The Internetz were atwitter recently with the announcement that 19th February 2015 is officially going to be National Anthropology Day. And yet some people expressed confusion. What is National Anthropology Day? What does it mean? What are we supposed to do? Some questions were quickly answered: If the holiday is generically labeled ‘National’ that must mean ‘They do it in the US’. But others questions persist — why this day, instead of other days? What, concretely, will occur?
The Official National Anthropology Day website provides some useful handouts, but no deeper contextualization of what the holiday is supposed to be about. This has led some people to grouse that it is a ‘fake holiday’. For this reason I wanted to write this blog post to help people understand why 19 February 2015 is finally getting the attention it deserves.
As many of you interested in the history of anthropology has noted, some of the most important events in our discipline have happened on or around 19 February. Across decades and — perhaps? — centuries, 19 February (or 2/19 as it is known on the message boards) seems to play a role in the fate of our discipline that few understand.
Some occurrences of 2/19 were easy enough for contemporary anthropologists to spot: Was it coincidence or planning that HAU‘s first issue was released in February 19, 2011 and Cultural Anthropology announced its decision to go open access on the same day in 2013? Many of us originally thought that perhaps CA was just giving a silent, slightly oblique nod to HAU. And perhaps that’s what it was… if it had just stopped there.
Soon the dates were multiplying: Franz Boas died in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s arms on 2/19 1942. If you add up all of the printed integers in The Nuer (not counting the copyright page), they add up to 219. What’s more, the first edition of Russell Bernard’s Research Methods in Cultural Anthropology was not only released on 2/19 1988 but (believe it or not) the original edition was only 219 pages long.
Things get even stranger outside of the American anthropological tradition. In Canberra, for instance, the anthropology department at the Australian National University was founded in 2 February 1946. A.P. Elkins’s Aboriginal Men of High Degree, published the same year, is 192 pages long — or 19/2: The Australian way of abbreviating 19 February!!!
Even more uncanny than the role of 19 February in the history of anthropology is the lengths to which someone or something has gone to hide it from us. A quick check of Wikipedia, for instance, shows that Boas died on 21 December 1942, not 19 February. In fact this is not correct, as a simple confirmation of the original paper records will show. Someone has clearly been watching this page and introducing this error back into the entry whenever it is corrected. This is yet another example of how Wikipedia is inferior to Official Reference Material. Luckily, there will always be places like Savage Minds which can be relied on to bring you 100% completely accurate information about anthropology.
As we approach the 2,015th 19 February of the common era, therefore, many questions regarding the significance of this date remain unresolved. What is its cosmic significance? And who is trying to take it away from us?
Whatever the answers may be, we should not let them deter us from celebrating this excellent holiday with all the panache that the American Anthropological Association recommends. Someone remarked once that Erving Goffman believed authenticity was a performance so successful that you were taken in by your own act. This year as we prepare to celebrate our discipline, let’s not look a gift horse too closely in the mouth. Rather, let’s work together to build some traditions around our newest — or is it our OLDEST?!??! — holiday.