The History of Anthropology Review (HAR) would like to bring to the attention of our readers the International Encyclopedia of Anthropology, a pioneering reference resource for the field of anthropology and interrelated areas. This online compendium contains over 1000 entries on the discipline’s key concepts, research and techniques–many of which touch on issues related to the history and histories of anthropology. HAR’s Bibliographies editor, Janet Steins, has kindly put together a brief summary of this resource.

International Encyclopedia of Anthropology Foregrounds the History of the Discipline

All HAR readers who teach anthropology should become familiar with the International Encyclopedia of Anthropology, an important online publication issued in 2018 by John Wiley & Sons. Unlike the traditional approach of discipline-focused reference works, the editors of this new encyclopedia urged their authors to add “clear historical dimensions” to their writing whenever doing so would enhance their contributions. 

From the introduction,  Anthropology’s history and histories:

Early in the process of designing the encyclopedia, a decision was made not to address the history of anthropology as a separate theme but rather to encourage authors to incorporate a clear historical dimension into their writing wherever appropriate. The aim was, in part, to avoid privileging particular, perhaps dominant, narratives of the past over others that also merit attention. As there are both anthropology and anthropologies, so there are both a history and histories of the subject. And, in similar fashion, these histories sometimes converge in common roots and intellectual ancestries while at other points they diverge into different presents. Judged by the results, this strategy has paid off handsomely. There are powerful historical analyses to be found within entries throughout the encyclopedia, and the decision has had the effect of giving freedom to individual authors to reach deeply into anthropology’s historical roots within their own places.  

An example of an article given a historical treatment is “Public Perceptions of Anthropology,” by David Mills which begins:

This entry presents a review of different public perceptions of anthropology over time and in a range of national settings.  In addition, it explores a selection of anthropological responses to these public representations and highlights the role of the media in constantly generating new publics and new perceptions of the academic field.

Any description of such a comprehensive reference work as this one naturally tends to focus on numbers, and I’ll give only a few:

  • Over 1,000 articles and growing
  • More than 800 contributors
  • Anthropology in … (name a country, and likely it’s there)
  • 100+ biographical treatments
  • Founding and development of dozens of societies and scholarly organizations

Some articles of note:

  • George W. Stocking, by Richard Handler
  • United States, Anthropology in, by Sergei Kan
  • Alfred L. Kroeber, by Ira Jacknis
  • International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES), by Faye V. Harrison
  • Anthropology in the Netherlands, by Hans F. Vermuelen
  • Julian H. Steward, by Herbert S. Lewis

Subscribers get access to new content continuously.  In fact, at least ten new articles were posted in January of this year.

As a point of comparison, the last time a comprehensive encyclopedia covered the history of anthropology was in 2001 when Thomas Hylland Eriksen wrote the single article on the subject for the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Elsevier).  Several textbooks have also appeared since then, notably the fifth edition of Erickson and Murphy’s Readings for a History of Anthropology (University of Toronto Press, 2017), and the 2nd edition of Eriksen and Nielsen’s A History of Anthropology (Pluto Press, 2013).  However, no publication has approached the comprehensiveness and scope of this encyclopedia, both for students of anthropology in general and for those focusing on the history of the discipline.

Editor-in-Chief of the International Encyclopedia of Anthropology is Hilary Callan, who oversaw the work of 14 associate editors.  Callan served as director of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 2000 to 2010. 

The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology is available via the publisher’s online reference platform, Wiley Online Library, and if you agree that this resource will be useful to your students, I urge you to request that your library  subscribe if it has not already done so.   Once your students have access to it, you might even be able to wean them away from Wikipedia! The publisher’s website provides a complete table of contents to the entire encyclopedia.

Janet Steins: contributions / website /