HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article, in English, exploring the connections between American anthropology and colonialism by Herbert S. Lewis.
Lewis, Herbert S., 2022. “American Anthropology and Colonialism: A Factual Account,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
Anthropology developed as an academic discipline at the height of European colonialism at the turn of the 20th century. It was the same as for many scientific disciplines, but anthropologists – ethnographers – engaged intellectually and practically with many peoples of the world who were under colonial domination. Since the intellectual upheavals of the 1960s, this relationship has been viewed as shameful, and the phrase “anthropology and colonialism” has, Lewis argues, become an ill-informed cliché that undermines historical understanding. In this article Lewis addresses this quandary with respect to anthropology as it has developed in the United States. Until World War II, very few American anthropologists did research outside the United States, and even fewer investigated areas under European colonial rule. The vast majority of ethnographic research conducted in the United States has been with Native American peoples, whose complex historical situation, Lewis contends, is barely captured by the use of the term “settler colonialism.” Applied to anthropology and ethnography, this article charges that recent narratives are an oversimplification that distorts the reality of both process and results. The second part of the article explores the legacy of anthropological research among North American Indian peoples, particularly for the descendants of these communities, as well as the discipline’s contribution to understanding the human condition, and the diversity of human behavior, thought, and creativity.