The first issue of the History of Anthropology Newsletter was published in 1973. As a project launched and directed by George Stocking—a founder and leading practitioner of the history of anthropology—HAN has played an important role in the field for four decades.
From the beginning, its mission has been to connect dispersed scholars working on the history of anthropology from a variety of geographical, institutional, and disciplinary locations, and to serve as a repository for resources which might otherwise be missed or neglected. The biannual newsletter has included sections listing and describing recently acquired papers and collections, newly published monographs and manuscripts, dissertations and research in progress, as well as news, notes, and queries.
The early issues of the newsletter started with a section titled “Prospects and Problems,” in which Stocking and the editorial team (with such long-term contributors as Robert Bieder, Regna Darnell, and Dell Hymes, along with several others) reflected on the field, often signaling the insecurity of both the discipline of history of anthropology and the newsletter itself. That sense of fragility subsided with the success of the first few years of publication, though.
After thirty years as editor of HAN, George Stocking passed the reins of the endeavor to Henrika (“Riki”) Kuklick in 2004. Author of The Savage Within and editor of A New History of Anthropology, Riki, with the assistance of graduate students in History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, kept the newsletter much as it had been.
Hand-assembled on mimeographed and then xeroxed sheets, and mailed in bulk twice yearly to libraries, departments, and individual subscribers, it remained a forum for research in progress, announcements of upcoming conferences and meetings, and bibliographic citations both accessible and arcane. One decisive innovation was the inclusion of regular extended essays to headline each issue.
With Riki’s untimely death in May 2013—followed, in a sad coincidence, by that of George Stocking a few months later—the History of Anthropology Newsletter suspended its publication, leaving a palpable absence.
Archiving and Renewing
To renew the mission of HAN, and to preserve and make accessible its earlier versions, an editorial collective has formed again. It includes graduate students from Penn (many of whom worked with Riki) and other contributors from Johns Hopkins University, the University of New Mexico, Leeds Trinity University, the University of Southern California, and the Harvard Library. The editor-in-chief is Penn Associate Professor of History and Sociology of Science John Tresch, who had the good fortune to count both Stocking and Kuklick as mentors. The project has received crucial support from Penn Libraries and the Price Lab for Digital Humanities.
HAN will relaunch in digital format in 2016. Our first task is to scan, archive, and make available for search and consultation all previous issues. Beyond this archival goal, we intend to restore HAN as a forum in which scholars interested in the history of anthropology may share their discoveries, publicize events, query the community for specific and general assistance, and reflect on the field’s history, methods, and aims.
These are the roles HAN has always played, and they are even more necessary now. Initially established to help connect what Stocking called the “presentist” and “historicist” approaches to the history of anthropology, the newsletter will remain an important forum for uniting the diverse perspectives that continue to shape this specialty.
Once practiced largely within the disciplinary confines of anthropology and the history of the social and human sciences, the history of anthropology, has expanded since HAN’s origins into new departments, with lines of inquiry initiated from the history of biology, political science, literary studies, indigenous studies, museum studies, and colonial and postcolonial histories (to name just a few of the sites with important investments in history of anthropology).
Yet this growing body of scholarship has been scattered across many different academic journals, conferences, blogs, and other media, with the unfortunate result that many like-minded scholars may never cross paths or engage with one another’s work.
By reestablishing the Newsletter within a digital space and creating and maintaining links to the many new scholarly perspectives on the history of anthropology, we plan to bridge such gaps in communication. This new, easily accessible format will not only facilitate increased dialogue across disciplines and geographies, but will also enable more creative modes of discussion and reflection.
Why History of Anthropology Now
As the science of humanity, the field of anthropology has been a preeminent site for Western thought on what constitutes the human—from Enlightenment figures including Diderot and Kant, through the classic period of Durkheim, Boas, and British Social Anthropology, up to the Cold War and more recent configurations that have only begun to be probed.
Understanding both the distant and very recent history of the sciences that deal with the variety and commonalities of human culture, social order, technology, and biology is all the more pressing in a new global age when what it means to be human is visibly changing.
Globalized economic, political, and military encounters transform the terms for thinking about cultural specificities and patterns of interaction. With a new recognition of the geologic-scale impact of human industry, our ideas about our place and permanence in the world are challenged. Technological enthusiasm for genome sequencing and the push to understand the human microbiome also complicate ideas about our own bodies.
As new definitions of “the human” emerge, the history of anthropology offers a crucial vantage on longer histories of these notions, on how they have been constructed and challenged. Contextualized within social, political, and economic realities, the history of anthropology can help us get to grips with the challenges of being human in the twenty-first century.
Further, anthropology straddles boundaries that make it a particularly fruitful object of historical study. Drawing the biological and social sciences together, in the US setting four-field anthropology has long incorporated interdisciplinarity (and its tensions) within a single departmental home. As universities and public funding agencies emphasize the need to address complex questions with interdisciplinary research, the history of collaboration and conflict within the subdisciplines offers important insight.
Just as anthropologists are uniquely situated to comment on the relationship between biological and cultural phenomena without falling into reductionism, historians of the field are well positioned to contextualize current tensions between differing explanations for human realities.
Beyond debates about disciplinary boundaries, anthropology has also long been implicated in the opposition between abstract scholarly production and applied social action. The field’s longstanding activist commitments are reinvented and redirected relentlessly. Further, while anthropologists and their methods may seem suddenly ubiquitous in private business, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies—where ethnography is proposed as a tool of marketing, health care, and intelligence work—there is a long history to these engagements with state and non-state entities.
Crossing boundaries between the social and biological, pure and applied, “historicist” and “presentist,” the history of anthropology is an object of immense historical and political interest.
A New Page
In its transformed, online format, the newsletter will combine the best elements of its past with new content areas, using digital media to expand HAN’s reach and profile. Archiving and indexing the issues from 1973 forward in a searchable, user-friendly format will open decades of accumulated wisdom to new audiences. We will also mark the relaunch by inviting scholars to reflect on their sense of the field and on directions for HAN to take in the future.
One of HAN’s lasting achievements has been the creation of bibliographic resources in the history of anthropology; in its new form, the journal will carry this tradition forward, publishing regular bibliographies of new work in the field. As in previous incarnations of the Newsletter, HAN will publish reviews of books, exhibitions, and archival resources.
A new section titled “Field Notes” will be a forum for publication of short theoretical musings, reports on cultural and academic events and displays, interviews of anthropologists and others, and discussion of intellectual resources of interest to the community. Finally, leveraging new media technologies, HAN will serve as a gathering point for the community, publishing relevant news such as calls for conference participation and notices of events of interest, and linking to related sites.
Working from this basic blueprint, HAN will periodically assess its content in light of emerging needs: future areas for expansion may include peer-reviewed articles, livestreamed lectures and events, and recorded podcasts. Much as it did in its earlier forms, the History of Anthropology Newsletter will reflect the past and present of both history of anthropology and anthropology itself, and serve as a useful point of contact for those pushing the field forward.