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The 1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games

Sport, Race, and American Imperialism

Susan Brownell

Publication Year: 2008

One of the more problematic sport spectacles in American history took place at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, which included the third modern Olympic Games. Associated with the Games was a curious event known as Anthropology Days organized by William J. McGee and James Sullivan, at that time the leading figures in American anthropology and sports, respectively. McGee recruited Natives who were participating in the fair’s ethnic displays to compete in sports events, with the “scientific” goal of measuring the physical prowess of “savages” as compared with “civilized men.” This interdisciplinary collection of essays assesses the ideas about race, imperialism, and Western civilization manifested in the 1904 World’s Fair and Olympic Games and shows how they are still relevant.

A turning point in both the history of the Olympics and the development of modern anthropology, these games expressed the conflict between the Old World emphasis on culture and New World emphasis on utilitarianism. Marked by Franz Boas’s paper at the Scientific Congress, the events in St. Louis witnessed the beginning of the shift in anthropological research from nineteenth-century evolutionary racial models to the cultural relativist paradigm that is now a cornerstone of modern American anthropology. Racist pseudoscience nonetheless reappears to this day in the realm of sports.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology


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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

This book began as the "International Congress on the St. Louis Olympic Games and Anthropology Days: A Centennial Retrospective" at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri, on September 10–11, 2004. It was organized by Susan Brownell and co-hosted by the Department of Anthropology and the Center for International Studies of the University of ...

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Series Editors' Introduction

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pp. xvii-xviii

The Louisiana Purchase (Centennial) Exhibition in St. Louis in 1904 had far less inluence on the concepts and institutions of anthropology than did the 1893 Columbian Tetracentenary Exhibition in Chicago. One might conclude that scrutiny of the "living exhibits" of various cultures and the displays of athletic prowess of various "Others" (of non-European descent) ...

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Introduction: Bodies before Boas, Sport before the Laughter Left

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pp. 1-58

This volume reunites two strands of history that are usually treated separately: the histories of anthropology and the Olympic Games.1 It does so by looking back to a time at the start of the twentieth century when the discipline of anthropology, the phenomenon of modern sport, and the performance genre of the modern Olympic Games were just starting to take a definite form. It ...

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Chapter 1. A "Special Olympics"

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pp. 59-126

The date: August 11–12, 1904. The place: St Louis, Missouri. The venue: The Louisiana Purchase Exposition (LPE). The special event: Anthropology Days. Basilio, a Negrito from the Philippines, has just won a heat of the pole climbing competition and been awarded an American flag. Basilio was one of almost three thousand indigenous men and women from all over the world who ...

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Chapter 2. The "Physical Value" of Races and Nations: Anthropology and Athletics at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition

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pp. 127-155

In his preview of the anthropology exhibits at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, chief architect WJ McGee contended that his division provided "connecting links" for the great diversity of exhibits that made up the St. Louis World's Fair. McGee especially stressed the close connections of the Department of Anthropology to the Department of Physical Culture, where ...

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Chapter 3. Pierre de Coubertin's Concepts of Race, Nation, and Civilization

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pp. 156-188

Born in Paris in 1863, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, French pedagogue, historian, journalist, and sports leader, wanted his name to be associated with a great educational reform in France that would prepare young men for the challenges of the twentieth century. His reform was aimed at the classical triad of intellectual, moral, and physical education. Influenced by the English ...

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Chapter 4. Anthropology Days, the Construction of Whiteness, and American Imperialism in the Philippines

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pp. 189-216

Inquiries into the nature of "race" and "difference" began with early European characterizations of Native Americans as "Indians," children of nature who possessed the conflicting qualities of stoicism, courage, cruelty, cunning, and ignorance. Debate ensued over the nature and origin of difference with monogenists assuming a common descent for humankind and one human...

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Chapter 5. "From Savagery to Civic Organization"

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pp. 217-243

In August of 1904, organizers from the Departments of Anthropology and Physical Culture of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (LPE) arranged an athletic event dedicated to displaying the physical prowess of "primitive" peoples of the world. This event was termed "Anthropology Days" and has since been described as "an unusual set of 'athletic' events," that took place ...

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Chapter 6. "Leav[ing] the White[s] . . . Far Behind Them": The Girls from Fort Shaw (Montana) Indian School, Basketball Champions of the 1904 World's Fair

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pp. 243-277

On a chilly October afternoon, a steady stream of people made their way across the fairgrounds toward the basketball court marked off on the plaza in front of the Model Indian School. A full hour before tip-off, the human rainbow curving around the sides of the court stretched all the way back to the Navajo, Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Pawnee encampments along the perimeter of "Indian ...

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Chapter 7. Germans and Others at the "American Games": Problems of National and International Representation at the 1904 Olympics

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pp. 278-300

Referred to as the "American Olympics" by chroniclers and historians today, the 1904 Olympic Games remain inextricably linked to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The official moniker—the third modern Olympics, held under the auspices of the Department of Physical Culture at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri—points to the central problem ...

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Chapter 8. Greece and the 1904 "American" Olympics

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pp. 301-323

The leaders of the small Greek delegation to the St. Louis Olympics of 1904 viewed the Games through an ethnocentric and nationalist lens. The so-called revival of the ancient Greek Olympic Games and the decision to hold the first modern Games in Athens, in 1896, suddenly thrust Greece into the international limelight. The Greek hosts had failed in their bid to keep the ...

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Chapter 9. From the Anthropology Days to the Anthropological Olympics

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pp. 324-342

In this chapter I want to explore some themes, related to the Olympic Games and international sport in general, that have been provoked by a reading of the report of the 1904 Anthropology Days in Spalding's Official Athletic Almanac for 1905.1 The first of these themes is that of the "natural athlete," a major (if illusory) figure in the 1904 "Anthropology Days"; the second is the "contact ...

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Chapter 10. Olympic Anthropology Days and the Progress of Exclusion: Toward an Anthropology of Democracy

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pp. 343-382

The Games of 1904 in St. Louis were exceptional in the series of modern Olympics in establishing a link between sport and anthropology. They displayed the problematic relationship between the Western pattern of sport and the body cultures of "other" people. This connection is still worth some deeper reflection in our times—and maybe more than ever before. The Games of ...

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Chapter 11. The Growth of Scientific Standards from Anthropology Days to Present Days

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pp. 383-396

Anthropology is by its very nature a reactive science. It arose as an academic specialty largely in opposition to late-nineteenth-century racism and Social Darwinism—whence E. B. Tylor's assertion, from the last page of Primitive Culture (1871), that anthropology is "a reformer's science." A generation later in America, Franz Boas established academic anthropology largely in ...

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Afterword: Back to the Future

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pp. 397-414

In 1884 Chang Yu Sing, "The Chinese Giant and the Tallest Man in the World," led P. T. Barnum's Ethnological Congress into the big top. When he had joined the circus in the early 1880s, Chang was presented as a representative of the erudition and wisdom of Chinese civilization; an 1881 ad described him as "the Chinese Giant, not the ogre of Fairy Tales, but Gentleman, Scholar ...


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pp. 415-450


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pp. 451-456


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pp. 457-471

E-ISBN-13: 9780803219090
E-ISBN-10: 0803219091

Page Count: 800
Illustrations: 28 photos, 1 figure, 1 map, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology