HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: two articles in English on Ruth Landes, the “scandalous” disciple of Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. 

Andreson, Jamie Lee, 2021. “In the City of Women: The Life and Work of Ruth Landes,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

URL: article2218.html

Cole, Sally, 2021. “The End of Chastity and Modesty: Ruth Landes Writing Race and Gender in 1930s Anthropology,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

URL: article2219.html

Jamie Lee Andreson presents the life and work of American anthropologist Ruth Landes (1908-1991), the famous disciple of Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict who contributed to the development of Afro-American Studies and Feminist Anthropology. Landes did ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil from 1938 to 1939. Her work that had the greatest impact was the dynamic narrative ethnography, The City of Women (1947) published in Brazil as A Cidade das Mulheres (1967), which documented the lives of prominent head priestesses of Candomblé temples and argued that the religion was a matriarchy, based on the prominence of Black women’s leadership and community reverence for the priestesses as Mothers. Her close collaboration with Brazilian colleague Edison Carneiro granted her privileged access to research sites and subjects, producing an historical archive of Candomblé still available at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) of the Smithsonian Museum. However, her research approach and relationships in the field were considered scandalous by prominent male colleagues, who negatively impacted her career opportunities in the United States. Nevertheless, her legacy remains strong in Brazil both in academia and among Candomblé practitioners themselves.

Sally Cole’s article focuses on Ruth Landes writing race and gender in 1930s anthropology. City of Women (1947) was anomalous in its time for its focus on women’s agency and gender fluidity among Afro-Brazilian Candomblé practitioners in 1930s Bahia and for its personal memoir writing style. Melville Herskovits (1895-1963) and Arthur Ramos (1903-1949), who were then working to establish the field of Afro-Brazilian studies, severely critiqued Landes’s study of cultural creativity and internal dynamics and her failure to engage in their search for African survivals.  Twenty-first-century historians of anthropology now describe the text as um espelho, a mirror, on gender and race in 1930s Brazil. This article traces the singularity of Landes’s ethnography to her autobiographical experience of gender conventions in the Russian Jewish labor Zionist immigrant milieu she was raised in; her training by Ruth Benedict (1887-1948) to pay attention to the experience of “culturally unprovided for” individuals; and, Landes’s method of intensive fieldwork with Indigenous collaborators – prior to coming to Brazil with Ojibwa elder Maggie Wilson (1879-1940) in Canada that resulted in the book, The Ojibwa Woman (1938) and, in Bahia, with Salvador-born folklorist, Edison Carneiro (1912-1971).  

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