Curtis M. Hinsley and David R. Wilcox (Editors). Coming of Age in Chicago: The 1893 World’s Fair and the Coalescence of American Anthropology. 624 pp., illus., tbls., apps., bibl., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016. $65 (cloth)
Coming of Age in Chicago is a volume of essays about the production and presentation of anthropological exhibitions at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair. In its entirety, the volume argues that disjointed centers of anthropological interest in Washington, Boston, and Philadelphia institutions found common ground in Chicago, and the personal and professional ties established in Chicago set the course for the eventual professionalization of anthropology.
The first essay, written by Hinsley, looks at Fredric Ward Putnam’s development of outdoor anthropology displays that exhibited indigenous artisans from different corners of the globe. Putnam designed his exhibits to be entertaining but also to convey a progressive “object lesson” that would stoke the intellectual curiosity of visitors. Hinsley contrasts Putnam’s intended design with the aspirations and expectations of Native artisans, as well as with the conflicting logics of commerce and science on the Midway.
In a second essay, Hinsley profiles Daniel Garrison Brinton’s comparative method of evolutionist anthropology. Brinton is presented as a paradoxical marker of both prestige and old-fashioned evolutionist scholarship, a well-respected scholar whose armchair model of inquiry was quickly becoming obsolete as fieldwork pioneers like Franz Boas and Frank Hamilton Cushing were pushing inductive and experience-based anthropology. Cushing’s contributions to the Fair receive attention in another essay by Wilcox, who probes the young anthropologist’s personality that served him well in the field and facilitated his success enrolling notable fairgoers in anthropological projects. Excerpts from Cushing’s diary of his experiences in Chicago are appended to the essay.
Ira Jacknis considers the Fair’s architectural models and costumed mannequins representing Native life. He explores the motivations of the various factions that produced ethnographic displays, sussing out the variety of “refractions” in the representation of indigenous cultures around the world. Jacknis shows the tremendous range of building and diorama constructions and the nuances of their production, asserting that these innovative models of native life themselves became standard models for future museum practice. James E. Snead follows the careers of two relic-hunters-cum-archaeologists, Richard Wetherill and Warren K. Moorehead, who sought connections in Chicago that they hoped would leverage their careers. While Wetherill and Moorehead both left the Fair with the potential to transform themselves into respected archaeologists, Snead maps their different outcomes onto class, economic and regional boundaries.
In an analysis of prominent philanthropists and the scientific institutions they created in the wake of the Fair, Donald McVicker examines the formation of Chicago anthropology and its reliance on patronage and museum collection. McVicker illuminates the influence of the idiosyncratic desires of wealthy patrons on Chicago anthropology, which placed it on a different path than the one forged by the academic forces that influenced eastern institutions. Wilcox, in a final essay, synthesizes the itineraries of professionalization presented in the preceding essays. He argues that the Chicago Fair brought together diverse anthropological factions, which in conversation sketched the bounds of Americanist anthropology, drew budding scholars to the nascent discipline, and ignited journal publication. With McVicker and Wilcox’s essays, we learn anthropology may have coalesced in Chicago, but the motor of its disciplinary development lay elsewhere.
The editors were deliberate in their organization of the volume. Seven essays form the major scholarly contributions. These essays stand on their own, although most are paired with primary documents from anthropologists at the fair such as Frank Hamilton Cushing, Franz Boas, and Daniel Garrison Brinton. In addition to the essays and 12 primary source documents, the volume boasts an illustrated “visual interlude” and two appendices cataloging primary contributors to anthropological outlets as well as “persons interested in or supportive of anthropology” (113). In short, the book is large. The primary sources alone constitute 150 pages of a tome just shy of 550.
At a time when scholars complain about the restrictive conditions of academic publication I do not mean to be cynical about the length of the work. The book is an impressive synthesis of a decades-long project, and a model for multi-authored scholarship that exhaustively homes in on a topic. It may be, however, that the inclusion of primary sources and appendices narrows the audience for the work; were a printing to include solely the seven essays, it would be a compact and accessible cultural history of the World’s Fair by way of its anthropological content. Luckily, this review is for readers of HAN, and historians of anthropology should rejoice that a publisher agreed to include these extra materials—they enrich the volume and can, in turn, enrich our scholarship.
The volume’s assertion—that anthropology “coalesced” in Chicago in the midst of the World’s Fair—is convincing. This argument ties together the chapters of the book, and as a result other coverage areas are left out. The omission of a sustained look at people that anthropologists study—Natives, Others, “Savages”—is particularly apparent in the book’s focus on professionalization, a process that overwhelmingly involved wealthy white men. Anthropology certainly “coalesced” in Chicago, but it also coalesced in particular field sites during the same period, and relied on Native communities to give the discipline substance. The editors surely know this, considering their focus on Zuni communities in the late nineteenth century, as seen in their individual works and their ongoing multi-volume project, Frank Hamilton Cushing and the Hemenway Southwestern Archaeological Expedition, 1886-1889. Perhaps the next issue historians of anthropology must grapple with is how best to shift away from institutional and intellectual histories and toward a history of the field and fieldwork.
These concerns are food for thought rather than an indictment. Ultimately, Coming of Age in Chicago offers a textured look at the fulcrum of anthropological disciplinary development in the midst of the professionalizing process. Across the whole volume, the writing is lucid and the scholarship learned. Essays will be of interest to historians of anthropology, of course, but also to scholars grappling with visual and material representations, museums and cultural institutions, and the politics of cultural exhibition.