There seems to be a bit of penchant on Savage Minds for discussing the desire-as-lack that constitutes anthropology as a discipline, which manifests itself in the frequent gnashing of “intro to” syllabi and proposing of essential works. Far be it from me to avoid joining in the fun. In the irony-laden spirit of Found Magazine, my contribution to this comes not from my own vast and enviable experience, but from a not-so-silent partner, Thomas Chivens. Thom and I were undergrads at UCSC when Virginia Dominguez (current editor of American Ethnologist) taught there. For serendipitous and mysterious reasons that cannot be elaborated in the Internets (for reasons of space), Thom recently unearthed this gem of a handout.
What I love almost as much as this hand-scrawled clearly definitive (c. 1989, not clear exactly on the provenance of the Duke letterhead) list of must-read anthropologists, is what Thom has to say about it:
looking at it again this morning i can imagine virginia would have revised it over the years (i recall her passing it out amidst a barrage of caveats on its casually-thrown-together nature for her student heading to graduate school). i can see it moving into some sort of spreadsheet type format, endlessly expanding, etc.. but it’s the sense of completeness arising from apparent spontaneity that gives it a magical aura and suggests contesting or revising it is the wrong way to think about it. hopefully widespread reproduction won’t take that away. in this regard, it carries with it something of what giddens talks about as the formulaic truth of guardians, in contrast to the propositional knowledge of experts. and if we need guardians these days, which anthropology could use, i think virginia’s about as good as they come.
Something about the contrast this handout poses to the technological smorgasbord of information and research tools at our disposal captivates me. Part of it is, as Thom points out, the clear need for certain kind of guardian–not just in anthropology, but in any domain where apprenticeship is an essential component of progress in knowledge. Sometimes it’s better to have a hand-scratched, seat-of-the-pants expression of deep knowledge over a real-time, social software, scale-free, really simple, ajax-enhanced, web 2.0 instant access to scholarship. If you know what I mean. Part of it is the “*Still alive, as far as I know” note, which is useful for the earnest anthropological grad student seeking out mentors and influences. Part of it is the emphatic national, tiered grid–I wish I had the guts, and the knowledge to organize my stories of scholarship with such gusto. In any case, I though our readers might enjoy a little bit of the old school, both in form and in content….