It was perhaps because of her Austrian origins and her cosmopolitan life-course that Britta Rupp-Eisenreich was able, from the beginning of the 1980s, to play a pioneering role in the field of the history of anthropology in France. In 1981, she organized the first workshop devoted to the history of anthropology during the symposium of the French Association of Anthropologists (AFA)[1], providing an overview of the current state of the field.[2] In addition to two publications from this workshop[3], Britta Rupp-Eisenreich was the author of numerous works on subjects including social Darwinism in Germany, links between philology and ethnology, and figures such as Georg Forster, Christoph Meiners and Franz Reuleaux. (The choice to study the latter was largely due to her training at the Musée de l’Homme under the direction of André Leroi-Gourhan.) In a certain sense, Britta Rupp-Eisenreich was a relay for ideas between German-speaking countries and France. (She also translated Herman Hesse’s Magie du livre: Écrits sur la littérature.)

Britta Rupp-Eisenreich’s seminar on the history of anthropology at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) was for years, until her retirement in 1993, a place for intellectual exchange and conviviality. Many were the historians, literary scholars, geographers and anthropologists who turned up at these meetings, held in a charming little house at the back of the courtyard of 44 Rue de La Tour in Paris’ sixteenth arrondissement. It was with a mixture of exquisite courtesy and firmness that Britta Rupp-Eisenreich led the discussions, enlivened by her very delicate humor. (It was no mere accident that her bedside reading was Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.)

At a very advanced age, and as a kind of final pirouette, Britta Rupp-Eisenreich—naturally reserved and modest—made public under her maiden name her love affair with Paul Celan.[4] With this return to her youthful years in Paris, she closed, in a way, the cycle of her scholarly life.

[1] Invited to participate in this workshop, George W. Stocking was unable to attend due to a combination of fairly comical circumstances detailed in “What’s in a Name? (II) The Société d’Ethnographie and the Historiography of ‘Anthropology’ in France,” in Delimiting Anthropology: Occasional Inquiries and Reflections (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), 207–208. The original version of the article appeared in French: “Qu’est-ce qui est en jeu dans un nom? La ‘Société d’ethnographie’ et l’historiographie de l’‘anthropologie’ en France,” in Histoires de l’anthropologie: XVI–XIX siècles, ed. Britta Rupp-Eisenreich (Paris: Klincksieck, 1984), 421–431.

[2] Britta Rupp-Eisenreich, “L’Histoire de l’anthropologie en France et ailleurs,” Bulletin de l’Association française des anthropologues, no. 5 (1981): 70–74. The English version appeared in HAN as “The History of Anthropology in France,” History of Anthropology Newsletter 8, no. 1 (1981): 12–19. See also “Rapport de l’atelier: ‘Histoire de l’anthropologie,’” Bulletin de l’Association française des anthropologues, no. 8 (1982): 15–18.

[3] Britta Rupp-Eisenreich, Histoires de l’anthropologie; Britta Rupp-Eisenreich and Patrick Menget, eds., “L’anthropologie: points d’histoire,” L’Ethnographie, no. 90–91 (1983).

[4] Brigitta Eisenreich, Celans Kreidestern (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2010); Brigitta Eisenreich with Bertrand Badiou, L’Étoile de craie: Une liaison clandestine avec Paul Celan (Paris: Seuil, 2013).


Translated by John Tresch.

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