HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article (published both in English and in Portuguese) about the German ethnographer and ethnologist Karl von den Steinen.
Petschelies, Erik, 2021. “The Doyen of South American Ethnography: Life and Work of Karl von den Steinen,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
Petschelies, Erik, 2021. “O Decano da etnografia sul‑americana: vida e obra de Karl von den Steinen,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
In 1924, the first post-war conference of Americanists was held in Gothenburg (Sweden) through the concerted efforts of Franz Boas and a small circle of Americanist scholars from different European countries. The presence of German ethnologist Karl von den Steinen (1855-1929), who had undertaken the first two ethnological expeditions to the Xingu River basin in Central Brazil in 1884 and in 1877-88, thus inaugurating Amerindian ethnography of the South American lowlands, was considered mandatory. But he refused to participate, arguing that it would not be possible to ignore the imposed peace by the winners of the war. Eventually, von den Steinen was convinced to participate by his colleagues, who appealed to the international nature of ethnology and to the fundamental contribution that he could offer to its reconstruction. The encounter between von den Steinen and French Americanist Paul Rivet represented the unity of scientists overcoming differences of nationality and the conflicts in which their countries were involved.
What is less known is that von den Steinen’s private life was falling apart. He was depressed, his wife was gravely ill, and his family’s financial resources were practically non-existent. In this biographical essay based on archival sources held in institutions in Germany, Sweden, and the United States, with a focus on both personal and scientific correspondence, Petschelies aims to describe how anthropology entangled with the personal life of this legendary figure in the history of anthropology by addressing the network of social relations he created and by which he was carved. Von den Steinen, professor at the universities of Marburg and Berlin, chief and director of the Americanist section of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and president of the Anthropological Society of Berlin, was also a loving husband and father of eight children, a good friend, and a complex human being.
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