Little did Zora know that moving to New York from Washington, DC, where she was a student at Howard University, would forever change the trajectory of her life. When Zora landed in Harlem, she became the latest arrival to what would become enshrined in history as the Harlem Renaissance. Zora’s dramatic flair and need for attention attracted the likes of the actress Fanny Bryce who hired her as a secretary and, after discovering Zora had few secretarial skills, kept her on as erstwhile chauffeur and travel companion. She also caught the eye of a trustee from Barnard College who paved the way for Zora to complete the education she had begun her college career and pay for it as well. At the age of 34, a fact she kept hidden, Zora enrolled in Barnard as a college student. With an Associate degree from Howard University, Zora would complete her Bachelor’s degree in anthropology and become the first Black woman to graduate from the institution. During this period, the seeds were sown for the making of a Black anthropologist with deep roots to the southern culture of the American Negro and who would influence the direction of folklore and ethnography.
At Barnard, Zora discovered the “spyglass of anthropology” taught by the revered Frantz Boas. Today Boas is recognized as the father of “American Anthropology” with its four-field approach. While he might not have garnered as much fame in 1926, he certainly mapped out the structure of Columbia’s anthropology department specializing in American Indians from the multiple viewpoints of cultural, biological, archaeology and linguistic anthropological perspectives, and training some of the discipline’s most illustrious anthropologists of the 20th Century. This “holistic” approach to doing anthropology, as well as Boas’ emphasis on intensive fieldwork, would shape the future of American anthropology and influence generations of leaders in the field.
In my last post on Bauman and Briggs Voices of Modernity I explored their argument that Boas’s notion of culture makes it seem like a prison house from which only the trained anthropologist is capable of escaping. In doing so, however, I only really presented half of their argument. The book has two interrelated themes: One is a Foucauldian genealogy of the concepts of science, culture, race, language, and nation (as seen through the rise of folklore studies). The other is a Latourian exploration of the construction of folklore as a science. This is done by exploring how oral traditions were turned into texts, and thus evidence of traditional culture (however that was defined). Aubrey, Blair, the Grimm brothers, and Schoolcraft were each faced with hybrid oral texts whose own modernity (as contemporary documents) belied their perceived scientific value as authentic remnants of ancient cultures. For this reason the texts underwent tremendous alterations, if not outright fabrication, by these scholars in order to make them suitable for their own purposes. The book traces how these processes of entextualization were shaped by each scholar’s concepts of science, culture, race, language, and nation.
Anthropologists are good at critiquing other anthropologists and themselves. We have a lot to be guilty about and we do a good job of pointing that out. The politics of anthropology, and the politics of the politics of anthropology are a major part of what we do. In fact, we’re so good at doing it that I think at times we forget what we have actually done wrong. We spend more time reading dismissals of our ancestors than we do the ancestors themselves.
One of my most memorable moments in graduate school was when Fredrik Barth — who I have a lot of respect for — came to give a talk to our department. The highlight for me was when he was describing how much he enjoyed spending time with people in Papua New Guinea during his fieldwork there. They were, he said, friendly and “the most wonderful shade of brown.” I think he was trying to be provocative and he succeeded — there was an audible gasp from the brown anthropologists in the room, as well as from pretty much everyone else.
In 1928 Margaret Mead published Coming of Age in Samoa with William Morrow & Company. She did not copyright her book, possibly because copyright was only a few years old in the US and the idea had still not sunk in. However, when it became clear that the book would be a consistent earner, she did copyright it, and it has been locked up tight since then.
Luckily, the good folks are archive.org have a scan of the original 1928 edition without a copyright mark. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this text is essentially now free for all, provided you use and circulate this edition.
This is just one example of the many, many important works of anthropology that are legally available for circulation, but which people haven’t located, or done due diligence to make sure that the pieces truly are open access.
So when was the last time you actually sat down and read Coming of Age in Samoa? Why not download it today and try a chapter or two?
That a patrician New Yorker was in an open marriage during the early 20th century is an attention grabber, ergo the title of my post. But that is not even among the half dozen most impressive facts of Elsie Clews Parsons’ life, about which more below.
Last spring I had the opportunity to visit her Gilded Age cottage in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she and her husband Herbert Parsons summered. One of the most enjoyable parts of my afternoon was my walk up to the cabin above the cottage. The cabin was designed for Elsie by her paramour C. Grant LaFarge, one of the architects responsible for the design of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. As I checked out the cabin’s interior, I imagined Elsie sweating through the soupy Southern New England days over the pages she had filled in the desert Southwest.
Afghanistan’s upcoming elections have received a lot of coverage here in the United States, and all over the world. But did you know that one of the leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani, is an anthropologist?
Is there a canon of anthropological theory? Do we have a ‘disciplinary history’ of where we have been and where we are going? Sure, there are many grand narratives we tell of our discipline, but these stores tend to be tendentious and based on anecdotal. Can we find a more empirical, disinterested way to look for order in anthropology’s past?
In this post I examine anthologies of anthropological theory in order to see to what extent anthropology has a coherent, institutionalized canon. Is there a strong degree of agreement between these books? Do they tell the same stories? Do they include the same authors and readings? To answer this question, I asked our intrepid intern Angela to track down the contents of every edition of the main anthropological theory readers in North America.
What did I find? The short answer is that these anthologies strongly agree on this history of anthropology between the years 1850-1950. Agreement rapidly decreases after — wait for it — 1974. Why and how? Are these anthologies accurate indicators of the anthropological zeitgeist? Who gets included and who doesn’t? For answers to these questions, read on….
There aren’t many things as Upstate-y as the blue and yellow historical markers ornamenting the two-lane roads of the Empire State. One of my favorites is found on the Cherry Valley Turnpike near the Onondaga Reservation. While I knew about the Cardiff Giant through teaching about the scam during my first-ever go-round TAing,1 running across the marker put the hoax squarely on my mental map and made it a lot realer to me.
Ever have a run-in of your own with a famous or not-so-famous anthropological hoax?
As some of you may know, in my free time I’ve created a timeline of anthropology using the program Aeon Timeline (I’d highly recommend it). As I’ve plugged more and more dates into it I’ve become increasingly convinced that 1974 is the year that anthropology took on the form that it currently exists in today.
Last night I received an email announcing that Gerald Berreman passed away on December 23rd. I never met him, and his work on India and the Himalayas was far outside of my fieldwork in the Pacific. But I — and everyone else — deserve to remember Berreman not only because of his ethnographic work, but because he was one of the first generation of anthropologists to politicize anthropology in the late sixties and early seventies.
This chart isn’t as clean as Kieran’s – and probably has too much data (four journals going back to 1973), but Jonathan has helpfully provided instructions for how he did it in case anyone is interested in pursuing it further. I’d love to be able to create separate charts for each of the various sub-disciplines in anthropology, but that might be harder to do since they often appear in the same journals. Still, hopefully some interesting insights can be gleaned from this kind of data. If you are able to do anything with this, let us know in the comments!
I don’t ever teach an Intro to Anthropology, a fact for which I wake each day thankful and perform several ritual ablutions and say long meandering prayers to as many culturally specific deities as I can remember. But if I did, I would start with Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class. In fact, I might even make it the only text for my awesome four-field anthropology class.
Economists think the book belongs to them–or those few evolutionary and/or institutional economists who take the book seriously (Geoffrey Hodgson leads this ragtag bunch of misfits and loyalists yearly into battle). But the book is anything and everything but economics. In fact, the book is a weird and wonderful combination of anthropology, economics, psychology, sociology and speculative phenomenology. One of the reasons people might not grok the fundamental wackiness of this book is Continue reading →
Big expensive conferences cost too much and offer too little return. Fine, I’ll give it to you. Conferences are acceptable for professional development, almost good for networking, OK for your CV, and decent for being exposed to new ideas. I think some are well worth attending. But just stop paying the extortion fees for big conference. Only go to fee free or all expenses paid conferences. Yes, you’ll go to less but you’ll be better for it. Conference as they are at present are a relic from the patronage pre-neoliberal academy where universities accepted responsibility for their staff, faculty, and students. In those halcyonic days, travel and lodging were less expensive, conference fees were smaller, and most importantly, the university would foot the bill. Today, the extortion conference systems remain in place while the university has dropped its patronage responsibilities while the costs associated with conference attendance have skyrocketed. We must break the back of yet another exploitative system. Stop paying conference fees.
Conferences are of a very limited utility but a utility nonetheless. You should still go but only to select, useful, and economically fair events. Let’s break it down. There are three economic types of conferences: Continue reading →
The fourth in a guest series about the “Mayan Apocalypse” predicted for Dec. 21, 2012. The first three posts are here, here, and here.
In this post, I’ll consider the 2012 phenomenon in relation to time and otherness. Naturally, I’m hedging my bets and posting this before the potential end of the world. Although no one can seem to decide when the Maya are, they appear to be sometime between Aug 11, 3114 BC and Dec 21, 2012 AD.
This time frame has less to do with the Maya themselves than with how they are invoked by Westerners (both believers and debunkers). I realize that “West” and “Westerners” — just like “the Maya” — is an overambitious gloss, but indulge me for a moment. For the record, my perspective is based largely on the American, British, and Spanish public spheres in the press and internet. (While there seems to be 2012 interest in Russia and China, I’m not in a position to comment on that in any detail. Please leave a comment if you can.)
In the rhetoric of the West, “the Maya” appear to take quantum leaps between historical moments. In my previous post I focused on the “otherness” of U.S. spiritualists in the eyes of apocalypse debunkers. It goes without saying that the Maya are also “other” in ways that anthropologists have long objected to. The precise relationships between The Maya (abstract) and the Maya (ethnographic, historic) is a matter of debate, but regardless they are invoked constantly when it comes to apocalyptic expectations for 2012. Continue reading →