History of Anthropology
The History of Anthropology Working Group is an outgrowth of the History of Anthropology Review. Originally called the History of Anthropology Newsletter, HAR has been a nerve center for the history of anthropology for over forty years. In 2014, our editorial collective brought the newsletter into the digital age, redesigning it as an open access website with new sections and features. Over the six years since HAR’s relaunch we’ve seen the field of history of anthropology expand beyond an earlier focus on classic texts and figures to incorporate global traditions of anthropology, approaches from Indigenous Studies, STS and the History of Science, museology, library and information science, and the politics of collecting and displaying cultures. The history of studying the world’s cultures, ways of life, and systems of knowledge is vitally important as a means to address current issues, where increasing global connections do not erase significant differences.
HAR’s editors sought a forum in which to discuss and develop the issues that drive the journal beyond what is there on the site; we’re grateful to CHSTM for providing that space. This Working Group is open to anyone who wants to reflect on the histories of anthropology—anthropologists, historians, interested others.
Building on last year’s series of discussions on anthropology’s historical entwinement with racial science, white supremacy, and anti-racist activism, our discussions this year (2021-22) will explore the significance of anthropology’s history to its current practice. We are inviting anthropologists to choose historical texts or moments in the history of the field which they have found useful, difficult, or inspirational for their own work. Among other topics we aim to question the difference between histories of anthropology approached from inside the discipline and from outside of it, and the different ways in which critical and archival research about anthropological precedent informs current inquiry. We warmly welcome anthropologists, historians, and any other interested parties to join the conversation.
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There are no currently scheduled upcoming events.
May 3, 2023
Dr. Beth Linker, "The Making of a Posture Science"
From Aristotle to J. G. Herder, Western thinkers argued that bipedalism served as an important marker of human superiority, distinguishing human from non-human animals. It was not until the late-nineteenth century, in the wake of the Darwinian revolution and of a new, surveillance-based public health system, that scientists would begin to claim that poor posture was a grave health concern that had reached epidemic proportions, threatening the entire human race.
The first chapter of my forthcoming book, Slouch, traces the complex genealogical beginnings of the posture sciences and seeks to explain why erect human posture became something that comparative anatomists, physicians, and physical anthropologists studied with great concern and zeal. The chapter opens in 1891 with the discovery of Pithecanthropus erectus (later redesignated Homo erectus), or “Java Man,” seen by many as the “missing link” between human beings and apes. Research into the origins of bipedalism flourished in the Anglo-American world, taken up by men such as surgeon-anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith and Earnest Hooton. They and many of their colleagues argued that human beings were maladapted to the modern world for bipedalism appeared to cause significant respiratory illness, abdominal disorders, and foot weakness, conditions unobserved among non-human animals.
This cross-disciplinary interest in human evolution and physiology, along with social and cultural concerns about immigration, racial fitness, Empire, eugenics, and industrial efficiency, made the posture sciences possible. Moreover, the evolutionary sciences provided a convincing “outbreak” narrative for the poor posture epidemic, persuading many white middle-class professionals to engage in an anti-slouching crusade. Though the cause of the slouching epidemic resided in the deep past, it nevertheless persisted as a condition from which theoretically every human being could suffer.
April 5, 2023
Jason Pribilsky joins us from Whitman College to workshop his chapter, “Dream Collecting in the Cold War Andes: Probing and Projecting Indigenous Interiors in Cornell-Peru Project at Vicos.”
Abstract: My work chronicles the efforts of midcentury anthropologists working in the early Cold War in the Peruvian Andes to turn Indigenous peoples toward modernization and away from threats of social unrest and communist persuasion. It forms a portion of a book-in-progress on the Vicos Project (1952-1966), a long-term development intervention whereby Cornell University social scientists purchased the lease to an anemic highlands hacienda and turned it into a self-styled laboratory for the study of culture change. Throughout, I focus closely on the fieldwork encounter – its various transactions, fraught exchanges, and moral ambiguities – to understand the politics of field practice, Indigenous agency and refusal, and a fuller understanding of the nexus of science, the Cold War, and the importance of Indigenous peoples in this period for geopolitical competition. I attend to ways anthropologists went about creating scientific value called forth by Cold War social science and how simultaneously Indigenous interlocutors compelled their white guests to different forms of self-awareness. In this particular chapter, I focus on efforts of researchers to probe the psychological depths of Indigenous interlocutors through their employment of projective testing methods (e.g., Rorschach and TATs), solicitation and analysis of dreams, and psychoanalysis. Through their attempts, often frustrating, to uncover indications of culture change and modern thinking is revealed researchers’ own anxieties about the self and meanings of the future.
We are happy to host Grant Arndt (Iowa State University) and Paula López Caballero (El Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades—La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) as discussants.
March 1, 2023
Cameron Brinitzer, a USC-Berggruen Fellow at the University of Southern California Dornsife Center on Science, Technology, and Public Life, joins us to discuss his article-in-progress: “The Evolution of Culture: Materializing an Elusive Concept.”
Abstract: In the 1970s and 1980s, at the very moment that many cultural anthropologists were abandoning the concept of culture in light of feminist, literary, and postcolonial critiques, and searching for new epistemic objects to orient anthropological inquiries, an array of life, mind, and behavioral scientists began to center concepts of culture in novel research programs. This essay traces how culture—long renowned for its imponderability and as something that one could only understand or interpret through sustained periods of embodied immersion in the field—has in recent decades been transformed into an object of experimental knowledge production in mind and life science laboratories. While focusing on the work of one influential European research group in the field of "Cultural Evolution" that is institutionally located at the Central European University, this essay also examines how concepts of culture have been turned into objects of reflection and intervention by governmental actors in recent decades. In light of these consequential ways in which concepts of culture continue to orchestrate human activities across a range of political, social, and scientific domains, I argue that anthropologists and historians of anthropology are well positioned to examine how culture is conceptualized in different contexts today and how these concepts are given material forms and force.
Joanna Radin, Yale University
Rosanna Dent, NJIT
February 1, 2023
For our first meeting of 2023, Matteo Bortolini from the Università di Padova, Italy will join us for discussion of his work-in-progress:
“'A Twenty-Four Hour Job': Hildred and Clifford Geertz’s First Foray into the Field and the Scholarly Persona of the Anthropologist”
With its rich funding, focus on post-colonial societies, teamwork and interdisciplinarity aimed at producing “dual” results, Cold War American anthropology represented a departure from both Boasian methodology and the Malinowskian palimpsest of the conditions for producing the “ethnographer’s magic.” This paper presents a historical reconstruction of the early days of Clifford and Hildred Geertz as members of the Modjokuto Project in order to reflexively tackle a number of problems regarding the history of social and cultural anthropology: How do social scientist come to understand their professional role and the specific scientific virtues attached to it? How are scholalrly personae and other regulative templates put to the test (and modified) during fieldwork? How does the lack of methodological reflection on the ways of the anthropologist impact on the completion of specific research projects? The article details how Hildred and Clifford Geertz embodied in their actions and decisions the Malinowskian image of the lonely ethnographer, thus creating a series of performative contradictions between their extremely individualistic understanding of the ethnographer and the needs of teamwork in the field.
We are happy to host Freddy Foks (University of Manchester) and Matt Watson (Mount Holyoak) as discussants.
December 7, 2022
Ali Sipahi joins us from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Özyeğin University, Istanbul, to workshop his paper, "How to be a good guest? American ethnographers in Cold War Turkey."
Abstract: The article uncovers a chapter in the history of American anthropology by revealing the experiences of a Chicago-based group of ethnographers in Turkey in the late 1960s. Using original archival documents and oral history interviews, it focuses on the trials of Lloyd A. Fallers, Michael Meeker, Peter Benedict and June Starr in navigating Turkish bureaucracy and global politics between 1967 and 1969 (the so-called ‘long 1968’). Conceptually, the article calls for complementary collaboration between the scholarly literature on Cold War anthropology and critical hospitality studies. It argues that while the former dedicated its “evil slot” (to paraphrase Trouillot) to an undifferentiated guest role, the hospitality literature did the same for the host role. The case of American anthropology of Turkey shows that the macropolitical and ideological effects of the Cold War were refracted through the diversity of local understandings of hospitality in varied, even opposite, directions.
Discussants: Elise Burton (University of Toronto) and Hande Birkalan-Gedik (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main)
November 2, 2022
Matthew C. Watson joins us from Mount Holyoke College to workshop a chapter from his new book project, tentatively titled The Whiteness of Method: Racial Infrastructures of Harvard Ethnography and Mexican Sovereignty.
"The Ethnographic Drive: Interviews and the Racial Erotics of a Harvard Land-Rover in Chiapas"
In 1951, Mexico’s Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI) established a coordinating center for a pilot development project in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. INI administrators sought to draw Tzotzil- and Tzeltal-speaking indigenous communities that radiated around San Cristóbal into identification with the Mexican state and its political mythology of racial-cultural mixture, or mestizaje. To do so, the INI built roads. This essay stories the conjuncture of this state investment in the transportation infrastructure of indigenous Chiapas and the attendant geographical mobility of scores of U.S. anthropologists and students who used these roads to access “closed corporate communities” such as Zinacantán during the late-1950s and 1960s. I focus particularly on Harvard Chiapas Project founder Evon Vogt’s early project interviews conducted on these roads in a Land-Rover. Reading the Land-Rover as a space-making technology of ethnographic rapport, I ask how such vehicles have structured ethnographic forms of homosocial intimacy and attachment within a racial erotics of empiricism that renders the interview space a site of capitalist capture. Finally, through a cross-reading of mirror scenes reflecting encounters with Land-Rovers across the Harvard Chiapas Project and the Harvard Kalahari Project, I refract this critique of the interview form’s capitalist coloniality through a weak-theoretical evocation of the Land-Rover’s social, technological, and symbolic indeterminacy.
Discussants: Hilary Morgan Leathem (Maynooth University);Karin Rosemblatt (University of Maryland)
October 5, 2022
Staffan Müller-Wille joins us from the University of Cambridge’s Department for History and Philosophy of Science to workshop his forthcoming paper, “Race and Kinship: Anthropology and the ‘Genealogical Method.’”
“Race and Kinship: Anthropology and the ‘Genealogical Method’”
Müller-Wille’s chapter recontextualizes the “genealogical method,” a way to map biological and social relations and processes, in late 19th century kinship studies. He presents this method as an important interface between the biological and sociological approaches to human inheritance, which are typically thought of as distinct, though they shared similar concepts of race, kinship, and blood. In this chapter, Müller-Wille examines classic works in the history of anthropology by Rivers, Francis Galton, Lewis Henry Morgan, and Franz Boas to explore the genealogical method’s role as an analytical tool.
September 7, 2022
Taylor M. Moore will join us from The Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies and the Department of History at University of California--Santa Barbara. We will workshop a chapter of her book manuscript in progress, Amulet Tales: Race, Magic, and Medicine in Egypt.
"Living Room Magic: Ritualistic Ethnography, Esoteric Intimacies"
This chapter uses the letters and field notes of British anthropologist Winifred Blackman to argue that British anthropology was an occult science. The chapter turns to the gendered, domestic space of the living room to show how Egyptian wise women contributed to the development of global anthropology and folklore studies during the interwar period. It highlights two pivotal points in Blackman’s fieldwork—in the tomb-chapels of Meir in 1921 and her apartment in Shoubra—when the anthropologist was able to provide wise women and their patients with a private space to conduct their practice. Within these spaces, Blackman forged what I term “esoteric intimacies” with these women that facilitated her field work. They provided Blackman with an opportunity to observe and record these women’s work, codifying the previously unwritten wisdom of the old wives into ethnographic material. Yet, Blackman’s research method functioned much like an apprenticeship. Her ritualistic ethnography and access to sacred objects made her famous in many villages as a healer in her own right.
May 4, 2022
Please join us for a discussion about an overlooked moment in the history of anthropological engagements with American Indian activism with Grant Arndt, Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies, Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University. Alongside a working draft of Arndt’s latest article, we will read and discuss related pieces from Nancy Lurie and Vine Deloria Jr.
- Grant Arndt. “Joining the Ongoing Struggle: Vine Deloria, Nancy Lurie, and the Quest for a Decolonial Anthropology.” [Working Draft]
- Vine Deloria Jr. "Anthropologists and Other Friends" from Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto
- Nancy Oestreich Lurie. "As Others See Us" from New University Thought.
- Nancy Oestreich Lurie. "Action Anthropology and the American Indian" from Anthropology and the American Indian: Report of a Symposium.
April 6, 2022
Thin Description: A Conversation with John L. Jackson Jr.
Please join us for a discussion about the politics and poetics of ethnography, past and present, with John L. Jackson, Jr., Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania https://anthropology.sas.upenn.edu/people/john-l-jr-jackson
Main Readings (included as PDF):
- John L. Jackson, Jr., Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, Harvard University Press, 2013. Chapters 1-4 and 20 ("Thin") (1-38, 149-155)
- Clifford Geertz, "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture," 1973, 14 pp.
- John L. Jackson, Jr. "Bewitched by Boas," 18-22, in Hau- Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7, no. 3 (2017): 18-22.
Additional readings (also included as PDF):
- Jackson, Thin Description, Chapter 5, "Chicago."
- The rest of the special section of Hau which contains "Why do we read the classics?" with pieces by Fred Myers, Anastasia Piliavsky, Yarimar Bonilla, Adia Benton, and Paul Stoller. Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7, no. 3 (2017): 1-38.
Nicholas Barron is an Assitant Professor (Faculty-in-Residence) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His research interests include the history of applied anthropology and Indigenous political formations in North America. He is a managing editor with the History of Anthropology Review and the book reviews editor for Anthropology and Humanism.
Rosanna Dent is an assistant professor at NJIT, where she teaches courses on the history of science, medicine, and technology, with an emphasis on the global South. She is currently working on a book manuscript on the history of twentieth century research in A'uwe (Xavante, Indigenous) communities in Central Brazil. The book examines how a half-century of iterative interactions of scholars and community members have shaped knowledge production as well as the political and social realities of both subjects and scholars.
Taylor M. Moore
Taylor M. Moore is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on the history of magic, medicine, and museums in 19th and 20th century Egypt. She is currently an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.
Brigid Prial is a PhD student in the History and Sociology of Science department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation explores how chimpanzees became lab animals in the 20th century U.S. She examines how chimpanzees transformed from a promising research animal to an inappropriate one and what forms of knowledge, experience, and relations matter in high-stakes decisions about animal lives.