attitudes toward their multiple others. Pointing to a recent historiographic turn, Özgür Türesay notes that since the end of the 1990s, several historians offered terms such as “Ottoman orientalism,” or “Ottoman civilizing mission” whereby Ottoman’s relations to Europe and to the Arab populations were discussed in new frameworks. In a broader sense, an “Ottoman colonialism” emerged during the second half of the nineteenth century in which the Ottoman elite conceived the boundaries of the empire as a part of colonial setting. Adopting a civilizing mission towards the Arab periphery, Ottomans displayed a metropolitan identity by which they sought to educate the Arab populations (Türesay 2013: 128-129). Ahmed Midhat’s positionality in Cevelân provides important insights in this context.

Travel was a well-known practice in the Ottoman Empire for centuries, both toward Europe and to the Arab provinces. The circulation of diplomatic envoys in the eighteenth-century was influential in introducing new scientific and technological knowledge and practices. The sefâretnâme, a sub-genre of travel writing, recounted journeys and experiences of ambassadors in a foreign land (Georgeon 1995); these private, political documents, addressed to the Sultans and their high administration, were not allowed to circulate beyond the Ottoman palace (Göçek 1990, 80). The fact that the Ottoman Empire was both an object and an origin for ethnographic narratives complicates standard notions of “imperial travel writing,” by presenting a non-Western but still imperial perspective.

In this light, Ahmed Midhat’s travel accounts stand as “partial truths” written by an observer who was partially an ethnographer (Birkalan 2000) engaged in something akin to fieldwork, and who also acted as a “go-between” (Borm 2000) mediating imaginaries of both Orient and Occident. If “travels and contacts are crucial sites for an unfinished modernity,” as Clifford (1997, 2) writes, we might make sense of Ahmed Midhat’s récit detailing his contacts with Europe as itself an unfinished project—an “in-between” text which yields new insights into perhaps another way of “imperial writing” and its boundaries.

Under the light of Orientalism alla turca, as way to challenge the existing narrative on colonialism and anthropology, I suggest that Ahmed Midhat’s writings were very much attuned to a cosmopolitan style. Locating himself in the text as participant and observer, he emphasized the sensual, the personal, and the autobiographical with a dynamic textual brilliance. He described his own movements vividly, speaking to the senses of the reader in a decidedly poetic way. As in later realist anthropologies, the primary subject of the Cevelân is the essence of “being there.”

Ahmed Midhat’s presence continually intruded into the frame, showing that not only had he been there, but (as classical ethnographies would also claim) that his text could take the reader “there” as well. Strikingly, however, for Ahmed Midhat time was urgent: he ran to keep his schedule, unlike ethnographers who may have had better control of their time. While realist ethnographies of the twentieth century tried to hide time and historicity in an “ethnographic present,” Ahmed Midhat continually and carefully noted dates, counting the number of weeks or months precisely since his departure from İzmir. 

Long before anthropologists spoke of “blurred genres,” Ahmed Midhat’s handsomely embellished travel accounts crossed lines of genre to report on how Europeans lived, ate, and shopped in the times of emergent modernity. But if the Western gaze looked for vanishing “primitives,” or exotic dancers as the “Other” (Young 2008), Ahmed Midhat sought vanishing “European morals” and Muslim women, which simultaneously constituted his complex subjects. He presented his impressions both of everyday life and of the extravagant displays of Paris’s World’s Fair to an audience in Istanbul— the cosmopolis, the world city and seat of the Sultanate. These identifications shed distinctive light on “travel as a cosmopolitan praxis” (Clifford 1997), positioning Ahmed Midhat as a cosmopolitan, modernist author whose observations of Europe serve as a cautionary tale. 

Ahmed Midhat had written about Europe even before his first trip in his 1876 novel Paris’te Bir Türk (A Turk in Paris). In Cevelân he noted, “I traveled the European cities mentally; I almost saw them” (147). He had a well-formulated view of which countries constituted “Europe.” For instance, he noted that Russia did not concern him, as he believed that they were behind European civilization (397). An exception of another sort was Sweden: the Swedes made a remarkable impression because, according to him, they supported material developments without giving up their moral values (155). 

Ahmed Midhat’s journey allowed him to claim a powerfully authoritative voice in Cevelân and to present a “totalizing discourse” on Europe. This authority was also visible, though pointing in a different direction, when, during an audience with the King of Sweden, he put himself in the role of defender of the political stance and situation of the Ottoman Empire (138). Ahmed Midhat deployed the category of “self”—a totalized view of the Ottoman empire— in order to manage relations with the “other”— a totalized view of Europe. Such self-conscious juxtapositions, in my view, represent a very post-modernist “sense-making” of anthropological categories. By selectively applying an objectifying gaze on both Europe and the Ottoman empire, he effectively challenged conventional oppositional categories of “East” and “West” or “Self” and “Other.”

In Imperial Eyes, Mary Louise Pratt introduced the notion of “transculturation” as a remedy to interpretations of travel accounts that assumed a unidirectional relationship between voyagers and the so-called colonial periphery and presented the latter as irredeemably passive. Transculturations are the processes through which travelers revise presupposed ideas about the cultures of “others” as well as one’s own. Pratt situates these processes in “the contact zone”—“social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths” (1996, 34; 2008 [1992], 6). But the travel account Ahmed Midhat wrote, as the emissary of an imperial power, raises interesting complications. Should we consider the Ottomans, as well as European powers, as colonizers? If so, what happens when two colonial powers meet in the “contact zone,” and within the borders of Europe? Or should we look for more embellished analytical perspectives to make sense of Cevelân?

Exposition Universelle 1889, Paris, and Cevelân

Ahmed Midhat’s writings were part of a longer trajectory of participation by Ottoman intelligentsia in World’s Fairs. For the 1867 World’s Fair in Paris, Sultan Abdülaziz, wishing to “partake in the cultural life of Europe” (Çelik 1992, 96; Gök 2003), had installed a mosque, a residence, a bath, and a fountain at the Ottoman Pavilion, at the invitation of Emperor Napoléon III. At the 1889 World’s Fair, the Ottoman presence was limited to one Tobacco Pavilion, placed among the “other” eastern cultures, as Ahmed Midhat notes (570–71). 

Turkish Tobacco Pavilion with Folies Parisiennes on left (Library of Congress)

World’s Fairs were systems of representation on a grand scale and effective mechanisms of cultural production. Çelik and Kinney note that “among their novel technologies was the creation of ersatz habitats; these scenarios of a reductive presentation of different cultures generated easily apprehended, symbolic imagery” (1990, 35). Exposition Universelle 1889 relied heavily on archaeological and anthropological displays (Greenhalgh 1988, 36) as well as cultural façades, entertainment concessions, and other vivid national and corporate displays to impress visitors. 

Above all, technological displays appealed to Ahmet Midhat. Mechanical industry, which was displayed at the Champ de Mars next to the Eiffel Tower, immediately caught his eye, and he visited the machinery multiple times; he was so impressed with technological developments that he once left the visiting hall as the last visitor (650–661). Within this arena, he traveled on a passenger train and used the elevator of the Eiffel Tower, exclaiming, “it is this kind of machinery that makes life so easy!”

Visiting the Gallery of Machines, inventions for small industries such as sewing and weaving fascinated him: “The Singer sewing machines produce superior quality of work very fast”; “The silk looms can contribute to the national economy.” He also made comparisons: “Ottomans, too, had set up silk looms in Bursa, Athens, and Thessaloniki,” but he found them inferior to what he saw at the fair (654–659). His entrepreneurial spirit appears in his remark that development is not only about quality but also about mass production. 

Interior of Gallery of Machines, showing machinery (Library of Congress)

Material developments, such as large avenues and boulevards, great bridges, impressive squares, and well-kept public gardens attracted Ahmed Midhat to modernity. Locomotives, train tracks, rapid transportation, and tramlines, along with electricity and lighthouses, formed a great part of his “evolutionary desires”—a yearning for progress, informed by his intellectual investments in social Darwinism. Yet, both curious and cautious, he refused to accept everything Europe offered. In Cevelân Ahmed Midhat illuminated, or textually created, a society in which technological developments conflicted with traditional morality. Thus, his accounts are a vehicle to explore important technological advancements but also to express his wistful yearning for the past glories of the Ottoman Empire through criticism of the morals and values of “nineteenth-century European society.”

Eiffel Tower, Electricity… and Other Imperial Nostalgias?

Cevelân reported on Paris’s unforgettable fin-de-siècle extravaganza. He raved about electric lighting, along with large and small machinery. He offered compelling accounts of steel construction for the Eiffel Tower, which he saw as an outstanding symbol of technological improvement, appearing even more beautiful at night as red electric bulbs adorned it (537). 

In fact, Ahmed Midhat was impressed by all kinds of light. This was already the case in Stockholm, a city that truly captivated him and which he called the most beautifully lit-up city in Europe. Thanks to its lighting systems, he said, “nights turn into days;” thousands of lanterns and candles in addition to electric bulbs illuminated the Drottningholm Palace (170–173). At a vacation palace, away from the center of the city, he saw electricity produced by a mobile steam machine. He perceived all of this within the framework of “medeniyet-i umumiyye”–global civilization, a pool of shared, advanced technologies, not necessarily limited to Europe, but the property of the world. At this thought, his text begins comparing his observations in Europe to what he had seen in the Ottoman Empire: he recalled seeing lights as great as those in Europe in Istanbul and Kordonboyu–İzmir, though without the same quality and extent. His desires quickly followed his comparisons: he next expressed the wish that “we should also have places that light up, like in Paris” (47). At this moment, his admiration for progress, his “evolutionary desire,” shifted to “imperial nostalgia,” the wish to restore his homeland to a lost greatness. 

Ahmed Midhat noted that using steel and lace construction, France had quickly erected the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of its empire, the highest building in the world at the time. When he saw it for the first time, he disliked it aesthetically. He called it “grotesque,” and compared its height with the height of minarets in Istanbul’s Yeni Cami, the New Mosque (95). However, the Eiffel Tower would function for him as a site of transculturation. On his second visit, he changed his mind and praised its architecture (560–562). 

To understand Ahmed Midhat’s fascination with the settings of the fair and particularly his “imperial nostalgias,” the work of On Barak (2013) on transportation and communication in twentieth-century Egypt offers important perspectives. Barak argues that people may perceive and experience “universal” technologies, such as electricity, steamers, railways, telegraphs, tramways, and telephones, differently in various social-cultural contexts. While in the West they symbolized standardization and punctuality, in Egypt they contributed to the production of unique “counter tempos” that pushed back against “dehumanizing European standards of efficiency, linearity, and punctuality” (Barak 2013, 5). Following Barak’s line of thought, it is clear the juncture of Ahmed Midhat’s evolutionary desires and imperial nostalgias was as a site of creative tension.

Ahmed Midhat leveraged his opinions of the Eiffel Tower and other technologies to reflect upon and promote Ottoman values. He balanced his newfound admiration for the tower with pages-long praise for the great achievements of the “East,” thus evoking his imperial nostalgia. He culled historical examples ranging from Mehmed the Conqueror to Avicenna along with other political leaders and scientists who contributed to the ideals of “progress.” The Ottomans “performed” science at the great medreses and libraries. They maintained terakkiyât-ı maneviye (spiritual development), which he opposed to mere fazilet-i maddiye (material virtue). In this way, they were able to conquer the Mediterranean and sail to the Indian Ocean. Therefore, it would be a great mistake to represent the Ottomans (as many in the West had done) as a people primarily fond of pleasure. Yet, Ahmed Midhat wrote, there was a new trend among the West: now Westerners were researching the real traditions of the East, valuing reality over fantasy. He offered the Eighth International Congress of Orientalists in Stockholm as evidence (185–187). In this way, his imperial nostalgia served as the basis for corrections to the misrepresentations made by “ignorant” Europeans. 

Street of Cairo: Ahmed’s Western Anxieties

As a visible representative of a foreign land, Ahmed Midhat—who chose to wear a fez—was pronounced in his Ottoman attire. He was among those Muslim visitors who, according to Çelik (1992), “became a part of the display, often as the major attraction” (15, emphasis mine): Visitors from the Muslim world, such as Tunisia, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire, were part of the amusement for European fairgoers. However, these visitors were not only “populations on display.” As von Plato has demonstrated in her work on exhibition cultures and mass audiences in nineteenth-century France, the French’s perceptions of foreigners also influenced their self-perception (2001). Likewise, Ahmed Midhat’s remarks on “Muslim women dancing” show the ways the Fair influenced his notions of himself, within the broader contours of his embedded otherness and as a man talking about women. Or, put differently, Ahmed Midhat’s own “degrees of Otherness”—in Francesca Vanke’s words (2008, 198)—were illustrated in the ways he described other “others” on display: Muslims, namely Arabs from the Ottoman provinces—fell under the purview of the Ottoman “Other,” or under orientalism alla turca. This was because of the imperial power connections between the mainland Ottoman Empire and their exoticized Arab provinces like Egypt.

His account of the Exposition Universelle’s celebrated “Street of Cairo” regarding politics of gender, sexuality and public space was highly critical:

The Street of Egypt (Cairo) in the Exposition Universelle (Sergi-i Umumî) is a place that has provoked many objections to the morals of the French society. It has been considered the most beloved site by spectators—not because of its industrial products, donkeys, or donkey riders, or for the elegant architecture of the Egyptian-style buildings, but because of the spectacle of these singers and dancers and their belly dancing. Although by and large these performers had Muslim names, it is clear they are not Muslims. They are mostly Tunisian and Egyptian Jews; and some are Coptic Orthodox Christians from Egypt. The many arousing obscene postures and movements of their bodies cannot be taken as something everybody likes and approves [in Muslim nations]. Moreover, it is known that to watch such dances in Tunisia and Egypt requires going to obscure places, and such entertainment is considered debauchery (535). 

How can we make sense of this passage, especially if we consider that “in 1889 the number of spectators who came to watch the Egyptian belly dancers averaged two thousand per day” (Çelik and Kinsley 1992, 39)? In this passage, Ahmed Midhat spoke to two totalizing arguments. By denying a Muslim origin to the female dancers, he pushed back against Orientalist representations of Muslim lands as sensual and permissive. At the same time, alleging that the dancers were Jewish or Christian, he presented yet another essentialist view about Western women. According to him, Muslim women would never wear such costumes and dance in this way—while Christian and Jewish women evidently lack such scruples! For Ahmed Midhat, this staging encapsulated the violence of Western representations of the Orient. Yet, we do not know if he was aware of the Parisian dance practices in bars and clubs at the time, which might have contributed to his totalizing arguments about “European women.” 

Crowd on “a street in Cairo” in front of the Pavilions of Morocco (Library of Congress)

Fair organizers claimed their presentation of the Street of Cairo was rooted in archaeological exactitude and “authenticity.” However, in Ahmed Midhat’s view it was not the street’s shops and musicians, artisans, or donkey drivers that drew spectators to the pavilion, but the female dancers. For Ahmed Midhat, the Street of Cairo was, in Pratt’s terms, a contact zone, a transcultural site. But rather than helping him overcome his prejudices about Europe and the Orient, it reinforced them. In the end, he exchanged what he saw as a stereotype with a different stereotype, about the Orient and the West, about women, about morals, and, certainly, about himself.

Although Ahmed Midhat could not help but speak, directly and indirectly, about the Ottoman “self” in his text, he barely mentioned the Ottoman Tobacco Pavilion. Rather, he found alterity—his “others”—in the Street of Cairo exhibit. His criticism of the seemingly misrepresented Orient and Muslim women was in line with his conviction of the moral corruption of European modernity. “Admittedly,” he wrote, “in Europe, if a man falls down in the street and dies, not one of the thousands of men who run to watch feel obligated to give him a sip of water” (386). In other parts of his travelogue, he lectured on declining religious values: “Europeans, as they became enlightened and materially developed, mentally declined and ceased to talk about religion” (771). He had already undercut his claims to the moral high ground, however, by earlier sharing with his readers that he once became so drunk that he even got entirely lost himself (675)! 

Despite such humanizing admissions, his expressions of moral indignation are added to ethnocentric effusions of cultural exceptionalism and Ottoman pride: “My mind ventured around the morality and the mores of the Ottomans. Oh, Ottomans, My dear! Every aspect of the empire has been adorned with Highness. Can one imagine another nation with such grace as the Ottomans, in the entire world?” (111). 

By wearing his fez, he emphasized his Ottoman identity and outlook. When an engineer asked him “Monsieur, are you Jewish?” he reported to reply: “No, Effendi, I am not. I am an Ottoman, and among the best, as I am Turkish and Muslim. I write in the Ottoman script, which is written with the Arabic script, which is recognized as having derived from Hebrew.” Rather than making a concluding remark, he opened a new discussion, where, with these words, he presented his identity, his sense of belonging in essentialist terms, at a period when terms such as “Ottoman” versus “Turk” had become important in Ottoman elites’ discussions of westernization and modernization. 

Conclusion

Certainly, Ahmed Midhat was not the only Ottoman to report on Europe; many others in the same period admired Europe and so-called European developments. My aim has been to show that in Avrupa’da Bir Cevelân, Ahmed Midhat enjoys a liminal position, oscillating between admiration and rejection. Faced with European spectacle he feels at times desire and nostalgia, and, at times, jealousy and anxiety. I have illustrated these points by identifying his evolutionary desires, imperial nostalgias, and western anxieties, all of which are presented (for consumption by Istanbul’s intellectuals—and possibly for European and American diplomats) within materialist and social Darwinist frames. 

While Cevelân can serve as a source for considering the social implications of evolutionist thought, Ahmed Midhat brought a twist. Fashioning himself as a curious observer committed to development, he became an enthusiastic scientist when describing Europe, calling on Ottoman political and intellectual leaders to emulate European support of science. At the same time, he cautioned them not to leave behind their traditional values. His affinity for both Western development and critique of its moral decline clearly shows his caution regarding the existing Ottoman political order. Returning from exile, he became even closer to Abdulhamid II’s view of combining western development with a firm perpetuation of Islamic values, which he presented as “spirituality” or “religion” in more general terms.

As an authoritative writer aiming to instruct his readers on “Europe,” he participated in and observed European society and everyday practices. Rather than completely admiring or rejecting the “Europe” formulated by previous travelers, he brought a cosmopolitan experience, and, at the same time, never abandoned his essentialist attachment to “Eastern” spiritual qualities. Orhan Okay summarizes Ahmed Midhat’s vision thus: “Ottomans can reach the level of European material development, but Europe cannot reclaim the morality that it had lost”; his ideal society combines East and West, joining high technological development with high morality (Okay 1975, 772, 52–53). In other words, he both approached and distanced himself from Europe. According to Carter Findley, Ahmed Midhat shows how “an Ottoman thinker could creatively engage with Europe and yet resist its cultural power, a power that–if omnipresent—was not omnipotent” (1998, 49). 

Avrupa’da Bir Cevelân, then, was a text fulfilling three missions at once. First was an academic, internationalist mission: at the Orientalist Congresses he defended the Orient and criticized Westerners for their lack of knowledge about Eastern civilizations. His second, popular mission was to translate Europe for his readers and educate them on its technological and industrial developments; here, at times, he presented Europe as a cautionary tale, often falling into moralism. Put blandly, he argued that material progress and moral decay had gone hand in hand in contemporary Europe and warned his fellow Ottomans against making the same mistake. Lastly, with the intention to distribute his book to foreign diplomats in the United States and England, he also taught that the Ottomans did not belong to the “backward” Orient. He presented Ottomans to a wider international audience as competitors in global civilization, and as a uniquely glorious empire in its own right. 

Acknowledgements

This article is part of a project funded by DFG (Deutsche Forschung Gemeinschaft/German Research Foundation), Traveling Theories: Die Geschichte der Anthropologie in der Türkei (18501950) which critically examines the history of anthropology in Turkey over a century. The author thanks Taylor Moore, Rosanna Dent, and John Tresch for their valuable comments and edits on the text. 


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[1] The Ottoman Empire with the Tanzimat Period, ca. 1839, and the Republic of Turkey, until 1926, used the Rumi (Roman) calendar, based on the Julian calendar. The date in Roman calendar in the original is 3 Teşrîn-i Sānî 1305. My title borrows the term from Herzog and Motika who aimed to locate Ottoman Empire within postcolonial studies and offered a new way of thinking about the Ottomans relationship with the Western world as well as with its Arab colonies. In short, Orientalism alla turca conveys the emergent imperialist attitude of the Ottomans along European lines. See: Herzog and Motika 2000. Additonally, Özgür Türesay notes (2013) that since the end of the 1990s, several historians, including Selim Deringil, Ussama Makdisi, and Thomas Kühn, have offered terms such as “Ottoman orientalism,” or “Ottoman civilizing mission” to discuss Ottoman’s relations to Europe and Arab populations. An “Ottoman colonialism” emerged during the second half of the nineteenth century, when the Ottoman elite adopted the ways of thinking of their enemies, the great imperialist nations, and began to conceive of their boundaries as part of a colonial settings.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, translations are my own. 

[3] “A Tour in Europe” is one possible translation for the title Avrupa’da Bir CevelânCevelân, often used as a compound verb as “cevelân et-” means strolling, or promenading. “Seyâhat” is more common for traveling and “seyahatnâme” is the name for travelogue. Ahmed Midhat’s “travel” implies passing joyful time but also investing mental and physical labor, especially when one considers that he was 45 years old when he took the journey.

[4] Ahmed Midhat published the travelogue in Ottoman script, the alphabet used in the written records of the Ottoman Empire from ca. 1300 and in Turkey from 1919 until the official adoption of the Roman alphabet in 1928. The present work on Avrupa’da Bir Cevelân uses the edition in Roman alphabet with translator’s notes (Pala 2015) and consults the original in Arabic script when needed.

[5] See for example: Ursinus 1987; Boer 2002; Esen 2014; Gonzales 2012. Okay’s treatment of Ahmed Midhat’s mentality towards Europe (1975) remains as a notable source.

Activating the Torres Strait Archive: An Interview with Anita Herle and Jude Philp on Recording Kastom

We at HAR were very excited to learn about the recent publication of Recording Kastom: Alfred Haddon’s Journals from the Torres Strait and New Guinea, 1888 and 1898. The book features the previously unpublished journals of Cambridge zoologist and anthropologist Alfred Haddon, who worked in the Torres Strait and New Guinea in 1888 and 1898. “Kastom” is a dynamic concept which refers to contemporary knowledge and practices that derive authenticity from a perceived origin in the pre-colonial past. It’s defined further in the Torres Strait Islander Commission Act (2005 (2019)): “Ailan [Island] Kastom means the body of customs, traditions, observances and beliefs of some or all of the Torres Strait Islanders living in the Torres Strait area.” Haddon’s extensive documentation, originally seen as salvage ethnography, is currently used by Islanders as a means of connecting with the past and as a crucial resource for maintaining and revitalizing aspects of kastom in the present.

Recording Kastom analyzes and contextualizes the journals and intimate documents Haddon sent to his wife Fanny for information and safe-keeping. These documents reveal many details of day-to-day life in the field, including the central role played by the Islanders in his collecting practices. The book’s authors, Anita Herle (AH) and Jude Philp (JP), agreed to virtually sit down with HAR editors Cameron Brinitzer (CB), Freddy Foks (FF), and Laurel Waycott (LW) for a chat. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.

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‘Structures’ in Context

“Mythical thought, this bricoleur, builds structures by putting together events, or rather the residues of events, while science ‘at work,’ simply as a result of having been established, creates its means and its results in the form of events, thanks to the structures that it is ceaselessly producing and which are its hypotheses and theories.”

            Claude Lévi-Strauss, Wild Thought (2021[1962], 25-26).

“It is the hallmark of productive experimental systems that their differential reproduction leads to events that may induce major shifts in perspective within or even beyond their confines. In a way, they proceed by continually deconstructing their own perspective.”

           Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Toward a History of Epistemic Things (1997, 36).

“Perhaps something has occurred in the history of the concept of structure that could be called an ‘event,’ if this loaded word did not entail a meaning which it is precisely the function of structuralor structuralistthought to reduce or suspect.”

            Jacques Derrida, “Structure, Sign, and Play” (1978[1967], 278).

“Archaeology, however, must examine each event in terms of its own evident arrangement; it will recount how the configurations proper to each positivity were modified…it will analyze the alteration of the empirical entities which inhabit the positivities…it will study the displacement of the positivities each in relation to the others…lastly, and above all, it will show that the general area of knowledge is no longer that of identities and differences…but an area made up of organic structures, that is, of internal relations between elements whose totality performs a function…”

            Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (1970 [1966], 218).

“Although Foucault, in his analysis of the processes by means of which the classical episteme was replaced by our own, had proposed that these epistemes be seen as being discontinuous with each other, what he oversaw was that such a discontinuity, like the earlier discontinuity that had been effected by the classical episteme itself, was taking place in the terms of a continuous cultural field.

            Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom” (2003, 318).

“This book has traced how epistemology and ethos emerged and merged over time and in context, one epistemic virtue often in point-counterpoint opposition to the others. But although they may sometimes collide, epistemic virtues do not annihilate one another like rival armies. Rather, they accumulate…”

            Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison, Objectivity (2007, 363).

***

If structuralism has implied a denial of history, does studying structuralism as a historical phenomenon mean denying its validity? What difference might it make to shift analytic attention from specific structuralists or structuralisms to structures as epistemic things?

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Structure

Editors’ note: This essay was first published in Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences, Vol. 42, No. 5 (November 2012), 496-499. Special Issue “50 Years of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” edited by Michael Gordin and Erika Lorraine Milam. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author and HSNS editors.


“Structure” was a word to conjure with in 1962. Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Structural Anthropology had appeared in 1958 (translated into English in 1963); Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures was first published in 1957 and had reached its fifth printing by 1965.[1] Even if they didn’t brandish the word “structure” in their titles, a cluster of influential books in the humanities and social sciences published circa 1960 raised hopes that the complexities of, say, the plays of Racine or cultural taboos or bargaining might reveal simpler basic structures the way an X-ray revealed skeletons.[2] The runaway success of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions did its part to glamorize an already up-and-coming word. Even scholars more resistant to the lure of structuralism than linguists and anthropologists, for example historians and philosophers but also psychologists and psychoanalysts, fell under the spell of Kuhn’s structures of scientific development.[3]

Yet probably no word strikes historians of science nowadays reading Kuhn (if they do) as more dusty and dated than the once glittering “structure.” This is not because the whole book is a fossil from a bygone era. Even if it is no longer assigned in courses across the university, much of Kuhn’s analysis still seems fresh and even avant garde: the close studies of scientific pedagogy that he flagged as crucial to understanding the cognitive and social cohesion of research communities are still a desideratum; much work in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science still focuses on the resolution of controversies as the moment when researchers’ most fundamental assumptions are laid bare; topics such as the know-how implicit in mastering scientific paradigms have been revived by the history of the body and other explorations of what is often called, not always accurately, tacit knowledge. Even though many of the polestar words that do now guide the history of science—“context,” “controversy,” “consensus”—were first made luminous in Kuhn’s Structure, “structure” itself has lost its shine.

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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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Nine Pails of Ashes: Social Networks, Genocide, and the Structuralists’ Database of Language

Confined as we are to a structural analysis, we need give only a brief justification of the proposition just advanced, and according to which complex kinship structures—i.e., not involving the positive determination of the type of preferred spouse—can be explained as the result of the development or combination of elementary structures. A special and more developed study is to be devoted to these complex structures at a later date.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, 1949

It’s complicated.

Facebook, ca. 2007

Precritical and commonsensical accounts imagine language as liberation from bodily constraints.[1] Through language, internal representations escape their cranial enclosure permitting, if not a communion, at least a confluence of individual thoughts and experiences. In 1972, American literary critic Fredric Jameson suggested recent theoretical trends might be flipping this notion on its head, when, inspired by Russian formalism and structuralism, he spoke of a “prison-house of language” (1974, i, 186, 214-215). This analogy suggested a carceral account of language, in which humans—perhaps including theorists—were held captive by words and signs. Utterances became less like the expressions of a rich subjective interiority than a trace of fetters, anchored in the walls of cells assigning the speaker’s perspective.

In some crucial respects, the carceral analogy had much to recommend it. French structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques recounts indigenous life enclosed by a vicious colonial state and reduced to a dispersed network of fragmentary elements. Swiss structural linguist Ferdinand de Saussure’s accounts of speech as situated in a “spoken chain,” “sound-chain,” and “phonetic chain” envisions the subjects of language as manacled in linguistic determinants that precede and exceed them (1959, 22-23). His celebrated account of language as a game of chess implies not merely containment but also a highly regimented warfare in which capture and defeat spring more from the “rules of the game” than individuals’ agency.[2] French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s account of the criminal as subject to the demands of a social structure, rather than aberrancy of conscience or soul, suggest analyst and society are, in fact, oriented and constrained by an individual’s pathology (2006, 102-122, 739). Such examples illustrate a few of the “constraints” operative within structuralist models. The subjects of structuralism find themselves governed by spaces, operations, procedures, and transformations not of their own making, where potential moves follow precisely assigned steps.

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The Place of Structuralism on the Hungarian Intellectual Scene: Late 1960s – Early 1970s

I am writing these notes from the perspective of a peripheral observer, having been a student of psychology and linguistics when structuralism reached Hungary. I was mainly a consumer of—if at times kitchen sink social participant in—the debates spurred by the arrival of structuralism. There was a great difference, for many of us, from what we saw on the French philosophical scene in the 1960s. The French history of structuralism has focused on structuralism as a comprehensive social theory that questioned the commitments of what were then traditionally left-leaning social power- and history-oriented social sciences and humanities in France. Seen from Hungary, however, structuralism appeared as a culmination of half a century of (what was assumed by many to be an almost) organic development: from Saussurian linguistics to universal structures of cognition and society. In Hungary, in addition, we had a political situation where the social implications of scientific theories could take the form of direct political intervention.

Structuralism hit many youngsters in Hungary coming from linguistics proper, and not from Foucault, Lacan, and Lévi-Strauss. At the same time, the message of structuralism in the Hungarian context was the concentration on pure structure and form rather than history and content. It was in a way like the 1920s Russian and Czech formalism: the inspiration towards form was coming from linguistics and language-inspired poetics.

Status quo of Hungarian linguistics in the early 1960s

To understand the situation of modern linguistics in Hungary and the impact of a structural vision, a few basic background factors should be considered. Hungarian linguistics in the 1930s and 1940s saw a small but promising structuralist attempt in the work of Gyula Laziczius (1896–1957), a phonologist and general linguist who initiated the Prague School (Linguistic Circle) and inspired Karl Bühler’s vision of language structure. Laziczius conceived langue as a system of signs accommodated to states of affairs in actual speech, or parole, and characterized by three functions: the descriptive, the directive, and the expressive functions (Laziczius 1942, 1966). As a phonologist with an instrumental phonetic background, Laziczius concentrated especially on the expressive function in his studies of emphatic aspects of speech.[1] One aspect of this had particular relevance for the following generation: between 1938 and 1949, Laziczius built the first European department of structuralist general linguistics at the University of Budapest (Pázmány, later Eötvös). Amidst the communist reorganization of academic life, the department was shut down, which resulted in a 10-15 year cessation of structuralist activity in Hungarian linguistics and hindered intergenerational transmission of structuralist orientations.

In the early 1960s, there was an interesting triangularity, wherein both traditional linguistics and Marxist ideology were opposed to a structural study of language. Traditional linguistics, still clinging to the frozen metatheory of the late nineteenth century neogrammarians, claimed that the only scientific study of language was historical linguistics. This attitude harbored suspicions about the structuralist and form-based “static” analysis of the linguistic system. Formális nyelvészet, or “formal linguistics,” moved away from immediately-given folk categories in a language and instead towards a view of language as a system of signs. Not an easy move.  

There was another tension surrounding the introduction of a structuralist approach to language in Hungary. The Marxist social imaginary understood society to be the result of constant class conflict and struggle, and applied a radical historicism and historical relativism to its interpretation. Class interest and history permeated everything. The structuralist attitude—when extended from the proper domain of language, with its concentration on system rather than history—presented a significant challenge.[2]

Structural analysis and would-be Hungarian structuralists thus had to face two inbuilt ideological, scientific, and existential rivals in the 1960s. Structuralists were considered problematic because they both neglected meaning and treated language as an object rather than an internal essence of humans. The other criticism, which Marxists leveled at structuralists’ ahistorical treatment of language, was that their concentration on structure implied a vision of eternal human nature.

Two structuralist Hungarian linguists in the 1960s: Antal and Fónagy

In spite of these intellectual and political contexts, two short-lived attempts to build up a structural linguistics still took form in Hungary. One was that of László Antal (1930-1993), a dynamic young linguist who was exceptionally well-read for the rather intellectually-closed communist country at the time. Antal started a campaign for structuralism in 1958 with a short paper published in a widely-read journal, Magyar Nyelvőr.[3] There, he outlined the idea that structuralism could serve as a generic name for all approaches that considered language to be “a closed system of signs,” and proposed “that the value of a given sign or sign category is determined by its definite place in the entire system” (Antal 1958, 94). Antal (1959, 1961b) worked to apply the structuralist approach to long-debated and difficult issues of Hungarian descriptive morphology.[4] He also published a popular book on what he called formal linguistic analysis (1964). This book—the first linguistics book that I ever read—combined the ideas borrowed from Harris (1951) and from Shannon (1948) with Shannon and Weaver’s (1949) information theory.

Antal had started from the mentalistic frames of Saussure, but he gradually became committed to a strictly behavioral vision of language. Morphological boundaries in segmentation would correspond to changes in entropy. Antal “started from the problems of segmentation in agglutinative languages and proposed that over words, the usual tendency is decreasing entropy. By this he meant the number of possible continuations at any given point that correspond to lexical density and grammatical structure.”[5] Thus, Antal used Shannon and Weaver’s (1949) notion of entropy for equal probability outcomes, where entropy is a function of the number of possible outcomes.[6] It is important that Antal’s structural approach had a hidden existential component: his structuralism campaigned for the independence of linguistics (from psychology and logic) by arguing for the existence of self-sufficient linguistic structures. In this approach, there was a corollary between the independence of linguistic structure and the independence of general linguistics.    

Iván Fónagy (1920-2005), the other representative of structuralism in Hungary in the early 1960s, was the fundamental contrast to Antal. Instead of independence, he looked for interdependence. He was committed to combining the psychological (in fact, the psychoanalytic) and the literary approaches to language with a structural approach to the language system.

Fónagy had a pupil-mentor relationship with Laziczius and thus represented a sort of continuity with a Saussure-inspired mentalistic structuralism, which Fónagy embedded in his sophisticated approach to multiple functions of language and framed in the tradition of the Prague School (Jakobson 1960) and Karl Bühler (1934).

Fónagy mainly contributed to a structuralist approach in three ways. Unlike Antal, he was not interested in an internalist structural approach but rather its extension toward a comprehension of the total communicative situation (Kiefer 2005; Szende 2008; Pléh 2018).[7] A second novel contribution was his analysis of the functions of language, with special attention to emotional expression. Finally, he reinterpreted the arbitraire of linguistic signs. As Kiefer (2005) has pointed out, for Fónagy, arbitrary linguistic signs had been historically motivated, and in actual communicative acts they obtain a secondary iconic or indexical motivation.[8]

What happened to linguistic structuralism in Hungary?

As Ferenc Kiefer (1931-2020), a Hungarian linguist of the subsequent generation, recently chronicled, a sui generis, fully-fledged Hungarian linguistic structuralism never developed (Kiefer 2019). There were several reasons for this. The first was the reaction of official academia, which was dominated by traditional historical- and meaning-centered linguistics. In 1961, for example, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (an important intellectual compass in Budapest) organized a grand “debate” about structuralism, with a plenary talk by Zsigmond Telegdi (1909-1994), one of the most educated and influential linguists in Hungary at the time. Telegdi claimed that there was a proper place for formal analysis. He tried to ease the worries of traditionalists by suggesting that this place for structure should not reduce interest in historical linguistics. He also tried to relax the Marxists by claiming that, while formal analysis had its autonomy, in a comprehensive vision of language the study of meaning and society also had their places.

As Kiefer presents it, the debate resolved very little, if anything. Since that time, the duality of traditional historical linguistics, on the one hand, and more method-oriented theoretical linguistics, on the other, has remained prominent in Hungary. But two of Telegdi’s other rhetorical moves have proved to be very productive. First, he pointed out that in the Soviet Union discussions about structuralism led to an official academic resolution in 1960, in which a clear differentiation between structuralism as an idealist ideology and structuralism as a method was made (Telegdi 1961, 24). Second, he highlighted how older questions concerning linguistic structures were taken up by mathematicians in the Soviet Union, and applied to the new problems of machine translation and computerized language processing.[9]

As chair of the re-established Department of General Linguistics in Budapest, Telegdi helped create an educational curriculum for “general and applied linguists,” separate from both language-specific philology and traditional Hungarian linguistics.[10] The new linguistics, however, was much more than structural. Antal’s and Fónagy’s first attempts at a modern structuralism in Hungary were quickly displaced by generative grammar. Structures were soon supplemented or even replaced by rules all over the place.[11]

For my generation, which was trained by these early converts to generative grammar, the famous examples of separating grammaticality and meaning—for example, with sentences like Chomsky’s (1957) “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”—introduced the idea that syntax and form had primacy in cognitive organization. This idea was also taken up in psychology through “a primary concentration on formal aspects both regarding representations and regarding models of cognition. Cognitive research in the 1960s repeated for general cognition what had been initiated by the early linguistic structuralism of the Russian formalists and the avant-garde artistic movements in the 1920s” (Pléh 2019, 405). A focus on form and sentences soon appeared in experimental cognitive psychology as well as in linguistic theory. This attitude has remained a persistent feature of Hungarian psycholinguistics and cognitive psychology ever since.

Addendum: What happened to other structuralisms in Hungary?

Structuralism first appeared in Hungary, albeit belatedly, in linguistics. Being trained as a psychologist and linguist, I viewed developments at the time in other fields mainly with the eye of a linguist. I was happy to see the methods and worldview of formal linguistics extended to other domains. As a consequence, at the time we felt a number of critical interventions to be threats to the entire “linguistic turn” (Bollobás 2019). Other fields, such as folklore, anthropology, and literary studies followed suit about a decade later. But because of the complex—sometimes joined, sometimes rivaled—interests of the Communist Party’s ideological leadership in traditional historical, sociological, and literary scholarship, structuralism’s entry into these fields created a much bigger splash.

In my naïve view, this was related to two factors. Anthropological structuralism questioned the historical relativity so cherished by mainstream Marxists. Literary structuralism, for its part, posed a challenge to many literary scholars for reasons of tradition. The dominant view at the time held that literary analysis should be centered on life history and sociological contextualization. For the Marxists, this contextualization should embed literature into the frames of class struggle and aesthetic realism. With its concentration on form and sometimes even quantitative methods, and with its choice of authors to be studied and researchers to do these studies, structuralism in these fields created a real uproar.

One could list many examples.[12] Elemér Hankiss (1928-2015), who was at the time a politically-compromised multilingual literary scholar, edited a double book of translations on structuralism (Hankiss, 1971) that was provocative for two reasons. First, it collated all modern literary studies under the banner of structuralism; and second, it avoided the question of whether structuralism was an ideology—an issue that was crucial even for soft-line party treatments of structuralism at the time (Kelemen, 1969). Hankiss (1969) also published a book of essays for a general audience, and it employed structural analysis to show how similar principles operate in phenomena as seemingly diverse as Hungarian folk songs and the writings of Samuel Beckett. Both the ahistoricity and the choice of works were provocations.[13]That was enough from a single intellectual. Hankiss had to leave Szeged University and later the entire literary scene. He became a noted sociologist, politologist, a liberal political figure, and the president of Hungarian National television after 1990.

Gábor Bezeczky (2006), a Hungarian literary scholar, also provides a detailed description of the multiple forms that Hungarian literary structuralism took in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the Communist Party’s ideological reactions against it, ultimately resulting in a high-profile ideology session. These official reactions undermined foreign influences during the early 1970s. We were in the aftermath of the 1968 Prague Spring crackdown, and in the middle of what Kremlinologists have called a hardening of the Brezhnev party line and Soviet ideological control. All of the central party’s interventions felt threatening at the time. Structuralism—though a pseudo-official summary of the “debate” was still published in 1977 (Szerdahelyi 1977)—was practically stopped in literary and human sciences. Bezeczky (2006, 6) put it ironically: “The reason for alarm on the part of the party line literators was probably that they ran out of ideas. Within literary scholarship they were unable to juxtapose anything to what they called ‘formal’. Thus they reverted to a political stance”. Bollobás (2019) recently described the consequences ironically as well, noting how the new generation of students started a new chapter of post-structuralism. Thus, the late appearance of structuralism was fast followed by a strong post-structuralist movement in Hungarian literary theory. Does that mean that party hardliners won?  

One can see sad or instructive parallels in the fate of certain social and human sciences in Hungary. The politically-minded and tradition-oriented critics of modernity killed some trends, but much stronger and longer lasting ones appeared in their place. There was true human suffering and tragedy involved. The much-criticized linguistic structuralism was replaced by generative grammar. Literary structuralism was wiped out in the name of a strong post-structuralism and literary hermeneutics. And the party line critique of soft or revisionist Marxism led both to the death of Marxism in Hungary and the birth of a strong philosophy of language and mind.

Works Cited

Antal, László. 1958. A strukturalizmusról. [On structuralism]. Magyar Nyelvőr 82: 94–99.

Antal, László. 1959. Gondolatok a magyar főnév birtokos ragozásáról. [Thoughts on the possessive declination of Hungarian nouns]. Magyar Nyelv 55: 351–7.

Antal, László. 1961a. A magyar esetrendszer. [The Hungarian case system]. Budapest: Akademiai.

Antal, László 1961b. “On the Possessive Form of the Hungarian Noun.” General Linguistics 5: 39-46

Antal, László. 1964. A formális nyelvi elemzés. [Formal linguistic analysis]. Budapest: Gondolat.

Bernáth, Árpád. 2019. “Az irodalomelmélet 1956 után újra polgárjogot nyert Magyarországon.” [Literary theory has been licensed again after 1956 in Hungary]. In Elméletek vonzásában, edited by Enikő Bollobás, 50-112.

Bezeczky, Gábor. 2006. “A strukturalizmus Magyarországon.” [Structuralism in Hungary.] 2000, 17.4: 64-76.

Bollobás, Enikő. 2019. “Az első nyelvi fordulat Magyarországon. A strukturalista szemlélet megjelenése az irodalomtudományban.” [The first linguistic turn in Hungary. The appearance of strcturalsist approach I literary scholarship]. In Elméletek vonzásában, edited by Enikő Bollobás, 113-155.

Bollobás, Emikő, ed. 2019. Elméletek vonzásában. [Attracted by theories]. Budapest: Gondolat.

Brown, Roger. 1970. Psycholinguistics: Selected Papers. New York: Free Press.

Bühler, Karl. 1934. Sprachtheorie: Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache. Jena: Fischer. English edition: 1990. Theory of Language: The Representational Function of Language. Translated by D. F. Goodwin. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic Structures. Hague: Mouton.

Fónagy, Iván. 1960. “A hang és a szó hírértéke a költői nyelvben.” [The information value of sound and word in poetic language]. Nyelvtudományi Közlemények 62: 73–100.

Fónagy, Iván. 1962. “Beszéd és valószínűség.” [Speech and probability]. Magyar Nyelvőr 86: 309–320.

Fónagy, Iván.  1963. “A stílus hírértéke.” [Information value of style]. Általános Nyelvészeti Tanulmányok 1: 69–76.

Fónagy, Iván. 1971. “Double Coding in Speech.” Semiotica 3: 189–222.

Fónagy, Iván. 1990/91. “The Chances of Vocal Characterology.” Acta Lingustica Hungarica. 40: 285–313.

Fónagy, Iván. 2001. Languages within Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Fónagy, Iván, and Fonagy, Peter. 1995. “Communication with Pretend Actions in Language, Literature and Psychoanalysis.” Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought 18: 363–418.

Harris, Zellig. 1951. Methods in Structural Linguistics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jakobson, Roman. 1960. “Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics.” In Style in Language, edited by T. Sebeok. Cambridge: MIT Press, 350-377.

Kelemen, János. 1969. Mi a strukturalizmus? [What is structuralism?]. Budapest: Kossuth.

Kenesei, István. 2006. “Antal László igazgyöngyei és hamis ékszerei.” [The real pearls and hake jewelry of A.L.] In: Kálmán László (szerk.), KB 120 A titkos kötet Nyelvészeti tanulmányok Bánréti Zoltán és Komlósy András tiszteletére. Budapest: MTA Nyelvtudományi Intézet – Tinta Kiadó, 337–352.

Kiefer, Ferenc. 2005. “Fónagy Iván (1920-2005).” Magyar Tudomány 166: 1170–1172.

Kiefer, Ferenc. 2008. “Gyula Laziczius, a Hungarian structuralist.”  Acta Linguistica Hungarica 55: 121–130

Kiefer, Ferenc. 2019. “A hatvanas évek magyar nyelvtudománya. Az elméleti nyitás korszaka.” [Hungarian linguistics of the 1960s. The age of theoretical opening]. In Elméletek vonzásában, edited by Enikő Bollobás, 19-49.

Laziczius, Gyula. 1942. Általános nyelvészet. Alapelvek és módszertani kérdések. [General linguistics: Basic principles and questions of method]. Budapest: MTA.

Laziczius, Julius. 1944/1961. Lehrbuch der Phonetik. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Laziczius, Gyula. 1966. Selected Writings of Gyula Laziczius, edited by Thomas A. Sebeok. The Hague: Mouton.

Hankiss, Elemér. 1969. A népdaltól az abszurd drámáig. [From folk song to absurd drama]. Budapest: Magvetó.

Hankiss, Elemér, ed. 1971a. Strukturalizmus. I–II. Budapest: Európa.

Hankiss, Elemer, ed. 1971b. Formateremtő elvek a költői műalkotásban. [Form creating principles in poetry.] Budapest: Akademiai Kiado.

Hankiss, Elemer, ed. 1971c. A novellaelemzés új módszerei. [New methods of short story analysis]. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado.

Pléh, Csaba. 2019. “The Inspirational Role of Chomsky in the Cognitive Turn of Psychology.” Acta Linguistica Academica 66: 397–428.

Pléh, Csaba, Németh, Kornél, Varga, Dániel, Fazekas, Judit and Várhelyi, Klára. 2013. “Entropy measures and predictive recognition as mirrored in gating and lexical decision over multimorphemic Hungarian noun forms.”  Psihologija 46: 397–420.

Shannon, Claude. 1948. “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.” Bell System Technical Journal 27: 379–423.

Shannon, Claude, and Weaver, Warren. 1949. A Mathematical Model of Communication. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Szende, Tamás. 2008. “Ivan Fonagy (1920–2005): Leitmotifs in his Oeuvre.” Acta Linguistica Hungarica 51: 131–143.

Szerdahelyi, István, ed. 1977. A strukturalizmus-vita. I.-II. [The structuralism debate]. Budapest: Akademiai.

Telegdi, Zsigmond. 1961. “A nyelvtudomány újabb fejlődésének egyes kérdéseiről.” [On some questions of newer developments in linguistics]. MTA I. Oszt. Közl. 18: 11–27.


[1] Kiefer (2008) gives a detailed account of his life and oeuvre.

[2] This challenge was outlined in the local context, for example, by the booklet that claimed to put structuralism back in its proper place, by Kelemen (1969), a linguistically well-read and rather young (just 26 years old!) Marxist philosopher at the time.

[3] The journal has no official English name but can be translated as, Hungarian Language Guardian. The meaning of guardian is as a safeguard of proper language use. It could, in fact, be translated almost as a “watchdog.”

[4] For example, he started to apply morphemic analysis in the style of Bloomfield and Harris (1951) for the Hungarian possessive nominal forms and the status of the plural possessed markers (ház-a-i-m-ban ‘house-Poss-Plau-Mine-IN’) that had already created plenty of discussion. In the same vein he published a much influential book on the Hungarian nominal case system showing how distributional analysis and the concept of allomorphy was helping to decide the status of certain endings if they are case markers and the status of linking vowels without a recourse to meaning intuitions (Antal 1961a).

[5] To take an English example, the string boo can continue as boot, book, boor, boom etc., having high uncertainty, while prog can only continue as progr, having no uncertainty at that point.

[6] This point is first made and elaborated in (Pléh et al. 2013, 398).

[7] The first extension had a starting point similar to Antal. Fónagy (1960, 1962, 1963) also wanted to extend the recently emerging information theory to the analysis of language. But while for Antal entropy was an issue related to language segmentation, for Fónagy who was using information theory to consider issues of parole, uncertainties of prediction were related to some language-external factors to be found in the Sender, to be analyzed as a symptom mature for psychoanalytic interpretation.

[8] This is the essential element of his ideas about double coding (Fónagy 1971, 2001). There are two coding processes on all levels of language. There is a primary code, where the grammar is manipulating arbitrary signs to arrive to a propositionally articulated message. The secondary coding introduces a Distorter in the communicative chain that reshapes, recodes, distorts and transforms the arbitrary signs of primary code into messages referring to unconscious underlying processes as well. The two layers are never separated, they constantly “interplay”. The secondary code is “parasitic”: it builds upon the primary code, there is no secondary code without an elaborated primary code. As Szende (2008, 135) his student and follower in Hungarian phonetics put it, the notional, propositional component “on its way to implementation undergoes another encoding operation by way of which the linguistic form eventually uttered becomes a full-fledged utterance. That operation of expressing emotions or the speaker’s attitude towards the entity or included in the statement changes the utterance mimetically and/or articulatorily. This can be most immediately recognized in the use of emphatic forms. It is in that sense, thus, that speech is ’doubly encoded’”.

[9] Kiefer also describes in detail how similar initiatives were implemented in Hungary among, for example, mathematicians involved in information theory and cybernetics in both Szeged and Budapest. The Academy’s Institute for Computer Science opened an entire section of mathematical linguistics and a machine translation section for a new generation of linguists—Kiefer included. Parallel developments took shape in Debrecen as well with the guidance of Ferenc Pap.

[10] The department also issued a successful yearbook series Általános Nyelvészeti Tanulmányok (Studies of General Linguistics). The scientific training was assisted substantially through co-teaching by members of the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Research Institute of Linguistics as well.

[11] The cultivation of a new generation of linguists dedicated to generative grammar was also facilitated by American Ford Foundation scholarships in the mid-1960s to the would-be teachers of the next generation.

[12] Here, I merely draw a few from the excellent surveys of Bernáth (2019) and Bollobás (2019).

[13] The same provocations held for his selective collections of modern poetry and short stories, which were analyzed by a select group of mainly structuralist and psychoanalytic experts (Hankiss 1971b, 1971c).

Structures of Contagion and Forms of the Social Environment

The genealogies of structuralism have established that its intellectual roots should be found not in mathematics, as Jean Piaget or Michel Serres once indicated, but in biology (Descombes 1979). In many aspects, “structure” in the twentieth-century human sciences replaces the nineteenth-century notion of “organization”. Both notions aim at solving political crises by displaying the elementary conditions of social life: the French Revolution for the notion of organization, the Second World War for the notion of structure. But while organizations rely on laws of development and progress, structures rely on models to anticipate future disasters.

In his famous 1952 article on “the notion of structure in ethnology”, Lévi-Strauss (1958, 333, 342, 343) quotes three times from Kurt Goldstein’s book, Der Aufbau des Organismus (1934), which had just come out in French under the title La structure de l’organisme. In this book, Goldstein presented his diagnostic on patients suffering from aphasia—the loss of speech—to show that new forms of living can be invented after a traumatic shock such as the First World War. This book was a major source for Georges Canguilhem’s philosophy of normativity as well as for Roman Jakobson’s structural linguistics. By contrast with nineteenth-century anatomy, which relied on divine models of organization, Goldstein showed that a structure is a form of re-organization after a shock which shows that life doesn’t have a substantial basis. While organization is grounded on a center that is politically expressed in institutions, structure is decentered because it is grounded on void entities, which are politically expressed in transformations.

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Structures and Relations: Seeing the Entwined Lives of Concepts in an Exercise of Conceptual Flocculation

In asking about the lives of “structure” and “relation,” I do not take a head on approach. Rather, I sidle up to the concepts. John Dewey, whose early twentieth-century method in these matters I admire, called it “a flank approach” when he took on the concept of “The State” in his 1927 The Public and its Problems (Dewey, 1927). Such a military metaphor is not for me. I prefer to imagine a child on a playground asking, “Can I play with you?” Thus, I begin by playing a game with other concepts: “assemblage” and “polity.” I could propose this game by analogy to mathematical method, imagining it as a peculiar wordy calculus involving differentiation and provisional (re)integration. But I prefer analogy to chemistry. Telling it as the chemical method of flocculation, I take the anthropologically entwined pair of concepts, “structure” and “relation,” lyse them so that they float apart and, in reacting with other concepts as little wordy stubs, change their form, and rise to the top in a process of analytic flocculation. In subsequently being skimmed off, these novel concepts become useful in catalyzing divergences.

Around ten years ago, I claimed that it is useful to think of collective method in knowledge and culture work as a complex form of assemblage. In developing this proposition, I worked with two quite disparate exemplars of such work: a nineteenth-century British scientific expedition and a twenty-first-century Indigenous Australian digitization project. Attributing a precise meaning to the commonplace term, assemblage, one that went on from the STS sense of sociotechnical bricolage, but also quite different than post-structuralist “assemblage theory,” my 2009 concept of assemblage envisioned complex material-semiotic entwining of two distinct moments of generalizing—a one-to-many, inductive form, and a whole-to-parts abductive form of generalizing. In this Field Note on the concepts “structure” and “relation,” I pick up that proposition, this time focusing on the work that concepts do to mediate relations in the workings of these complex processes of structuring assemblage.

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Introduction to the New English Edition of “Twenty Days with Claude Lévi-Strauss in Korea”

Editors’ note: This is the first appearance in English of a seminar hosted by the Academy of Korean Studies in 1981. The following is a new introduction written by Kang Shin-pyo. Both selected excerpts and the full seminar transcript with appendices are also available.


This book is the record of a remarkable conversation between Claude Lévi-Strauss, the leading proponent of structural anthropology in the twentieth century, and a group of South Korean scholars invited as leaders in their respective disciplines. It took place in Seongnam, in the context of a seminar that was conceived as an encounter not only between scholarly generations but also between East and West and North and South. The conversation filled five days in October 1981, interrupted for eleven days while Lévi-Strauss traveled in the South Korean countryside to explore aspects of the country’s cultural traditions.

The seminar was initiated by Kang Shin-pyo, then Chairman of the Department of Socio-Cultural Research at the Academy of Korean Studies. Kang had begun to apply a structuralist approach to the analysis of East Asian cultures in the course of his doctoral studies at the University of Hawaii and became acquainted with Lévi-Strauss’s work during academic sojourns in London and Paris. In this respect he was typical of a generation of South Korean humanities scholars who by the mid-1970s were internationally mobile and alert to developments in European and American theory and methodology. The 1981 seminar provided an opportunity for them to engage with Western scholars on their home ground; although Lévi-Strauss and his ideas were the focus of the seminar, other North American and European anthropologists took part by invitation: David Eyde, David Wu, Bob Scholte and Henry Lewis.

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Selected Excerpts from October 14, 1981, “Kinship and Social Organization”

Editors note: This is the first appearance in English of a seminar hosted by the Academy of Korean Studies in 1981. These are excerpts from the seminar’s first day. The full seminar transcript with appendices is also available.


Appendix 2, Figure 4: Seminar Kinship and Social Organization (October 14, 1981).
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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

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.


Endnotes

[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.


Endnotes

[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.


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Read about the contributors to The Second Generation

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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.


Endnotes

[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.

Contributors

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

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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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