The History of Anthropology Newsletter (HAN) has always been an unprepossessing publication. Its physical format and graphic design were homespun. Initially mimeographed, it appeared for nineteen years in typescript, before the font was changed to Times in volume 20, and even after four decades no hint of slickness had crept into the layout of even the cover and contents page. The very title of the publication, a “newsletter,” connotes an informal publication about goings-on, nothing too serious.[1] In 1987, when I entered graduate school, the cost of a HAN subscription was $4 a year, discounted to $2.50 for students.[2] Even then, this was cheap.

Modest as it was, however, producing HAN was hard work. Each issue called for a range of items: reports from conferences, notices of research in progress, relevant bibliographic citations, substantive articles. It was especially hard to find material for the two more elaborated sections, “Footnotes for the History of Anthropology,” which published short essays, and “Clio’s Fancy: Documents to Pique the Historical Imagination,” in which a “juicy” historical document, ideally found in an archive, would be presented, bookended by commentary on its context of creation and significance. Year-in, year-out, the editors faced the challenge of filling these two departments. HAN’s founding editor, George Stocking, often improvised material for them at the last minute. One “Clio’s Fancy” column begins thus: “Caught unexpectedly at press time with no material for either of our substantive departments, and not wishing this number of HAN to be only bibliographic, I foraged my shelves for something short, piquing, and otherwise not easily available”; this was followed by a description of an adventitiously located document that fit the bill (Stocking 1991, 4). Some years later, “Clio’s Fancy” again starts out: “Looking for material to fill a scant number, I came across a file…” (Stocking 1996, 7). When others contributed items to these departments, it was almost always in response to the editor’s plea. After all, there was scant glory in “Newsletter” articles, whose virtue had to be their sole reward.

Why bother, then, to have such a publication? What purposes did it serve that made the hard work worthwhile?

Richard Handler links the HAN format to that of a publication Stocking edited before he entered graduate school: a local union newsletter he had produced and distributed to Boston meatpacking workers in the 1950s, when he was laboring at Colonial Provision Company in Boston’s North End and was a union activist (Handler 2016; Stocking 2010, 64). If HAN was, at some level, created in the image of this other mimeographed newsletter, it certainly establishes for HAN a genealogy that “piques the historical imagination”! The union local newspaper was of course an organizing tool that sought to connect individuals who were otherwise isolated from one another while working on different crews and in different departments of the packing house like carving, trimming, pickling, smoking, fat rendering, chilling, and cleaning (see Halpern and Horowitz 1999). I want to suggest there was analogous motivation for the work that went into HAN, a motivation that arose because of the interdisciplinary situation of the history of anthropology as a scholarly field.

These days “interdisciplinarity” is widely celebrated in the academy, and the term is often used as a form of praise or for strategic value. But it is important to remember that interdisciplinarity has the drawback of activating tension between different sets of discipline-specific expectations, writing genres, ethical standards, and so on. Such tension may not be unduly burdensome in a delimited collaborative project involving individuals already well established with good jobs in their fields, but it can weigh heavily on the careers of scholars who are not so well settled, and for this reason can be especially problematic for diffuse scholarly projects that are meant to continue indefinitely, thus requiring participation from individuals at different life stages. Such a project is history of anthropology.

This was a truth acutely felt by both of HAN’s print editors, George Stocking and his successor, Henrika (“Riki”) Kuklick, as well as by many if not most of their students, and others who have participated in the life of the field. Here I will try to describe Stocking’s perspective on the interdisciplinary situation of history of anthropology. I believe this will serve to shed light on why HAN’s revival today is important for the field’s continued vitality.

Stocking did his graduate work in the American Civilization program at the University of Pennsylvania, which had been expressly formed as an interdisciplinary program combining history and literature, eventually widening to include social sciences too (Murphey 1970; Jacobs 2013, 28). Stocking’s initial topical interest, growing out of his union experience, was race relations in the U.S., and his coursework spanned a breadth of approaches in literature, history, social psychology, sociology, and anthropology (Stocking 2010, 71). In the course of writing his dissertation, however, he moved decisively toward intellectual history. At first Stocking followed the positivist historiographical model of his dissertation supervisor, Murray Murphey, but he quickly became disenchanted with the interpretative limitations of a quantitative approach to intellectual history, and ultimately rejected it in favor of a more traditional narrative-driven, “actor-oriented” historiography (73).

In 1960, when he received his PhD, Stocking looked ahead to a career in history. All of the many job inquiry letters he sent out were to departments of history, and he began attending the annual conference of the American Historical Association. While teaching at his first job, in the History Department at Berkeley, he had “some contact with the anthropology department,” primarily through Dell Hymes, and he became involved with a network of scholars at different universities who were developing the history of the social sciences as “an emerging subfield of the history of science” (Stocking 2010, 76-78, 89). Some of these were historians and sociologists of science; others were anthropologists. After he received tenure, Stocking accepted a fellowship to train in anthropology for one semester each at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago, where he took anthropology graduate courses and wrote articles about Boas. That April, he was offered a position in Anthropology at Chicago.

What is interesting about Stocking’s story is the tension he experienced in relation to history as a discipline. Although his early publications cannot be mistaken for anything other than intellectual history, their scope was narrow: they were essays, not books, and they were close-focus studies of particular individuals, institutions, and transitions in ideas central to anthropology, not large-canvas accounts of important national traditions of social sciences (Bashkow 1997). Stocking’s approach was methodologically grounded in history in its use of period sources, its emphasis on the meaning of ideas in their own time, and its explanation of changes occurring within periods defined by their start and their end dates. At the same time, his approach was anthropological in that it consisted primarily of careful interpretation of specific situations and texts, finding its larger themes by explicating the particulars of “revelatory incidents” (Fernandez 2013, 116). Immediately after he had received tenure at Berkeley, Stocking’s senior colleagues cautioned him that this microcosmic style of historical scholarship would not be adequate for promotion to full professor, and that instead, a major contribution to American or German intellectual history would be expected. At Chicago the expectation that he should paint the “big picture” was expressed still more insistently.

George Stocking with Ira Bashkow, 1995. Photo by Lise Dobrin.

George Stocking with Ira Bashkow, 1995. Photo by Lise Dobrin.

When the anthropologists proposed his joint appointment in Anthropology and History, the historians at first resisted, approving it only after several months of negotiations and with “several abstentions” (Stocking 2010, 92). Some years later, only Anthropology voted to approve Stocking’s promotion to full professor. When this happened a second time, Stocking resigned from his position in the Department of History despite his own “growing sense that my characteristic mode of thought was more historical than anthropological” (104).

I know this story was important to Stocking because he told it to me several times, including the first time we met.[3] It condensed anxieties he had over his own scholarship, a burden of self-doubt that lightened only with the publication of his book Victorian Anthropology in 1987. But it also spoke to a more general issue of disciplinary configuration.

One might think that the history of anthropology is a subfield within intellectual history or the history of science, as its topic might indicate. Methodologically it certainly is, in terms of its writing genres, explanatory values, and ethics. But while historians may have been the ones to set its methodological standards, as Regna Darnell observed in a 1977 review article, it is anthropologists who have tended to “define the topics of interest” that give history of anthropology its main audience (1977, 414; see also Kuklick 2014). Finding interest is of course the very currency of scholarly success, with implications for publication, grants, and employability. So the problem with interdisciplinarity that Stocking experienced was the need for it to be responsive to the interests of the more powerful surrounding disciplines (see also Burawoy 2013).

When I became his student in 1987, Stocking was pessimistic about the prospects for the history of anthropology within history of science, as the latter was but a small field, itself on the periphery of intellectual history, and it had its own priority areas of interest—like the history of the natural sciences, the scientific revolution, science politics, and the history of technology—that were considered more critical to “cover.” Anthropology, by contrast, was a larger field, taught in many more colleges and universities, and Stocking’s own position attested to the importance and interest accorded to the history of anthropology within it. This is where he advised me to position myself, advice I heeded and to this day do not regret.

Eventually I came to understand that doing history of anthropology in tandem with an additional project in one’s home field was a common pattern. Stocking had a good number of students who, like me, did research in history of anthropology as a sort of minor field alongside a separate dissertation in socio-cultural anthropology. Stocking also had students who made their disciplinary home in history of science and intellectual history. They less frequently resorted to such overt partitioning (completing their degrees more quickly!), but they too were engaged in negotiating disciplinary expectations and standards (albeit different ones), recognizing what was needed to firmly found a scholarly career. Like Stocking, they needed to paint the history of anthropology into larger pictures with larger frames like national intellectual history that were more highly valued in their own field.

Stocking’s model for building the history of anthropology was not to try to create a new interdisciplinary field along the lines of American Studies, Gender Studies, etc., but instead to cultivate a network of individuals that would form a kind of scrappy alliance of splinter groups within them. There was a relatively exclusive network consisting of contributors to the History of Anthropology volume series, discussed by Handler in his related article (Handler 2016). Around it was a more inclusive network, to which all were welcome, constituted by HAN.

For many of the younger scholars who contributed to producing HAN, it was perplexing why Stocking, and then Kuklick, did so much of the work themselves, personally and by hand. Josh Berson has recalled to me Kuklick’s reluctance to change HAN from print to online publication consisting of PDF files sent out by email. She enjoyed gathering people together to do the copying, folding, and addressing at HAN mailing “parties.” The finished newsletter that arrived in the end in one’s mailbox was only part of what producing HAN was about, which may in part explain why it looked so plain: the process of producing HAN had intrinsic value as well. A major part of this was the communicative work that went on behind it. Finding material for each issue was an occasion for the editor to renew relationships and create and activate networks by soliciting articles, event notices, bibliographic items, and recommendations for potential contributors. Twice a year, the editor got in touch with some significant number of people known to share an interest in the history of anthropology, regardless of where they were located and in what kind of departmental home. HAN’s bibliographic departments, coming after the “research in progress” notices, included “recent work by subscribers” and “suggested by our readers,” with each item credited to the person who had submitted it by initials, the key to which appeared at the end. To find volunteers to write substantive articles, the editor often coaxed, persuaded, offered assistance, wheedled, cajoled, and reminded. It takes a peculiar balance of firmness and empathy to solicit contributions successfully. Both Stocking and Kuklick were expert in this. Email and phone contact with them would thicken over the course of the few days it took to prepare each issue.

In effect, then, HAN episodically materialized a community of interest among enthusiasts and practitioners of history of anthropology who were dispersed geographically and divided by discipline. There was a semi-regular international feature, consisting of reports on the state of history of anthropology scholarship in particular countries. The “Clio’s Fancy” column gave a way to share documents only other enthusiasts would fully appreciate. Recall the exchange of letters between Franz Boas and his mother, Sophie, about having women as students, that was contributed by the late Douglas Cole. In the year 1900, Boas complained to his mother that his undergraduate introductory class in anthropology was “overrun with women students.” (Columbia classes had just been opened to women students from Barnard, and fifteen had enrolled in the seminar.) His mother, who had “strong feminist sentiments,” remonstrated; twenty years later Boas wrote in another letter, “All my best students are women” (Cole 1992, 3, 5). Today, this kind of small, special interest item might be posted efficiently on Facebook. But back then it emerged from a solicitation followed by a conversation and back-and-forth with the editor. Or recall Susak Krook’s landmark “Clio’s Fancy” presenting excerpts from Boas’s FBI file (Krook 1989). It includes, in brackets, the following intriguing editor’s note at the end: “Inspired by this piece, the editor [Stocking himself] wrote some months ago to the FBI requesting his own file…”—the genesis of the memoir Stocking liked to call his “Black Box” (Stocking 2010).

Riki Kuklick in London, circa 1996. Photo courtesy of Robert Bud.

Riki Kuklick in London, circa 1996. Photo courtesy of Robert Bud.

Under Stocking and Kuklick, HAN successfully fostered connections among historians of anthropology who were otherwise pulled by disciplinary forces into socially and intellectually disparate orbits. But this did give the history of anthropology a certain limitation, in that the networks created and tended through the newsletter were centered on the individual editors themselves. Today’s virtualization of HAN has the potential to overcome this limitation and connect historians of anthropology directly with one another. Under the direction of John Tresch, HAN’s production involves more individuals, as there is now a distributed committee structure responsible for HAN’s different departments. This promises to cultivate a broader, multi-centered network that improves upon the older HAN model. We should all be grateful to HAN’s new editorial teams for re-envisioning the newsletter in this way and taking over the work of producing it.

One final note: In Stocking’s day, the field of anthropology was particularly welcoming to history of anthropology scholarship. But while the interest of anthropologists remains strong, recent changes at the institutional level may be significant for the continuation of history of anthropology in anthropology’s orbit. The old pattern of PhD students doing a second project in history of anthropology in addition to an anthropology dissertation—the “HoA plus” pattern—is becoming less viable now that PhD programs track time-to-degree metrics and graduate students do not have time to engage in elaborate side projects requiring research and methods not closely aligned with their dissertations. Patterns of hiring are also changing in anthropology, as in other liberal arts fields in colleges and universities generally. No longer is it the normal state of affairs for an anthropology department to be growing in size. New positions are few, and there is an increasing number of subspecialities and areas of study with valid claim to them. Under the circumstances, it is hard to imagine a robust future for history of anthropology specialists within anthropology departments. And if it is indeed true that fewer graduate students are doing HoA-plus, eventually there will be less history of anthropology within anthropology. This suggests that the interdisciplinary tensions felt by those working in the history of anthropology will not soon disappear, in which case HAN will be needed even more than before. What kind of gathering zone can it create virtually? What kind of interdisciplinary nexus can it help us to form?


Works Cited

Bashkow, Ira. 1997. “Craft and Worry in the Historiography of Anthropology: George Stocking’s Style.” Presentation at annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC, November 20.

Burawoy, Michael. 2013. “Sociology and Interdisciplinarity: The Promise and the Perils.” Philippine Sociological Review 61: 7–20.

Cole, Douglas. 1992. “‘One Does Not Get as Much from the Girls’: Franz Boas and Women Students.” History of Anthropology Newsletter 19, no. 2: 3–5.

Darnell, Regna. 1977. “History of Anthropology in Historical Perspective.” Annual Review of Anthropology 6: 399–417.

Fernandez, James. 2013. “Tears, Not So Idle Tears: ‘Time Binding,’ Lachrymose Emotionality, and Ethnographic Disambiguation.” In Astonishment and Evocation: The Spell of Culture in Art and Anthropology, ed. Ivo Strecker and Markus Verne, 111–130. New York: Berghahn Books.

Halpern, Richard, and Roger Horowitz. 1999. Meatpackers: An Oral History of Black Packinghouse Workers and their Struggle for Racial and Economic Equality. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Handler, Richard. 2016. “HAN and the Institutionalization of HoA.” History of Anthropology Newsletter 40, no. 1.

Jacobs, Jerry. 2013. “American Studies: A Case Study of Interdisciplinarity.” Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania, PSC Working Paper Series, PSC 13-08.

Krook, Susan. 1989. “Franz Boas (a.k.a. Boaz) and the F.B.I.,” History of Anthropology Newsletter 16, no. 2:4–12.

Kuklick, Henrika. 2014. “History of Anthropology.” In A Historiography of the Modern Social Sciences, ed. Roger Backhouse and Philippe Fontaine, 62–98. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Murphey, Murray. 1970. “American Civilization at Pennsylvania.” American Quarterly 22, no. 2: 489–502.

Stocking, George. 1991. “Ethnographic Classification and the Science of Progress.” History of Anthropology Newsletter, 18, no. 2: 4–5.

Stocking, George. 1996. “Schneider on Kluckhohn, 1964: Myth and Memory, the Oral and the Written, Historical Retrospect and Self-Representation in the Historiography of Modern American and British Anthropology.” History of Anthropology Newsletter 23, no. 2: 7–14.

Stocking, George. 2010. Glimpses into My Own Black Box: An Exercise in Self-Deconstruction. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

[1] It is common for professional and scholarly associations to publish a newsletter, but the term “newsletter” appears in the title of only one peer-reviewed scholarly journal indexed by the Web of Science. Newsletters in Stratigraphy, a geology journal, was started around 1970, like HAN, but in Leiden.

[2] The rate was a dollar higher for institutions and subscribers outside North America. Adjusted for inflation, the student subscription rate at that time would correspond to about $5 today.

[3] The story is also related in his memoir (Stocking 2010, 90, 92, 104).

Ira Bashkow: contributions / website /