HAR is pleased to announce one of the latest releases from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article, in Spanish, on Boasian ethnographer John Alden Mason.
Ocasio, Rafael, 2023. “De la criollización a la compilación del folclore puertorriqueño: el legado de John Alden Mason y de sus colaboradores jíbaros en el campo de Puerto Rico”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
US anthropologist John Alden Mason (1885–1967) was a student of Alfred L. Kroeber with a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. He did fieldwork under Franz Boas’ supervision, namely within the “Scientific Survey of Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” which began in 1914–1915 as a multidisciplinary study under the auspices of the New York Academy of Sciences. The earliest part of the twentieth century after the Spanish American War of 1898 can be characterized as the beginning of an intense exploration in the United States of Puerto Rican culture. This interest led to active scientific fieldwork by representatives of American academic institutions. Boas’ and Mason’s was among the first research trips of this kind. They oversaw the gathering of hundreds of oral riddles, folk poetry, and stories, which were published in The Journal of American Folklore from 1916 through 1929. Mason considered this collection of folk tales as being among the largest from a Spanish-speaking country or territory. Following the publication of Race and Nation in Puerto Rican Folklore: Franz Boas and John Alden Mason in Porto Rico (Ocasio, Rutgers University Press, 2020), this article focuses on Mason’s ethnographic endeavors and discusses some of the special categories of folk tales that Mason – and Boas – presented as exemplary representations of a well grounded Puerto Rican identity. The published folktales favor rural cultural practices of the peasants known as “Jíbaro,” while ignoring folk data gathered in Loíza, a traditional fishing village inhabited by African descendants. Indeed, the choice to highlight Jíbaro oral folklore not only determined the geographical scope of the project (rural and inland culture) but also the types of native characters that stand as representatives of a Puerto Rican identity to this day. The Penn Museum, an institution for which Mason served as curator of the American Section from 1926 until his retirement in 1955, celebrates him as “one of the last of the great generalist anthropologists of the 20th century”, but his legacy is inseparable from his descriptive ethnography and the folk materials he compiled.
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