The reviews section publishes review essays on recent books, documentary films, and exhibitions, and occasionally a retrospective review of an older work whose legacy we would like to revisit. We maintain a list of recent books for prospective reviewers. If you are interested in reviewing for HAR, please see our guidelines and send a CV and brief proposal to our editors at email@example.com.
I found reading this book both a humbling and a deeply moving experience. It is first and foremost a biography of the Australian anthropologist Neville White, but it is also an ethnography of two very different communities—the Yolngu people who live in the region of Donydji in Central Arnhem Land and a group, a “tribe,” of Vietnam veterans. The genius of the book is that it centers on the personal ethnography of Neville as the fulcrum between the two worlds—the Vietnam vets and the people of Donydji, conveying both his perspective and his passion. Don Watson was given access to Neville’s notebooks and accompanied him into the field with the vets. I have known Neville for many years, and I have worked with the Yolngu people for nearly as many years as he has. Watson’s account rings true to my experience. Of the Vietnam War and its effect on the young Australians who took part I know very little; it is not an experience that I share with Neville. In 1967 when he was on patrol as an Australian conscript in Vietnam, I was an undergraduate student marching through the streets of Central London, shouting with the crowd ‘Hey Hey LBJ – how many kids did you kill today’.
Editor’s note: This newest addition to HAR Reviews pairs a review essay with a brief author Q&A. Our reviewer, Karen Field, drafted the essay first and then brought some questions to the author. We thank Karen for suggesting this format and Patrick Schmidt for his participation, and we welcome more experiments with HoA writing and conversation.
Maya Angelou once said, “you can’t really know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” If she was right, then everyone with a stake in the social sciences today should read and reflect upon Harvard’s Quixotic Pursuit of a New Science, a new work by Patrick L. Schmidt that traces the rise and fall of Harvard University’s Department of Social Relations, a department whose founders strove to unite sociology, anthropology, and psychology into a single discipline dedicated to the understanding of human behavior.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this essay was published in French in the European Journal of Social Sciences (see Rosa, 2022). This translation is the author’s own.
In his classic study on Victorian Anthropology (1987), George W. Stocking, Jr. used the expression “a precipice in time,” referring to the nineteenth-century archaeological discovery of the antiquity of humankind to the detriment of biblical chronology. Mutatis mutandis, Maria Beatrice Di Brizio plunges the founding ancestor of anthropology, Edward B. Tylor (1832–1917), into a surprising precipice in time. The result of in-depth investigations conducted for over twenty years, her massive monograph, Histoire du concept de couvade, digs deep into the past in search of the antecedents to Tylor’s inaugural volume, Researches into the Early History of Mankind (1865). Beyond the exploration of Victorian anthropology, Di Brizio’s intellectual archaeology exhumes a vast literature from the eighteenth, seventeenth, and sixteenth centuries—with some sources dating back to the Middle Ages and Greco-Roman antiquity. Less known and less studied than his magnum opus Primitive Culture(1871), Tylor’s earlier volume is now brought to life as a fundamental text in the history of anthropology, or, more generally, in the history of the social sciences and the humanities.
Editor’s note: This essay was originally developed for another publication in 2018, shortly after Magic’s Reason was published. HAR received the essay in 2022 and is pleased to publish it as a joint production of Field Notes and Reviews. Although Magic’s Reason is now a few years old, as Golub argues here, the conversations it animates on anthropological theory and the history of anthropology are well worth continuing.
What does it mean to “compare” two things? For Graham Jones, the answer to this question can be found in a magic show performed in Algeria in October 1856. The performer was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, the “father of modern magic” (Jones 2017, 12), and his goal was to demonstrate the superiority of European civilization by surpassing the mystic feats performed by the Sufi orders then popular in Algeria. And not only that: Robert-Houdin’s magic would demonstrate his superiority not just over the Sufis, but their followers as well. Algerians’ inability to distinguish entertainment magic from “real” magic would prove the superiority of French rationality over Algerian superstition. This, at least, was what Robert-Houdin thought would happen.
Anthropology and philosophy are today well-established disciplines in the modern academy. Philosophy is centuries older than anthropology in the academic sense, but philosophers have had an interest in anthropological knowledge for just as long, however rudimentary or limited. Philosophy before the French Enlightenment may not be easily characterized as anthropological, but anthropology, by the end of the Victorian period, had established its academic identity as distinct from philosophy. This separation between anthropology and philosophy, however, was not quite characteristic of the intervening period in the German tradition, as Carroll demonstrates in Anthropology’s Interrogation of Philosophy from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century (2018). Carroll’s project highlights the relationship between anthropology and philosophy in this period and offers anintellectual history of the result—namely, an attempt at holist philosophical anthropology.
Editor’s note: This response to Keith Hart’s new book was presented at a book launch at the London School of Economics on May 10, 2022. As both a review of a recent work and a glimpse into a scholarly life, HAR is pleased to publish this essay in both Reviews and Participant Observations.
The title of anthropologist Keith Hart’s entertaining and unpredictable new book, Self in the World: Connecting Life’s Extremes, is a good case of truth in advertising: readers get a lot of views of the world, and a fair bit of Hart’s self. He follows the commandment, cited towards the end, to “only connect.” As E. M. Forster had in mind with that slogan (Forster 1910), the book connects prose and passion, inner life and outer life—but also a vast scattering of disciplines and locations. Above all, it reflects on the possibilities for using the methods, theories, and epistemic ethics of anthropology to connect the immediate and personal with the abstract, global, and world-historical.
Twenty years after its first release, Thomas Patterson, a UC Riverside anthropologist, brings us the second edition of his book on the history of US anthropology. The material from the first edition has been revised and updated, and the new edition contains an additional chapter which deals with the most recent developments in US anthropology.
The book narrates a history of US anthropology in six chapters. It begins in the early modern period and ends in the year 2019. This temporal frame suggests that Patterson does not view anthropology as a discipline that began with its professionalization in the twentieth century. Instead, he takes anthropology to encompass a broader set of intellectual practices that have sought to understand otherness. This allows Patterson to discuss the ideas of Franz Boas, Eric Wolf, and Eleanor Leacock on a par with those of Enlightenment philosophers, early modern naturalists, and the Founding Fathers—meaning his history of US anthropology includes anthropological ideas circulating in North America well before the United States came into being.
Durba Mitra’s rich and compelling first book, Indian Sex Life, addresses how colonial and nationalist officials, scientists, and social scientists developed theories about Indian civilization, history, and progress through deployments of what Mitra terms “deviant female sexuality.” Mitra unpacks the ubiquity of this multi-layered and flexible concept across a variety of archives and disciplines, and further maps the circulation of social scientific thought in policy, law, and popular culture as a tool of entrenching colonial and native patriarchal authority. Focused primarily on upper-caste Bengali intellectuals and their global networks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the book argues that the trafficking of the “prostitute” in the transnational networks of colonial India was, above all else, a proliferating economy of discourses (p. 14). In doing so, Mitra unseats historical projects which seek to recuperate subaltern sexualities, instead emphasizing that the methods and categories used in such projects derive from an epistemological schema of racist and casteist expertise.
Emmanuelle Loyer. Lévi-Strauss: A Biography. Translated by Ninon Vinsonneau and Jonathan Magidoff. New York: Polity Press, 2018. xi+744 pp., illus., notes, list of works, archives, index.
There is no shortage of books on Claude Lévi-Strauss. The defining force in French anthropology after World War II, an internationally-known intellectual, and a—many would argue the—founder of structuralism, Lévi-Strauss left an indelible mark on the intellectual culture of the twentieth century. Despite widespread interest in him, there have been relatively few biographies, perhaps because of the challenges he presents as a subject: his sojourns in the United States, Brazil, and France require potential biographers to be multilingual. His output was vast, demanding, and difficult to synthesize. His extraordinary fame makes documenting his influence a massive undertaking. Even his private life presents a challenge: Lévi-Strauss lived much of his life in his study, making most of his biography too uneventful to make for interesting reading. Happily, however, Emanuelle Loyer’s 744 page biography has achieved the seemingly impossible. This detailed, deeply researched, and relatively accessible volume makes it difficult to imagine that anyone will attempt a more exhaustive biography in the future. If they did, I am not sure what they could add to Loyer’s account. While many aspects of Lévi-Strauss’s life still await specialized treatment, I am confident that this book will become the definitive one-volume biography of Lévi-Strauss for the foreseeable future.
Editors’ note: The following review by Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt, the accomplished historian of anthropology and folklore, reflects on a collection of essays recently published about the 2020 decision by officials of the University of California Berkeley to change the name of Alfred Kroeber Hall. At the time, HAR reported on the controversy, with links to comments by Berkeley professors Rosemary Joyce and Nancy Scheper-Hughes; readers may also wish to read Berkeley linguist Andrew Garrett’s later 38-page evaluation of the issues or Native American scholar David Shane Lowry’s 2021 essay in Anthrodendum. Professor Zumwalt’s essay represents her views and not necessarily those of HAR’s editors.
The 2021 meeting of the American Anthropological Association included a panel of six papers focusing on “Alfred Louis Kroeber: The Man, His Work and His Legacy.” These six papers have now been revised and published in BEROSE. Herbert Lewis explains the panel’s genesis: “On January 27, 2021, the University of California, Berkeley, removed the name of Alfred Kroeber from the building that housed the Department of Anthropology and the Museum of Anthropology—institutions he had built.”
My own interest in the controversy around the unnaming of Kroeber Hall has both professional and personal roots. I spent eight intense years in Kroeber Hall working toward my Master’s in folklore (1978) and my PhD in anthropology (1982). From 1977 to 1980, I was on the editorial board of the Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers (KAS) – established in 1950 and the longest running student publication in the United States – and was an organizer of the Kroeber Anthropological Society Meetings. (It was touching to me to read Nancy Scheper-Hughes’s recollection of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s visit to the department in 1984, and his request “to see the Kroeber Anthropological Society Journal, a graduate student journal that he much admired”.)The KAS journal that Lévi-Strauss perused was Opportunity, Constraint and Change: Essays in Honor of Elizabeth Colson, Nos. 63–64, 1984. I remember one day sitting in the afternoon sun on a wooden bench just off to the side of the front wall with the name that has now been chiseled from the building, “Kroeber Hall,” pondering the treacherous, demanding journey toward a PhD. I visualized myself in a tunnel, too far down to turn back, and not close enough to the end to see the light of possibility; I perceived also that my only practical option was to continue through the tunnel. This struggle and perseverance are connected in my mind always with Alfred Louis Kroeber.
Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the “Father of the Republic,” often lamented that the Chinese people were “a sheet of loose sand,” for their supposed failure to cohere as a nation. Indeed, between the First Opium War (1839-1842) and the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1949), many intellectuals, reformers, and revolutionaries in China were vexed by the apparent problem identified by Sun: how to build a modern nation-state on the rubble of traditional dynastic empires, with a people not used to the idea of national belonging? One group that manifested very high levels of enthusiasm for this nation-building project were early-twentieth century academics, who believed that introducing Western fields of study (often filtered through Japan) could serve as an antidote to what they saw as a stifling traditional Confucian education with its emphasis on hierarchies and virtue rather than fraternité and power. Happily, for the twenty-first century researcher, these intellectuals wrote a lot. In Saving the Nation through Culture, Jie Gao plumbs the extensive library of one sub-group of these intellectuals, the folklorists. As Gao puts it, the folklore movement emerged in China “as a means of providing evidence of unity and a rich, vibrant popular culture that would, they believed, rally the people around the flag in a time of great national difficulty” (3).
Tobias Rees.After Ethnos. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2018. 192 pp., 3 illus., notes, bibl., index.
In “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture,” Clifford Geertz wrote that to understand a discipline you should look at what its practitioners do, rather than accepting what they say they do. And anthropologists, he claimed, do ethnography: they write. “The ethnographer ‘inscribes’ social discourse; he writes it down,” Geertz argued. Ethnographers thus turn passing events into accounts. Since the years of Malinowski, this method-driven definition of the discipline—at least in its “cultural” branch—implied the existence of more or less static “societies,” “cultures,” a well-defined ethnos constructed as an object to be studied and described with a long-term fieldwork approach. The answer thus emerged before the question: cultural anthropologists knew that human lifeworlds took place in societies or cultures, and their science should describe them. But as the world changed—decolonization, the emergence of new states and what Geertz later called “complicated places,” the end of the Cold War, deeper globalization (from above and from below)—it became harder to disentangle the ethnographic project from the practice of delimiting, defining, or better yet, inventing “peoples,” “societies,” and “cultures” in order to write them down.
At first sight, these two books do not have much in common. Evolutionism in Cultural Anthropology is a single-author monograph by one of the “last” great neo-evolutionist anthropologists of the twentieth century, Robert L. Carneiro, who died in June 2020, aged 93; Historicizing Humans is a collective volume by a new generation of historians of science. One is profoundly presentist; the other is profoundly historicist. One is mainly dedicated to anthropology and archaeology in the twentieth century, with shorter chapters on the “classical” evolutionists; the other (as indicated in the title) is focused on the nineteenth century only, and across various disciplines. Carneiro dialogs with dead scholars as inspirational intellectual interlocutors while Sera-Shriar and the contributors to his edited volume do not. One book aims at covering transversal themes, concepts, and methods in North America and Britain (with but a few references to German scholars) while the other deploys eight selected case studies in Britain and the Empire. Other disparities between the two volumes could certainly be enumerated.
“Human nature” is nearly as pliable and ambiguous a term as “Cold War” but Erika Lorraine Milam pins down these slippery concepts in Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America. Milam successfully crafts an important analysis of the science of human nature that crystallized around questions of aggression in post-war America. Milam’s “Cold War” is less of an international geopolitical event than it is a setting in which US governmental concerns about American society intersected with and funded the work of anthropological experts studying the origins of human behavior. Against this backdrop, Milam sets out to discover how questions of human behavior became important and how the science of evolution gained popular explanatory power to answer them. In Creatures of Cain, Milam examines American social science after World War II and its attempts to make sense of humanity’s species-level relationship with violence. This book spans the late 1950s and the emergence of the “killer ape” hypothesis and ends in the 1980s with the rise of sociobiological explanations for violence.
Editor’s note: The following essay is a response to “Memoirs of Women and Harvard” by Alice B. Kehoe, published on 9 August 2021 in Reviews. You can find the original essay here.
Alice Kehoe, in her review article, “Memoirs of Women and Harvard,” makes the following inaccurate assertion, “Cora Du Bois was there [Harvard’s Department of Anthropology] only because wealthy patron Doris Zemurray Stone recommended her for the chair the Zemurray family endowed specifically for a woman.” This was in the context of discussing Victoria R. Bricker’s book, Transformational Journeys: An Ethnologist’s Memoir (2017), in which Bricker mentions some of her experiences as a graduate student in anthropology at Harvard and references Du Bois’s mentoring of her.
That Harvard’s Department of Anthropology did not favor women is well-known. So well-known that some of it is pure myth. Contrary to a common story, women were not required to sit outside classrooms listening through the door. David Browman, who researched and wrote most of Anthropology at Harvard, discovered that up until about 1925, professors could, if they wished, offer separate meetings of their classes, one for men and one for women. Harvard had a School for the Collegiate Instruction of Women that in 1893 became Radcliffe College, with its own campus and classrooms. During the 1920s, women began sitting in classrooms with men. Women who earned an Anthropology PhD at Harvard received a Radcliffe diploma until 1963. Mine, in Spring 1964, may have been the first Harvard diploma in Anthropology issued to a woman.
Curatorial Conversations explores the legacy of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (SFF) by bringing together scholars with decades of experience as curators, researchers, and participants. This collection of essays is not so much a history of the festival as it is an attempt to trace the evolution of what it means to be a SFF curator and a reflection upon how relationships with cultural communities—whether Cajun fiddlers, Tibetan expatriates, or NASA engineers—have been refined and strengthened since the festival’s 1967 debut. My intention here is to provide a brief overview of the anthology and highlight three themes I found particularly salient, before concluding with some questions concerning the future of the festival.
Why have Black ancestors been largely excluded from anthropology’s intellectual history and canon? In this series of pieces, Tracie Canada talks with the authors of the 2018 volume The Second Generation of African American Pioneers in Anthropology. Based on interviews she conducted with eleven of the fifteen contributors, Canada’s dialogue with the authors addresses these many erasures and advances ways to center, celebrate, and engage with these essential figures. Drawing on a vibrant set of current conversations in the broader field of anthropology, this series– a collaboration between HAR’s Reviews and Field Notes departments– offers a richly textured vision for new histories of anthropology and new anthropological futures.
I discovered David Martínez’s biography of Vine Deloria, Jr. a few years ago while looking for books that might offer some background on the Red Power Movement and its impact on developments in mid-twentieth century American anthropology. An enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Deloria advocated for Native American rights throughout his life and became (and remains) one of the most prominent and influential voices on the subject of Indigenous sovereignty. Martínez, who teaches American Indian Studies and is of Akimel O’odham and Mexican descent, notes Deloria’s seeming omnipresence within discourse on Native American activism from the book’s start. As he reflects: “I am uncertain of how I first heard of Deloria. He is one of these figures who seems to have always been a part of my life as an Indigenous person” (11). As a historian of anthropology interested in the discipline’s “period of crisis” during the 1960s and ’70s, I was aware of the way Deloria and his well-known critique of “anthropologists and other friends” likewise had embedded themselves in my mind as critical markers of this historical moment. I realized, however, that despite my passing familiarity with Custer Died for Your Sins—his first and probably most famous book—I knew relatively little about Deloria beyond what had coalesced alongside the now iconic images of the American Indian Movement’s takeovers of Alcatraz in 1969 and the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in 1972.
Christina Luke’s A Pearl in Peril is a wide-ranging study of development, international diplomacy, heritage, and extraction in the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries that provides a substantive analysis of the politics of the past in western Turkey. Luke takes as her focus the once-Ottoman city of Smyrna, now-Turkish city of Izmir (sometimes known as “the pearl of the Mediterranean”) and its hinterlands, including the archaeological site of Sardis. Luke shows how this resource-rich region, whether archaeologically or in terms of its mineral and agricultural wealth, sat at the center of diplomatic and extractive intrigue throughout the previous century. In drawing these long-term connections, Luke highlights the consequences of this entanglement in constituting contemporary forms of heritage and local reactions to it. In addition to historians and anthropologists of heritage and the politics of the past, Luke’s volume will find an appreciative readership across a variety of fields, including scholars of international relations and development aid. The book at times can feel slightly unbalanced, however, and I suspect that each of these readerships might well wish that the distribution of themes throughout the volume differed slightly.
Concurrent with the recent rise of far-right populism and authoritarianism has been a troubling reemergence of scientific racism. New tools for sequencing genomes and identifying “genetic clusters” have enabled this revival both in academic circles and on social media. The return of “race realism” is best exemplified by the research of Nicholas Wade, who in A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History(2014) argued in favor of racial determinism while also claiming that the anti-racism pushback of the post-World War II era was ideological rather than scientifically-based. John P. Jackson Jr. and David J. Depew explicitly reject this idea. In Darwinism, Democracy, and Race: American Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology in the Twentieth Century (2017), they revisit the anti-racist arguments of the twentieth century in order to re-present and reaffirm the scientific basis for racial egalitarianism and democratic equality, an admirable goal given the current political climate and ongoing fight for racial justice in the United States.
Indigenous bodies have long been a source of historical interest. Over the past decade many scholars have discussed how indigenous bodies and body parts have functioned as sites of persistent fascination, colonial oppression, and Indigenous agency. One persistent theme in this historiography is how the collection and use of Indigenous biospecimens came to be prospected and profited upon. Warwick Anderson’s The Collectors of Lost Souls showed us how Fore brain samples served as a valuable biomedical commodity. Kim TallBear and Jenny Reardon illustrated the role of “Indigenous DNA” in generating scientific knowledge, accruing capital, and attaining professional prestige. Emma Kowal similarly drew our attention to the “ethical biovalue” afforded to Indigenous specimens through discussing how many drug targets and diagnostic tools have emerged out of the collection and use of Indigenous blood, saliva, surgically-removed diseased tissues, and urine. Paul Turnbull’s Science, Museums and Collecting the Indigenous Dead in Colonial Australia follows in the footsteps of this well-known body of work. However, rather than focusing his attention on brains, blood, or bodily tissues, Turnbull is more interested in Indigenous skeletal remains and the ways that they have functioned as sites of scientific curiosity from the 1700s to the turn of the twentieth century.
Is there a more celebrated and contested text in the history of anthropology than Marcel Mauss’s The Gift? Tucked away in the pages of Émile Durkheim’s old Année Sociologique upon its initial publication in 1925, this careful, erudite, even gnomic essay by the doyen of French anthropology contained a thicket of five hundred footnotes so dense they often relegated the main text to a few sentences adorning the top of its hundred-and-fifty-odd pages. Its interest in forms of exchange in “sociétés dites primitives” was predated by the works of Richard Thurnwald and Bronislaw Malinowski, yet unlike these pioneers his writings were not informed by direct ethnographic study. The Gift (hereafter TG, subtitle: “The Form and Sense of Exchange in Archaic Societies”) was instead, in our contemporary academic parlance, something more like a review essay of armchair anthropology.
Anthropologists and historians of anthropology readily acknowledge the role played by European empires in the making of the discipline. Although practitioners occasionally challenged existing power structures, they more frequently worked to inform and justify the dispossession, marginalization, murder, and enslavement of Indigenous and colonized peoples. These processes culminated in the Social Darwinist evolutionism of the Victorian period, which lent prevailing racial hierarchies a patina of scientific authority. This began to shift in the early twentieth century, when, amid a welter of social and cultural upheavals in Western society, anthropology’s imperial foundations appeared ripe for reconsideration. In America, the foremost proponent of these changes was the Jewish German-American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942). Traditional disciplinary histories point especially to Boas’s pivotal rejection of evolutionary anthropological approaches in favor of viewing cultures as integrated wholes, apprehensible solely within the contexts in which they are produced and maintained. These protocols were disseminated broadly, with Boas’s students founding university anthropology departments throughout the United States. On these grounds, Boas is frequently celebrated as “a major turning point from the evolution and racism of the nineteenth century to the historical particularism and cultural relativism of the twentieth century.”
Peter Hempenstall’s Truth’s Fool: Derek Freeman and the War over Cultural Anthropology offers a fresh and thoroughly researched biography of the controversial anthropologist Derek Freeman. The book is built around Freeman’s infamous criticism of Margaret Mead’s first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, and the ensuing acrimony within the discipline. An admirer of Mead’s work, Freeman travelled to Samoa to do his own research, attempting in the process to find Mead’s original informants and reproduce her research on adolescent sexuality. In the early 1980s, he began to argue that her conclusions on adolescence were mistaken, and that she had been hoaxed by mischievous young informants. Attacking Freeman, Mead, and one another, anthropologists around the world took sides that reproduced a kind of nature-nurture debate on human development and teenaged identity crises with supporters of Mead on the side of nurture and those backing Freeman on the side of nature. The furor did not subside until after Freeman’s death in 2001. This dispute, still a sensitive subject for many anthropologists, acts as Hempenstall’s focal point, but Truth’s Fool goes well beyond it. In fact, in the beginning, Hempenstall advises his readers to remember that “the Mead thing” (7) is only one particular way of understanding Freeman’s life and work. I recommend this book as a compelling story for anyone interested in the history of anthropology as a discipline, as well as those trying to grasp the fallout of Freeman’s work and the heated response to it. As an outsider to anthropology but an insider to Australian academia, Hempenstall gives us a new perspective into this period of anthropological debate.
Since 1973, the History of Anthropology Review (formerly the History of Anthropology Newsletter) has been a venue for publication and conversation on the many histories of the discipline of anthropology. We became an open access web publication in 2016. Please subscribe to our emails below to receive updates as we publish new essays, reviews, and bibliographies.
The History of Anthropology Review became an online publication with volume 40 in 2016, and changed its title from History of Anthropology Newsletter to History of Anthropology Review on October 18, 2019. Content is updated continually, and subscribers receive weekly emails with links to new content.
HAR is based at the Department of History and Sociology of Science, 303 Claudia Cohen Hall, 249 S. 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304. Fax: 215-573-2231.