Jie Gao. Saving the Nation through Culture: The Folklore Movement in Republican China. Contemporary Chinese Studies. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2019. 364 pp., 20 b/w photos, appendices, notes, glossary, bibliography, index.
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the “Father of the Republic,” often lamented that the Chinese people were “a sheet of loose sand,” for their supposed failure to cohere as a nation. Indeed, between the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1949), many intellectuals, reformers, and revolutionaries in China were vexed by the apparent problem identified by Sun: how to build a modern nation-state on the rubble of traditional dynastic empires, with a people not used to the idea of national belonging? One group that manifested very high levels of enthusiasm for this nation-building project were early-twentieth century academics, who believed that introducing Western fields of study (often filtered through Japan) could serve as an antidote to what they saw as a stifling traditional Confucian education with its emphasis on hierarchies and virtue rather than fraternité and power. Happily, for the twenty-first century researcher, these intellectuals wrote a lot. In Saving the Nation through Culture, Jie Gao plumbs the extensive library of one sub-group of these intellectuals, the folklorists. As Gao puts it, the folklore movement emerged in China “as a means of providing evidence of unity and a rich, vibrant popular culture that would, they believed, rally the people around the flag in a time of great national difficulty” (3).
Tobias Rees. After Ethnos. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2018. 192 pp., 3 illus., notes, bibl., index.
In “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” Clifford Geertz wrote that to understand a discipline you should look at what its practitioners do, rather than accepting what they say they do. And anthropologists, he claimed, do ethnography: they write. “The ethnographer ‘inscribes’ social discourse; he writes it down,” Geertz argued. Ethnographers thus turn passing events into accounts. Since the years of Malinowski, this method-driven definition of the discipline—at least in its “cultural” branch—implied the existence of more or less static “societies,” “cultures,” a well-defined ethnos constructed as an object to be studied and described with a long-term fieldwork approach. The answer thus emerged before the question: cultural anthropologists knew that human lifeworlds took place in societies or cultures, and their science should describe them. But as the world changed—decolonization, the emergence of new states and what Geertz later called “complicated places,” the end of the Cold War, deeper globalization (from above and from below)—it became harder to disentangle the ethnographic project from the practice of delimiting, defining, or better yet, inventing “peoples,” “societies,” and “cultures” in order to write them down.
Robert L. Carneiro. Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology: A Critical History. 339 pp., 10 b/w illus., bibl., index. Boulder: Westview Press, 2003. (Reprinted by Routledge in 2018)
Efram Sera-Shriar (Editor). Historicizing Humans: Deep Time, Evolution, and Race in Nineteenth-Century British Sciences (with an Afterword by Theodore Koditschek). 320 pp., 13 b/w illus., notes, bibl., index. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018.
At first sight, these two books do not have much in common. Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology is a single-author monograph by one of the “last” great neo-evolutionist anthropologists of the twentieth century, Robert L. Carneiro, who died in June 2020, aged 93; Historicizing Humans is a collective volume by a new generation of historians of science. One is profoundly presentist; the other is profoundly historicist. One is mainly dedicated to anthropology and archaeology in the twentieth century, with shorter chapters on the “classical” evolutionists; the other (as indicated in the title) is focused on the nineteenth century only, and across various disciplines. Carneiro dialogs with dead scholars as inspirational intellectual interlocutors while Sera-Shriar and the contributors to his edited volume do not. One book aims at covering transversal themes, concepts, and methods in North America and Britain (with but a few references to German scholars) while the other deploys eight selected case studies in Britain and the Empire. Other disparities between the two volumes could certainly be enumerated.
Erika Lorraine Milam. Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America. 408 pp., 33 b/w illus., app., notes, index. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.
“Human nature” is nearly as pliable and ambiguous a term as “Cold War” but Erika Lorraine Milam pins down these slippery concepts in Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America. Milam successfully crafts an important analysis of the science of human nature that crystallized around questions of aggression in post-war America. Milam’s “Cold War” is less of an international geopolitical event than it is a setting in which US governmental concerns about American society intersected with and funded the work of anthropological experts studying the origins of human behavior. Against this backdrop, Milam sets out to discover how questions of human behavior became important and how the science of evolution gained popular explanatory power to answer them. In Creatures of Cain, Milam examines American social science after World War II and its attempts to make sense of humanity’s species-level relationship with violence. This book spans the late 1950s and the emergence of the “killer ape” hypothesis and ends in the 1980s with the rise of sociobiological explanations for violence.
Editor’s note: The following essay is a response to “Memoirs of Women and Harvard” by Alice B. Kehoe, published on 9 August 2021 in Reviews. You can find the original essay here.
Alice Kehoe, in her review article, “Memoirs of Women and Harvard,” makes the following inaccurate assertion, “Cora Du Bois was there [Harvard’s Department of Anthropology] only because wealthy patron Doris Zemurray Stone recommended her for the chair the Zemurray family endowed specifically for a woman.” This was in the context of discussing Victoria R. Bricker’s book, Transformational Journeys: An Ethnologist’s Memoir (2017), in which Bricker mentions some of her experiences as a graduate student in anthropology at Harvard and references Du Bois’s mentoring of her.
Victoria R. Bricker. Transformational Journeys: An Ethnologist’s Memoir. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 106, part 5. 344 pp., illus. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2017.
Becky Cooper. We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence. 512 pp., notes. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2020.
That Harvard’s Department of Anthropology did not favor women is well-known. So well-known that some of it is pure myth. Contrary to a common story, women were not required to sit outside classrooms listening through the door. David Browman, who researched and wrote most of Anthropology at Harvard, discovered that up until about 1925, professors could, if they wished, offer separate meetings of their classes, one for men and one for women. Harvard had a School for the Collegiate Instruction of Women that in 1893 became Radcliffe College, with its own campus and classrooms. During the 1920s, women began sitting in classrooms with men. Women who earned an Anthropology PhD at Harvard received a Radcliffe diploma until 1963. Mine, in Spring 1964, may have been the first Harvard diploma in Anthropology issued to a woman.
Olivia Cadaval, Sojin Kim, and Diana Baird N’Diaye. Curatorial Conversations: Cultural Representation and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 304 (hardcover) or 360 (paperback) pp., 71 b&w illus., ref., index. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2016.
Curatorial Conversations explores the legacy of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (SFF) by bringing together scholars with decades of experience as curators, researchers, and participants. This collection of essays is not so much a history of the festival as it is an attempt to trace the evolution of what it means to be a SFF curator and a reflection upon how relationships with cultural communities—whether Cajun fiddlers, Tibetan expatriates, or NASA engineers—have been refined and strengthened since the festival’s 1967 debut. My intention here is to provide a brief overview of the anthology and highlight three themes I found particularly salient, before concluding with some questions concerning the future of the festival.
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
David Martínez. Life of the Indigenous Mind: Vine Deloria Jr. and the Birth of the Red Power Movement. New Visions in Native American and Indigenous Studies. 480 pp., notes, bibl., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019.
I discovered David Martínez’s biography of Vine Deloria, Jr. a few years ago while looking for books that might offer some background on the Red Power Movement and its impact on developments in mid-twentieth century American anthropology. An enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Deloria advocated for Native American rights throughout his life and became (and remains) one of the most prominent and influential voices on the subject of Indigenous sovereignty. Martínez, who teaches American Indian Studies and is of Akimel O’odham and Mexican descent, notes Deloria’s seeming omnipresence within discourse on Native American activism from the book’s start. As he reflects: “I am uncertain of how I first heard of Deloria. He is one of these figures who seems to have always been a part of my life as an Indigenous person” (11). As a historian of anthropology interested in the discipline’s “period of crisis” during the 1960s and ’70s, I was aware of the way Deloria and his well-known critique of “anthropologists and other friends” likewise had embedded themselves in my mind as critical markers of this historical moment. I realized, however, that despite my passing familiarity with Custer Died for Your Sins—his first and probably most famous book—I knew relatively little about Deloria beyond what had coalesced alongside the now iconic images of the American Indian Movement’s takeovers of Alcatraz in 1969 and the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in 1972.
Christina Luke. A Pearl in Peril: Heritage and Diplomacy in Turkey. 288 pp., illus., tables, notes, bibl., index. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.
Christina Luke’s A Pearl in Peril is a wide-ranging study of development, international diplomacy, heritage, and extraction in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries that provides a substantive analysis of the politics of the past in western Turkey. Luke takes as her focus the once-Ottoman city of Smyrna, now-Turkish city of Izmir (sometimes known as “the pearl of the Mediterranean”) and its hinterlands, including the archaeological site of Sardis. Luke shows how this resource-rich region, whether archaeologically or in terms of its mineral and agricultural wealth, sat at the center of diplomatic and extractive intrigue throughout the previous century. In drawing these long-term connections, Luke highlights the consequences of this entanglement in constituting contemporary forms of heritage and local reactions to it. In addition to historians and anthropologists of heritage and the politics of the past, Luke’s volume will find an appreciative readership across a variety of fields, including scholars of international relations and development aid. The book at times can feel slightly unbalanced, however, and I suspect that each of these readerships might well wish that the distribution of themes throughout the volume differed slightly.
John P. Jackson Jr. and David J. Depew. Darwinism, Democracy, and Race: American Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology in the Twentieth Century. 240pp., index. New York: Routledge, 2017.
Concurrent with the recent rise of far-right populism and authoritarianism has been a troubling reemergence of scientific racism. New tools for sequencing genomes and identifying “genetic clusters” have enabled this revival both in academic circles and on social media. The return of “race realism” is best exemplified by the research of Nicholas Wade, who in A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History (2014) argued in favor of racial determinism while also claiming that the anti-racism pushback of the post-World War II era was ideological rather than scientifically-based. John P. Jackson Jr. and David J. Depew explicitly reject this idea. In Darwinism, Democracy, and Race: American Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology in the Twentieth Century (2017), they revisit the anti-racist arguments of the twentieth century in order to re-present and reaffirm the scientific basis for racial egalitarianism and democratic equality, an admirable goal given the current political climate and ongoing fight for racial justice in the United States.
Paul Turnbull. Science, Museums and Collecting the Indigenous Dead in Colonial Australia. Palgrave Studies in Pacific History. 428 pp., 6 b/w illus., bibl., index. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
Indigenous bodies have long been a source of historical interest. Over the past decade many scholars have discussed how indigenous bodies and body parts have functioned as sites of persistent fascination, colonial oppression, and Indigenous agency. One persistent theme in this historiography is how the collection and use of Indigenous biospecimens came to be prospected and profited upon. Warwick Anderson’s The Collectors of Lost Souls showed us how Fore brain samples served as a valuable biomedical commodity. Kim TallBear and Jenny Reardon illustrated the role of “Indigenous DNA” in generating scientific knowledge, accruing capital, and attaining professional prestige. Emma Kowal similarly drew our attention to the “ethical biovalue” afforded to Indigenous specimens through discussing how many drug targets and diagnostic tools have emerged out of the collection and use of Indigenous blood, saliva, surgically-removed diseased tissues, and urine. Paul Turnbull’s Science, Museums and Collecting the Indigenous Dead in Colonial Australia follows in the footsteps of this well-known body of work. However, rather than focusing his attention on brains, blood, or bodily tissues, Turnbull is more interested in Indigenous skeletal remains and the ways that they have functioned as sites of scientific curiosity from the 1700s to the turn of the twentieth century.
Grégoire Mallard. Gift Exchange: The Transnational History of a Political Idea. xi + 293pp., notes, bibl., index. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.
Is there a more celebrated and contested text in the history of anthropology than Marcel Mauss’s The Gift? Tucked away in the pages of Émile Durkheim’s old Année Sociologique upon its initial publication in 1925, this careful, erudite, even gnomic essay by the doyen of French anthropology contained a thicket of five hundred footnotes so dense they often relegated the main text to a few sentences adorning the top of its hundred-and-fifty-odd pages. Its interest in forms of exchange in “sociétés dites primitives” was predated by the works of Richard Thurnwald and Bronislaw Malinowski, yet unlike these pioneers his writings were not informed by direct ethnographic study. The Gift (hereafter TG, subtitle: “The Form and Sense of Exchange in Archaic Societies”) was instead, in our contemporary academic parlance, something more like a review essay of armchair anthropology.
This extended review is a collaboration between the Reviews and Field Notes sections of HAR.
Regna Darnell, Michelle Hamilton, Robert L. A. Hancock, and Joshua Smith (editors). The Franz Boas Papers, Volume 1: Franz Boas as Public Intellectual—Theory, Ethnography, Activism. 408 pp., 18 illus., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015.
William Y. Adams. The Boasians: Founding Fathers and Mothers of American Anthropology. 356 pp., 10 illus., bibl. Lanham, MD: Hamilton, 2016.
Ned Blackhawk and Isaiah Lorado Wilner (editors). Indigenous Visions: Rediscovering the World of Franz Boas. 416 pp., 28 illus., index. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018.
Anthropologists and historians of anthropology readily acknowledge the role played by European empires in the making of the discipline. Although practitioners occasionally challenged existing power structures, they more frequently worked to inform and justify the dispossession, marginalization, murder, and enslavement of Indigenous and colonized peoples. These processes culminated in the Social Darwinist evolutionism of the Victorian period, which lent prevailing racial hierarchies a patina of scientific authority. This began to shift in the early twentieth century, when, amid a welter of social and cultural upheavals in Western society, anthropology’s imperial foundations appeared ripe for reconsideration. In America, the foremost proponent of these changes was the Jewish German-American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942). Traditional disciplinary histories point especially to Boas’s pivotal rejection of evolutionary anthropological approaches in favor of viewing cultures as integrated wholes, apprehensible solely within the contexts in which they are produced and maintained. These protocols were disseminated broadly, with Boas’s students founding university anthropology departments throughout the United States. On these grounds, Boas is frequently celebrated as “a major turning point from the evolution and racism of the nineteenth century to the historical particularism and cultural relativism of the twentieth century.”
Peter Hempenstall. Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology. xiv +321pp., 17 illus., 2 maps, bibl., index. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2017.
Peter Hempenstall’s Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology offers a fresh and thoroughly researched biography of the controversial anthropologist Derek Freeman. The book is built around Freeman’s infamous criticism of Margaret Mead’s first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, and the ensuing acrimony within the discipline. An admirer of Mead’s work, Freeman travelled to Samoa to do his own research, attempting in the process to find Mead’s original informants and reproduce her research on adolescent sexuality. In the early 1980s, he began to argue that her conclusions on adolescence were mistaken, and that she had been hoaxed by mischievous young informants. Attacking Freeman, Mead, and one another, anthropologists around the world took sides that reproduced a kind of nature-nurture debate on human development and teenaged identity crises with supporters of Mead on the side of nurture and those backing Freeman on the side of nature. The furor did not subside until after Freeman’s death in 2001. This dispute, still a sensitive subject for many anthropologists, acts as Hempenstall’s focal point, but Truth’s Fool goes well beyond it. In fact, in the beginning, Hempenstall advises his readers to remember that “the Mead thing” (7) is only one particular way of understanding Freeman’s life and work. I recommend this book as a compelling story for anyone interested in the history of anthropology as a discipline, as well as those trying to grasp the fallout of Freeman’s work and the heated response to it. As an outsider to anthropology but an insider to Australian academia, Hempenstall gives us a new perspective into this period of anthropological debate.
This extended review is a collaboration between the Reviews and Field Notes sections of HAR.
H. Glenn Penny. Im Schatten Humboldts: Eine tragische Geschichte der deutschen Ethnologie. 287 pp., 37 illus. Munich: C. H. Beck, 2019.
Author’s Note: I would like to thank the C. H. Beck Verlag for kindly providing me with an advance manuscript of this book in the original English. Parenthetical page numbers below refer to the manuscript, rather than the published translation.
Salvage anthropology has carried something of a sour reputation ever since the term was introduced by Jacob Gruber in 1970. This has good reasons. One has to do with the fatalism that this practice implies: the moral mission of early ethnographers, according to Gruber, was “not to stem the tide of civilization’s advance, but to preserve that which was about to be destroyed.” Even the most humane impetus to “rescue” the pristine cultural heritage of indigenous groups took the inevitable disappearance of those groups for granted.
Charles King. Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century. 448pp., notes, bibl., index. New York: Doubleday, 2019. $30 (hardcover), $17 (paperback), $14.99 (ebook)
Note: This review first appeared in The TLS: Times Literary Supplement (no. 6114, 5 June 2020, pp. 4–6) with the title “Lines of thought: Franz Boas: The Man Who Opened Up Anthropology in America” and is reprinted with permission of TLS and the author. (In the UK, Charles King’s book is published as The Reinvention of Humanity: A Story of Race, Sex, Gender and the Discovery of Culture.) The essay’s timeliness is self-evident. The History of Anthropology Review joins with the many now protesting against the reprehensible police killings and systemic racism which have afflicted Black, Indigenous and other Communities of Color for so long; we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and are committed to documenting, discussing, and critically evaluating racism’s legacies in anthropology, while working for greater equity within our disciplines, institutions, and communities. —The Editors
The President of the United States was saying “America must be kept American,” emboldening white supremacists to blame darker-skinned immigrants for causing crime and taking working-class jobs. It was the 1920s, and the US was erecting barriers against immigration, with severe effects on those who were poor or classed as non-white. White patricians, feeling under threat from those who spoke foreign languages and clustered in tenements, rallied around a confident, energetic, mustachioed ideologue named Madison Grant, a wealthy New Yorker and close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. Grant’s book The Passing of the Great Race (1916) implausibly suggested that America had once been racially homogeneous but was becoming degraded by immigration—plunged into a chaotic, impoverished “racial abyss.” “Teutonics” or “Nordics” like him were being “replaced,” he warned, by “lower” races and would soon be “extinct.” Grant’s malevolent thesis that racial mixing posed a grave threat to white vitality was seized on by Hitler, who in 1925 wrote Grant a fan letter, praising the German translation of his book as “my Bible” (114, 306).
Wendy Wickwire. At the Bridge: James Teit and an Anthropology of Belonging. 400pp., 5 maps, 26 b/w illus., notes, index. Vancouver and Toronto: University of British Columbia Press, 2019. $34.95 (paperback, pdf, epub), $95 (hardcover)
The purpose of this book is to redress an injustice committed against someone who could have had a central place in the history of anthropology. According to Wendy Wickwire, this might have been the case of James Teit (1864-1922) if he had not been pushed to the margins of the discipline as an amateurish ethnographer in the service of Franz Boas. In comparison with the legendary George Hunt, who has been the subject of several studies (and, recently, a series of events at the AAA/CASCA in Vancouver, 2019), James Teit is practically “unknown” (12). In her monograph on him—the outcome of several decades of archival research and ethnographic encounters with the concerned communities—Wendy Wickwire makes a challenging comparison with Boas himself, hoping that her reassessment of Teit as a visionary anthropologist in his own right will not be like other episodic rediscoveries of forgotten figures who, after a certain time, fall back into obscurity. According to her, Boas played his part in obscuring Teit’s stature (particularly after his death in 1922), and subsequent narratives kept reproducing, if at all, the portrait of an untrained collector subordinated to the academic expert. In fact, she argues that the professionalization of anthropology was one of the causes in this process: “For a new scientific discipline housed in the university, a high school diploma did not measure up” (273). The time has come, she writes, to question “the authority of mainstream history” (22), according to which Teit provided Boas with the field data that allowed the latter to produce a series of eleven monographs on the Nlaka’pamux and other Plateau groups, starting with The Thompson Indians of British Columbia (1900), the fourth in the twenty-seven-part series of Jesup North Pacific Expedition monographs. Wickwire’s perusal of their correspondence allows her to affirm that this is “wrong” (15) and that Teit’s authorial status was paramount.
Robert Launay. Savages, Romans, and Despots: Thinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder. 272 pp., notes, bibl., index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. $32.50 (paper), $97.50 (cloth), $10-32.50 (e-book)
Since its inception, Edward Said’s Orientalism has enjoyed tremendous and well-deserved influence across the humanities and social sciences. While this text has never been without its critics, Said’s underlying assertion that representations of the “other” have been intimately embedded in imperial domination has contributed to a disciplinary commonplace that assumes European imaginings of non-Europeans are inevitably and eternally domineering. It is this overextension (and perhaps simplification) of Said’s thesis that Robert Launay critically addresses in Savages, Romans, and Despots: Thinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder.
David A. Varel. The Lost Black Scholar: Resurrecting Allison Davis in American Social Thought. 304pp., 16 halftones, notes, index. University of Chicago Press, 2018. $45 (cloth)
David Varel’s biography
of Allison Davis, The Lost Black Scholar, is aptly named. Davis is
rarely cited by anthropologists today, but he has little in common with the “excluded
ancestors and invisible traditions” after whom a volume of the History of
Anthropology series was named. On
the contrary, Davis was hardly invisible. Rather, he was a remarkably
well-known, highly-respected figure who was important intellectually and
institutionally in anthropology, someone whose story and influence has not been
repressed or erased but, as Varel puts it, “lost.” In this trim and athletic
volume, Varel successfully shows us the importance of Davis’s work and life,
revealing a remarkable scholar who should be remembered for his incredible
personal story, his intellectual contributions to the study of structural
injustice, and his role as a model of a politically committed but non-activist
Margaret M. Bruchac, Savage Kin: Indigenous Informants and American Anthropologists. With a foreword by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel. Native Peoples of the Americas, edited by Laurie Weinstein. 280pp., notes., archives, bibl., index. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2018. $35 (paperback), $35 (eBook)
both the social practice of specifying relationships among peoples and the study of these social relations,
has undoubtedly shaped the development of disciplinary anthropology. Its
influence ranges from participant observation (“adoptions” of anthropologists
into groups) all the way to the reflexive turn, where the constellations of kin
relations might bound the conditions of possibility in an ethnographic study. For
anthropologists, kinship-thinking often goes hand in hand with fieldwork as an
initial mode for understanding the social and cultural lives of others.
Gavin Lucas. Writing the Past: Knowledge and Literary Production in Archaeology. 188 pp., 1 b/w illus., 8 tables, bibl., index. London: Routledge, 2018. $39.95 (paper), $150 (hardback), eBook ($35.96)
a magisterial and impressively learned way, Gavin Lucas details in his new book
how archaeologists in the English-speaking world have been struggling for
generations to turn what they are digging up into reliable knowledge about the
past. The disagreements at the core of these struggles have often been intense.
Moreover, these clashes over method and theory are far from over. As Lucas
observes, “In the wake of debates in archaeology during the 1980s and 1990s one
can no longer entertain any naivety about archaeological knowledge as an
untroubled road to the truth about what happened in the past” (3).
The Story Box: Franz Boas, George Hunt and the Making of Anthropology. An exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in New York and the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, Canada, curated by Aaron Glass with designs by Corrine Hunt.
On view at the Bard Graduate Center from February 14-July 7, 2019
On view at the U’mista Cultural Centre from July 20-October 26, 2019
In April of 1897, American anthropologist Franz Boas wrote a letter to a group of Kwagu’ł chiefs on Canada’s northwestern coast. He explained that “It is good that you should have a box in which your laws and stories are kept. My friend, George Hunt, will show you a box in which some of your stories will be kept. It is a book I have written on what I saw and heard when I was with you two years ago.”
“Beyond Compare: Art from Africa in the Bode Museum.” A temporary exhibit at the Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany, on view from October 27, 2017 to June 2, 2019.
In introducing their Beyond Compare exhibit at the
Bode Museum, curators Julien
Chapuis, Jonathan Fine, and Paola Ivanov have been very clear and
consistent about the unique opportunity that allowed them to juxtapose African
and European art: objects from the ethnographic collections became available while
they waited for their new home in the controversial Humboldt Forum. The
ephemeral nature of this experiment thus hovers over this temporary exhibition
more than over most—a window is only briefly open to challenge our current
museological practice, and will close again soon. That said, we are keenly
aware of this because the curators, to their credit, have used this opportunity
to raise fundamental questions about how we display the arts of different
places and periods, and to investigate the meaning of continuing disciplinary
and institutional divisions between them. In the catalogue, in the introductory
wall panels, and in the “About this Exhibition” section of the exhibit’s companion
app, they almost immediately segue from explaining this unique opportunity to
challenging their visitors’ ideas and expectations. “What causes us to view
objects as similar or different? What insights can we gain from the joint
display of works of art with different histories? Why were some objects
classified in the past as ‘ethnological’ and others as ‘art’?” In the end,
however, the temporary nature of this exhibit and the questions raised by this
remarkable and ambitious show are poignant and haunting because they underscore
the disciplinary and institutional divides that will re-emerge when it closes
Lynn Meskell. A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace. 400 pp., illus., notes, bibl., index. Oxford University Press, 2018. $29.95 (hardcover)
Histories of heritage seem to be having their moment in the sun. Within the past year, Christina Luke’s A Pearl in Peril: Heritage and Diplomacy in Turkey (OUP, 2019) has been published, as has Lucia Allais’s Designs of Destruction: The Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 2018). Lynn Meskell’s A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace is the third part of this (unintentional) trilogy. Part history and part anthropology, the volume puts the operation of UNESCO’s heritage concept in historical perspective, detailing the development of that notion and its institutional governance from the interwar period to the present day. As Meskell admits (xxi), her own disciplinary background in archaeology means that she concentrates on the “cultural” side of a concept that also deals with “natural” sites, most famously through the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. That limitation aside, however, throughout the volume Meskell charts the intertwined histories of heritage and UNESCO in a way that is, to my knowledge, unparalleled in its depth.