The reviews section publishes review essays on recent books, documentary films, and exhibitions, and occasionally a retrospective review of an older work whose legacy we would like to revisit. We maintain a list of recent books for prospective reviewers. If you are interested in reviewing for HAR, please see our guidelines and send a CV and brief proposal to our editors at email@example.com.
Durba Mitra’s rich and compelling first book, Indian Sex Life, addresses how colonial and nationalist officials, scientists, and social scientists developed theories about Indian civilization, history, and progress through deployments of what Mitra terms “deviant female sexuality.” Mitra unpacks the ubiquity of this multi-layered and flexible concept across a variety of archives and disciplines, and further maps the circulation of social scientific thought in policy, law, and popular culture as a tool of entrenching colonial and native patriarchal authority. Focused primarily on upper-caste Bengali intellectuals and their global networks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the book argues that the trafficking of the “prostitute” in the transnational networks of colonial India was, above all else, a proliferating economy of discourses (p. 14). In doing so, Mitra unseats historical projects which seek to recuperate subaltern sexualities, instead emphasizing that the methods and categories used in such projects derive from an epistemological schema of racist and casteist expertise.
Emmanuelle Loyer. Lévi-Strauss: A Biography. Translated by Ninon Vinsonneau and Jonathan Magidoff. New York: Polity Press, 2018. xi+744 pp., illus., notes, list of works, archives, index.
There is no shortage of books on Claude Lévi-Strauss. The defining force in French anthropology after World War II, an internationally-known intellectual, and a—many would argue the—founder of structuralism, Lévi-Strauss left an indelible mark on the intellectual culture of the twentieth century. Despite widespread interest in him, there have been relatively few biographies, perhaps because of the challenges he presents as a subject: his sojourns in the United States, Brazil, and France require potential biographers to be multilingual. His output was vast, demanding, and difficult to synthesize. His extraordinary fame makes documenting his influence a massive undertaking. Even his private life presents a challenge: Lévi-Strauss lived much of his life in his study, making most of his biography too uneventful to make for interesting reading. Happily, however, Emanuelle Loyer’s 744 page biography has achieved the seemingly impossible. This detailed, deeply researched, and relatively accessible volume makes it difficult to imagine that anyone will attempt a more exhaustive biography in the future. If they did, I am not sure what they could add to Loyer’s account. While many aspects of Lévi-Strauss’s life still await specialized treatment, I am confident that this book will become the definitive one-volume biography of Lévi-Strauss for the foreseeable future.
Editors’ note: The following review by Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt, the accomplished historian of anthropology and folklore, reflects on a collection of essays recently published about the 2020 decision by officials of the University of California Berkeley to change the name of Alfred Kroeber Hall. At the time, HAR reported on the controversy, with links to comments by Berkeley professors Rosemary Joyce and Nancy Scheper-Hughes; readers may also wish to read Berkeley linguist Andrew Garrett’s later 38-page evaluation of the issues or Native American scholar David Shane Lowry’s 2021 essay in Anthrodendum. Professor Zumwalt’s essay represents her views and not necessarily those of HAR’s editors.
The 2021 meeting of the American Anthropological Association included a panel of six papers focusing on “Alfred Louis Kroeber: The Man, His Work and His Legacy.” These six papers have now been revised and published in BEROSE. Herbert Lewis explains the panel’s genesis: “On January 27, 2021, the University of California, Berkeley, removed the name of Alfred Kroeber from the building that housed the Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Anthropology—institutions he had built.”
My own interest in the controversy around the unnaming of Kroeber Hall has both professional and personal roots. I spent eight intense years in Kroeber Hall working toward my Master’s in folklore (1978) and my PhD in anthropology (1982). From 1977 to 1980, I was on the editorial board of the Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers (KAS) – established in 1950 and the longest running student publication in the United States – and was an organizer of the Kroeber Anthropological Society Meetings. (It was touching to me to read Nancy Scheper-Hughes’s recollection of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s visit to the department in 1984, and his request “to see the Kroeber Anthropological Society Journal, a graduate student journal that he much admired”.)The KAS journal that Lévi-Strauss perused was Opportunity, Constraint and Change: Essays in Honor of Elizabeth Colson, Nos. 63–64, 1984. I remember one day sitting in the afternoon sun on a wooden bench just off to the side of the front wall with the name that has now been chiseled from the building, “Kroeber Hall,” pondering the treacherous, demanding journey toward a PhD. I visualized myself in a tunnel, too far down to turn back, and not close enough to the end to see the light of possibility; I perceived also that my only practical option was to continue through the tunnel. This struggle and perseverance are connected in my mind always with Alfred Louis Kroeber.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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).
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 withThe 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.
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 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
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.
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).
Since 1973, the History of Anthropology Review (formerly the History of Anthropology Newsletter) has been a venue for publication and conversation on the many histories of the discipline of anthropology. We became an open access web publication in 2016. Please subscribe to our emails below to receive updates as we publish new essays, reviews, and bibliographies.
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