HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article in English on the Brazilian experience of Melville and Frances Herskovits.
Sansone, Livio, 2021. “‘No Sun Helmets!’ Melville & Frances Herskovits in Brazil,” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
Among the representatives of culturalism, Melville Herskovits (1895-1963) stands out for his pronounced inclination to African studies, bringing Africa and the Americas closer together around cultural issues, without neglecting the challenges of the historical framework of slavery. From the 1920s, he was active in several African-American and African research contexts.
Between 1935 and 1943, the city of Salvador, Bahia in Brazil received different degrees of attention from a large number of foreign scholars and intellectuals, all of them impressed—if not seduced—by the “magic” of this city, largely the result of its Black popular culture. Among them were Frances Shapiro Herskovits (1897-1975) and her husband Melville Jean Herskovits. In this article, Sansone explores the manifold reasons for the lasting success of Melville and Frances’s fieldwork in Brazil, in spite of the fact that they never published the book they had planned. Their painstaking, detailed, and focused fieldwork in Brazil benefited from the experience, reputation, images, and recordings they had built up elsewhere in the Americas and Africa. The notion of African survivals or Africanism was in those days politically convenient and fitted with the priorities of the local modernist elites. Moreover, their presence and interest was convenient to the candomblé community, and the cult houses used the Herskovitses as leverage for local political support. Sansone concludes that Frances and Melville Herskovits were “the right people, with the right ideas, at the right time and place.”