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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).
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.”
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
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.
In four chapters, Farooq analyzes a multitude of scientific and artistic “border-crossers,” beginning with Charles Darwin in the 1830s and concluding with African American artist-ethnographers who traveled to Haiti in the mid-twentieth century. Chapter 1 considers Charles Darwin’s journey alongside Captain Robert FitzRoy aboard the HMS Beagle in 1834, and his interactions with three returned captives in Tierra del Fuego. These interactions led Darwin to question ideas about fixed biological difference among humans, thus influencing his subsequent theories of evolution. The most fascinating and novel intervention of this chapter is the link Farooq draws between Darwin’s fieldwork and ideas of cultural relativism embraced by later anthropologists like Franz Boas and Zora Neale Hurston. Farooq convincingly argues that while Darwin himself was not an anthropologist nor an ethnographer, his evolutionary theory shaped the field by showing that “social and biological taxonomies are […] contingent, always shifting, never stable” (48). Darwin’s theory of evolution implied that humanity was in a constant state of “becoming,” and this led to a conviction that differences among human races were “neither fundamental nor fixed” (55). What’s more, Darwinian theories of a shared human kinship and common ancestry were eventually appropriated by socially and politically marginalized intellectuals like Boas and Hurston. In these ways, Farooq shows how Darwin’s evolutionary theories—frequently associated with subsequent scientific racism and eugenicist theories—also opened up new avenues for thinking about racial fluidity and connections among humanity.
Christina Bueno’s The Pursuit of Ruins provides an engaging and comprehensive account of the development of archaeology as a national, modernizing project in Porfirian (late nineteenth and early twentieth century) Mexico. The volume is well-researched, extremely readable, and resonates well with much of the scholarship on the history of archaeology that has emerged in recent years. I recommend it as an introduction not only to the history of archaeology and “the past” in Mexico, but also as a useful comparative work for scholarship on the history of archaeology elsewhere in the world, which often seems to ignore the discipline’s development outside of Euro-America, the Mediterranean, and South Asia. As Bueno notes, debate about whether Latin American countries “are postcolonial nations” is ongoing (8). The Pursuit ofRuins reveals the merits of a postcolonial perspective in the Mexican case.
Ian Brown’s The School of Oriental and African Studies: Imperial Training and the Expansion of Learning is a welcome addition to the literature on higher education in Britain, and particularly to the small but important body of work on SOAS (as it is now officially known). While SOAS has produced festschrifts for particular professors, and a few “corridor histories,” such as SOAS Since the Sixties and SOAS: A Celebration in Many Voices, the school lacks the kind of intensive memorialization that one finds in say, Oxford and Cambridge. This is particularly true in anthropology where journals such as Cambridge Anthropology and the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford feature extensive obituaries and testimonies of staff. Brown’s new volume is, therefore, a valuable contribution to the history of SOAS, especially because the other SOAS histories are out of print.
Inuit studies today is an interdisciplinary and institutionalized field of research. The present book, edited by Arctic ethnologist Igor Krupnik, proceeds from a session organized at the 18th Inuit Studies Conference, and provides insightful elements on the history of the field. This collection of fourteen essays (plus a contextualizing introduction by Krupnik and a closing “Coda” by Béatrice Collignon) is a beautiful object, printed on glazed-paper, reproducing many maps, tables, and unique photographs from the collections of prominent social scientists of the Arctic. In the front endpapers readers encounter a nearly circumpolar map of the whole Inuit Arctic. This cartographic representation of the polar North fits well with the book’s pan-Inuit framework, dealing with research produced about all Inuit groups in Northern America, Russia, and Europe (Greenland). The book’s broad geographic scope is united with an ambitious historiographical agenda. Krupnik aims to fill a void in the “collective memory” of scholars of Inuit studies by portraying in broad strokes the early history of their research field. Most of the book’s chapters are devoted to portraying one important figure in Inuit studies, or studying a precise research project, or depicting a school of thought or a research tradition.
Michel Leiris. Phantom Africa. Translated by Brent Hayes Edwards. Africa List Series. 720 pp., 37 halftones, 3 fascimiles, 1 map. Calcutta, London, and New York: Seagull Books, 2017. $60 (cloth)
Editor’s Note: This essay—an extended commentary on the recently published translation of Phantom Africa—is HAN’s first joint production of Field Notes and Reviews. The Editors welcome and encourage future submissions that combine reviews of recently published works with reflections on the history of anthropology.
Cover of the first edition of L’Afrique Fantôme, published by Gallimard in its series ‘Les Documents Bleus’ in 1934.
Phantom Africa is the diary that French writer and ethnologist, Michel Leiris, kept for almost two years, from May 1931 to February 1933. During this period, he was the secretary-archivist of the Dakar-Djibouti mission, an important ethnographic expedition financed by the French government, supported by several private donors, and organized by the University of Paris and the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro. The main goal of the mission was to collect a large number of ethnographic objects in order to renew the collection of the museum. The years between the world wars were a critical period for French anthropology because it was the moment of its emergence as an independent discipline. As a highly publicized event attached to the Trocadéro, the Dakar-Djibouti mission in particular played an important role in this process, paving the way for other ethnographic expeditions throughout the 1930s. The original French edition of the diary was published by Gallimard soon after the mission, in 1934, and now it has been published in English, translated by Brent Hayes Edwards. Continue reading
From New Peoples to New Nations: Aspects of Métis Identity from the Eighteenth to Twenty-First Centuries takes on the herculean task of condensing three centuries of Métis history into a single tome. However, authors Gerhard J. Ens and Joe Sawchuck do not provide a simple synthesis of events. Rather, From New Peoples to New Nations offers a comprehensive account of Métis history centered around the multiple, dialogical constructions of Métis identity. This thematic focus takes the book out of the realm of historical synthesis and into critical theorizations of ethnogenesis (the emergence of new ethnic groups), racialization (the definition of people in terms of race), and nationalism. Building on studies of the invention of tradition, ethno-symbolism, and historical ontology, the authors eschew primordialist accounts that take ethnicity and nationality as enduring givens. Ens and Sawchuk adopt an avowedly “instrumental” view, emphasizing the situational and strategic nature of Métis identity (7). The book is organized into five parts with Ens primarily authoring the first four. Despite the division of labor and different disciplinary backgrounds of the authors (Ens being a historian and Sawchuk an anthropologist), the thematic focus and theoretical orientation is remarkably consistent across the expansive eighteen chapters.
There are two ways to read Arthur Ray’s Aboriginal Rights Claims and the Making and Remaking of History. The first, following Ray’s own stated goals, is as a “single-volume introduction to the use of historical evidence in the varied aboriginal and treaty rights claims settings of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States” (27). Drawing on decades of experience as a scholar and an expert witness in Canada as well as an impressive breadth of comparative legal, historical, and anthropological scholarship, Ray provides an effective overview of some of the most significant land claims processes of the twentieth century settler colonial landscape. He focuses in particular on the ways in which these processes have been shaped by the testimony of expert witnesses—scholars who have been tasked with providing reports to courts and tribunals regarding Indigenous historical land and resource ownership and usage—and on how this applied work has in turn shaped academic disciplines, offering new perspectives, challenging dominant paradigms, and at times engendering bitter and sustained debates. As Ray moves across this vast scope, his text coalesces into a powerful indictment of the extraordinary lengths to which Indigenous Peoples have had to go in order to claim and receive recognition for their legal, political, and cultural rights. This second way of reading the text is particularly valuable for an undergraduate audience unversed in international Indigenous issues, which appears to be one of the book’s primary intended readerships.
This volume’s title gives a good sense of its contents; it includes articles on the American, British, and French traditions of anthropology. An equally valid title might suggest another construal for this volume, for the diversity of historiographical approaches by the various authors is equally striking. The range of genres gives a good sense of current approaches to the history of anthropology.
This updated version of Fagan’s 2004 first edition covers the development of archaeology as a discipline from the first recorded attempts to excavate as a means of finding out about the past, up to emergent and future trends that will shape the discipline during the coming decades.
The Indian New Deal—the name given to the series of policies that shifted Native American-US relations from one of allotment to limited tribal recognition in the 1930s and 1940s—lies at the center of Alice Kehoe’s A Passion for the True and Just: Felix and Lucy Kramer Cohen and the Indian New Deal. However, the book is more than a rehashing of the debates surrounding the implementation and legacies of the Indian New Deal. On one level, A Passion for the True and Just is an account of the relatively unexamined role of Felix and Lucy Kramer Cohen in designing key pieces of Indian New Deal legislation and texts. On another level, the book has the more ambitious goal of “[juxtaposing] two histories seldom merged, that of the Indian New Deal and Jews in twentieth-century America” (8). Through the life and work of the Cohens, Kehoe details the ways in which Jewish intellectuals significantly shaped the construction of this “turning point in colonialism” (163).
In Realizing the Witch, Richard Baxstrom and Todd Meyers attempt to analyze Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 film Häxan in its totality: as film, as historical and scientific treatise, and as anthropology. Häxan is Christensen’s cinematic attempt to present his thesis—that the witches of the sixteenth century represent the same psychological phenomenon as the hysterics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Baxstrom and Meyers’s book is structured into two parts and seven chapters, following the structure of the film itself. The two parts focus on the on-screen realization of the witch (Part 1) and on the links between the witch and modern psychiatric understandings as presented in the film (Part 2), but the authors explore all themes throughout the book.
Sudeshna Guha has written a book that not only complicates the history, but also provides a searing critique, of the practices and historiography of archaeology and heritage in India. Artefacts of History is required (and perhaps uncomfortable) reading for anyone interested in that history, questions about the global circulation of knowledge, issues surrounding the role these practices have played in the making of the pre- and post-partition Indian nation-state, and the conduct and role of archaeology and heritage in ‘postcolonial’ countries more generally. Furthermore, Guha makes the reader rethink the history of Indian archaeology in ways that question the writing of that and other archaeological histories. Similar to the recent work of Christina Riggs on the history of Egyptology, her volume also prompts renewed consideration of the role such histories might play in helping to constitute archaeological and heritage practice that actually interrogates the categories and taken-for-granteds upon which it relies.
Histories of museum anthropology often have been constrained by the particularities of the institutions in which anthropological and archaeological objects have been gathered and displayed. Furthermore, these institutional narratives have tended to neglect the broader political implications of curatorial practices. In Collecting, Ordering, Governing, seven scholars specializing in the history of anthropology and museum studies have begun to subvert these accounts through a thoughtfully-crafted book that relies as much on the careful application of theory as it does on recounting the histories of specific museums. Focusing on case studies of museum displays and collecting projects organized in settler-colonial states (the United States, Australia, New Zealand) and in former imperial powers (Great Britain and France), the authors highlight both the explicit and implicit connections between developments in museum anthropology and the establishment of government policies. Yet the authors are careful to note that the book is not meant to serve as a “comparative analysis” of anthropological museums as established in different national and/or regional political contexts; rather, it concentrates on using these cases to trace the complex networks of influence and authority that enabled transactions of particular things and ideas across both physical and conceptual spaces (2). By focusing on these processes of exchange during what is typically regarded as the height of anthropology’s “museum era” (Sturtevant 1969; Stocking 1985), the authors shift away from scholarship that positions the museum as the central organizing force in the collection of anthropological objects and data and instead look to a variety of sites and actors that supported the management of populations as well as the dissemination of scientific and cultural knowledge.
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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