I see your timeline and raise you a timeline

A little bit ago a few tweets crossed my transom about Adam Bohannon’s excellent history of anthropological theory timeline. It’s fun and it looks like it was made with CHNM’s timeline builder. I had actually tried the same tool long ago but then sort of abandoned the project and so inspired by Adam revived my old project (this time using BeeDocs’s Timeline Maker). Here is a sample:

You can get the full version here. It is a totally non-interactive .png file — sorry, Adam beats me on the interactivity front.

Timelines are interesting in the same way that kinship diagrams are: they are analyses of materials pretending to be merely lists of facts. This one was constructed basically off the top of my head based on what I’ve been teaching in anthropological theory courses, and which Wikipedia pages linked to which. Choosing which dates to put up is basically to create a useable genealogy for yourself. Its a fun exercise — among other things, it really made me realize how much of what I thought of as ’80s theory’ was really published in the 70s (77 seems to really be the watershed year here). Any feedback?


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

24 thoughts on “I see your timeline and raise you a timeline

  1. Suggestions:
    *1851 Morgan’s League of the Ho-dé-no-sau-nee & ethnography as a genre
    *1897 The Jesup Expedition
    *1956 The people of Puerto Rico & the expansion of ethnography to complex societies
    *1971 Publication of Selections from the prison notebooks & Anglophone Marxists no longer feeling the need to feel bad about believing in the existence of culture

    I know that Gramsci’s stuff probably won’t make it into your timeline. That’s fair, though I must point out that Europe and the people of history looks a little Freudian slippy…

  2. Holy lack of consistency, Batman! if you’re creating a time-line wouldn’t be better to be explicit on what you consider a milestone and put only similar milestones or extremely self-explanatory different ones?
    how do you choose between books and positions? I, mean, Strathern in Cambridge is more important than Strathern publishing GoG? For Geertz and Sahlins you gave us the books not when they got an office in Pricenton or in Haskell Hall, so you’re implicitly suggesting that GoG is less important than a desk?(I have not a problem with that, but maybe with so little space to explain things a time-line should not adopt complex ideas, but only veiculate simple ones)

  3. There are important milestones from my lineage that aren’t in there, but I’m not sure how possible something like this is unless you divide it up among sub-fields. For example among all sub-field there are really no famous applied works in there, which makes it seem like there’s no tradition to applied work. So where’s the Hawthorn Plant studies, etc… Urban anth. is also absent. Bott’s early work with urban social networks is pretty important. Like I said, I’m not sure such a holistic time line is doable, more of an interactive technology so you can zoom in or click on links to other time lines.

    Then there was our applied work during WWII.

    Perhaps put in names or context next to seminal works. Like next to Julian Steward, have something about a reaction to White’s uni-lineal culture evolution. Or for Pigs for the Ancestors have something like (Rappaport, Papau New Guinea.)

    What I do find interesting is the inclusion of non-anthros in the time-line. Foucault and Said were not anthropologists. If you’re gonna add important works that influenced anthropology, wouldn’t you want to put in Boserup, Stephen Gould, Diamond, and a few others?

  4. @Rick you should make your own timeline and share it with us.

    @ruys interesting points. The real answer is: this just happened randomly. However, I can come up with a rationale if you like! In fact, the date for Geertz’s arrival at Princeton (1970) clusters quite closely with Interpretation of Cultures (1973) and Myth,Symbol, Culture (1971). Equally, Culture and Practical Reason is pretty closely connected with Sahlins’s arrival in Chicago (1973 iirc).

    I focus on the desk for the British positions because 1) googling around quickly produced lists of dates I could add to the timeline and 2) Oxbridgean professorships mark institutional and sociological changes in British anthropology in a way they don’t in the US, as anyone who has witnessed the tremendous flowering of Cambridge Strathernians can tell you (esp. the earlier Mancunian models).

    Or am I wrong? I definitely have a sense that this was the case in the past more. Think about how many people worked on Africa during Manchester’s Maxist phase, and how many people started looking at the middle east after Peters took over? It takes mass hirings of like-minded scholars to produce this effect in the US — such as the creation of the Rice Mafia in the 80s.

    @René — thanks for that clarification. SIMILE looks fabulous!

  5. “@Rick you should make your own timeline and share it with us.”

    I’ll put that in the inbox.

    Actually, because these things tend to show selective bias from whoever makes the time line, that maybe we should all make one and carry it around in our wallets. It’d be like a secret handshake for anthropologists. You show me yours and I’ll show you mine and we can see how well we correlate.
    This would probably really help with debates in the discipline. When someone says something that we find strange, or interesting, we can look at their personal lineage time line to see how they came to that conclusion.

    A lineage line should also be included in the appendix of any book an anthro. writes too. That would really be interesting, and as useful as a bibliography.

    In my old Zen hall in Houston, they had a lineage flow chart showing the various Zen sects, who is credited with founding them, and the Master’s of the lineages through time, showing splits along the way.

    A similar kind of debate is happening in Texas right now with the State Board of Education on what to add, what to leave and what to take out on a historical time line. It’s interesting to me to follow that public debate, because no one, as far as I know, has yet wanted to add or delete anything that isn’t historically accurate (as far as I know). It seems to be a power struggle over limited textbook real estate.

    I have a buddy whose still in school and he, and his fraternity, are starting a hunger strike at the University tomorrow to protest the fact that people like Cezar Chavez aren’t being left in, to make room for others.

    That’s why I suggested a more interactive time line, because there’s only so much space on the thing. That way you could click on a link to follow the unfolding of something in more detail. Does that make sense?

  6. @rex: touché! my focus was on the simple emergence of new species but it is more meaningful to focus on how a species interact and change his environment, as we had lots of new flamboyant species that became extinct in the wild pretty quickly. (the good version)
    I was just (egocentrically) thinking about me, and since my relationship with the glorious past is mediated by books, everybody should have been influenced by books only. (the truth)

  7. “Rick, we do have a lineage line included in books of anthropology. Its called the acknowledgments.”

    We both know that’s horseshit, unless people other than friends, family, and peers are included in most acknowledgments.

    What are pissed I made some suggestions on the general level? You need to go back and read what I wrote.

  8. The abrasiveness on savageminds (which is apparently something found discipline-wide) are making me re-think this fully-funded offer at a top 5. Looks like I’ll be resented just by my department. Thanks Rick.

  9. Really, Really? It isn’t adult like to project ones concerns and insecurities on others in order to avoid scary personal life decisions. Especially, if a single “horseshit,” for calling someone out for singling me out for being the least abrasive person on the subject.

    I went very far out of my way to word what I said in a civil way that avoided personal criticisms, and even clearly stated that I don’t think any person could have done a better job due to the limits of technology.

    The academic side of the discipline is extremely abrasive and I made a personal choice to have nothing to do with it, but that was a personal decision make without fanfare and it definitely wasn’t made by blaming anyone else.

  10. Ok, back to topic – I think of setting up something like this on my own. Might be called “History of Mesoamerican Studies”, which would include archaeology, history, ethnography, philology, epigraphy, art history – well, the number of categories in timeline builder is limited, and this would be subject to discussion.

    However, I think that these sort of things should be community projects, Wikipedia-style – much more efficient, and you avoid personal biases (after cumbersome discussion).

    Since the FAQ of the CHNM projects remain silent on this point – does anyone know if they do support collaborative work? (I would know of course about the communities to contact.) Can SIMILE do that?

  11. http://www.amazon.com/Pete-Frames-Complete-Family-Trees/dp/0711904650

    Do a family tree of who studied or worked with whom. Keep it simple. Each person will interpret meanings and theories -and influence- as they please. There will never be one theory or one timeline. Theory is mythology: parents and children, the parents you have and the parents you’d prefer to have.

    Every timeline of meanings and values is a narrative and every narrative is self-serving.
    If you want to act as a librarian, do a simple timeline of interaction that facilitates storytelling.

  12. Chillax there Rick, everything will be ok. For reals.

    I regularly read the acknowledgments of books — particularly dissertations — since they do tend to list the names of readers of manuscripts, advisers, institutions which supported the research, awards won given time to write up, etc. Here is an example from a book on my shelf — Caitlin Zaloom’s Out Of The Pits:

    “This book took shape [when I was] a graduate students in anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley… my advisor Paul Rabinow… [committee members] Aihwa Ong… Manuel Castells… other people at Berkeley: Arianne Chernock, Stephen Collier, Jeff Juris, Andrew Lakoff. Beyond the Bay area I beenfited from the generosiy of Saskia Sassen and Richard Sennett… thanks to Stephen Barley, Greg Downey, Karen Knorr-Cetina… the soul of this books is in Chicago. Doug Mitchell, at hte University of Chicago Press, lived up to his billing as the most effusively encouraging editor in the business…. Owen Gregory, the archivist as the Chicago Board of trade [more fieldwork debts]… It was fitting to finish this book in the financial capital of New York. My colleagues at New York University — Tom Bender, Neil Brenner, Doug Guthrie… welcomed me… any book on markets should acknowledge where he money came from [thanks SSRC and other units]…[lists friends and family, and finally spouse].”

    So there it is: her dissertation committee, other professors and graduate students she interacted with, the people who she presented at conferences with, the faculty of the department where she got her first job, the librarians and archivists who helped with her fieldwork, and then her friends.

    This isn’t an unusual acknowledgments section for a first book by any means. They are a key way one can sniff out a genealogy.

  13. I think Seth has an intriguing point — I was thinking we cold do just a very simple chronological timeline of just strictly dissertation supervisors and their students. It would provide a clear standard for who would be included and how, you could have little arrows running from one node to the next, etc. Although the idea of an area-based rather than disciplined base timeline looks interesting as well.

  14. Rex-

    I saw a poster at the AAG (geography) meetings last year that was a family tree of theoretical approaches in geography, entirely based on students and advisers and departments. It linked founding geographers (back not too many generations) to current active scholars. It was a real hit, lots of people took a look, discussed their own positions in the scheme, argued about whether the scheme accurately reflected current theoretical approaches, etc.

    So this is a way of saying that your idea to trace advisers and students (or maybe dissertation committees and students) would be fascinating and fun.

  15. The Burris results appear to be another example of the rich-club phenomenon, described, for example, as follows:

    Detecting rich-club ordering in complex networks

    V. Colizza1, A. Flammini1, M. A. Serrano1& A. Vespignani1

    AbstractUncovering the hidden regularities and organizational principles of networks arising in physical systems ranging from the molecular level to the scale of large communication infrastructures is the key issue in understanding their fabric and dynamical properties1,2,3,4,5. The ‘rich-club’ phenomenon refers to the tendency of nodes with high centrality, the dominant elements of the system, to form tightly interconnected communities, and it is one of the crucial properties accounting for the formation of dominant communities in both computer and social sciences4,5,6,7,8. Here, we provide the analytical expression and the correct null models that allow for a quantitative discussion of the rich-club phenomenon. The presented analysis enables the measurement of the rich-club ordering and its relation with the function and dynamics of networks in examples drawn from the biological, social and technological domains.

  16. Rex wrote:

    “Val Burris has actually done a social network analysis of the top sociology departments. Gues what? They all hire each other’s grads. What a surprise.”

    And a vaguely similar analysis was done a number of years ago for anthropology departments, mapping who hired students of which departments, with similar results: Michigan hired Chicago’s PhDs, but rarely vice-versa, but everyone hired PhDs from Michigan and Chicago, etc, etc. to produce both a ranking (and the inspiration was Leach’s study of ranking based on marriage up/down), and a map of intellectual genealogies, albeit somewhat shallow ones.

    Sorry that I cannot recall when/where – maybe the AA in the late 1970s? It’s been a while, and I don’t have the time to track it down.

  17. Samuel, sorry if my post was depressing. If you check out Rex’s new thread,

    Who needs alumni from ‘top schools’?

    you will find that there may be benefits from not being at a top school.

    More importantly, I think, is a social process with a lot of familiar features found in lots of different times and places. I think instantly of two examples.

    Chinese historians observe that the fall of the Northern Song led to a dramatic reorientation of literati interests away from the imperial capital to securing local wealth and position in their home provinces, giving rise to the class that historians of later periods refer to as China’s gentry.

    Second, I recall one of my southern relatives remarking that, if you want to be President of the USA, it’s important to go to Harvard or Yale. If you want to be governor of South Carolina, it’s important to go to Wake Forest or the Citadel.

    If depression is a consequence of relative deprivation, you might want to consider setting your sights differently.

  18. I think depression is just the idiom of graduate students.

    But, thanks for your post. I realize that there are benefits to not being at a ‘top school,’ and both your and Rex’s post reaffirm that.

    I should mention that I am at a Canadian school, so it is all a bit more confusing to sit through all the doom and gloom forecasts, and trying to figure out how that applies to the Canadian context which is similar to the US, but slightly different.

    I suppose one of the virtues of not having private universities (other than a few religious ones), is that the distinction between schools is less important in general, though my fear is that American grads. will flood over the border (happens to some extent already), while my degree won’t let me go the other way.

  19. Thanks for the mention, Rex. Reminded me that I need to revisit my own timeline. Lots missing. I actually made it as a study aid for myself and my fellow students in our undergrad theory course. Would love to allow some sort of collaboration, but haven’t thought through the best way to go about doing that. Best of luck with yours.

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