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Anthropology's Global Histories

The Ethnographic Frontier in German New Guinea, 1870–1935

Rainer F. Buschmann

Publication Year: 2009

Anthropologists and world historians make strange bedfellows. Although the latter frequently employ anthropological methods in their descriptions of cross-cultural exchanges, the former have raised substantial reservations about global approaches to history. Fearing loss of specificity, anthropologists object to the effacing qualities of techniques employed by world historians—this despite the fact that anthropology itself was a global, comparative enterprise in the nineteenth century. Rainer Buschmann here seeks to recover some of anthropology’s global flavor by viewing its history in Oceania through the notion of the ethnographic frontier—the furthermost limits of the anthropologically known regions of the Pacific. The colony of German New Guinea (1884–1914) presents an ideal example of just such a contact zone. Colonial administrators there were drawn to approaches partially inspired by anthropology. Anthropologists and museum officials exploited this interest by preparing large-scale expeditions to German New Guinea. Buschmann explores the resulting interactions between German colonial officials, resident ethnographic collectors, and indigenous peoples, arguing that all were instrumental in the formation of anthropological theory. He shows how changes in collecting aims and methods helped shift ethnographic study away from its focus on material artifacts to a broader consideration of indigenous culture. He also shows how ethnological collecting, often a competitive affair, could become politicized and connect to national concerns. Finally, he places the German experience in the broader context of Euro-American anthropology. Anthropology's Global Histories will interest students and scholars of anthropology, history, world history, and Pacific studies.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

This work originated in the early 1990s, while I was finishing my master’s degree in anthropology. The discipline of anthropology was deeply in the throes of the so-called literary turn. In the midst of this intellectual confusion, I enrolled in a fascinating seminar about the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands taught by Karen Peacock, the...

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Introduction: Toward a Global History of Anthropology

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pp. 1-11

The last decades of the twentieth century saw an increasing reconciliation between the disciplines of anthropology and history. Moving beyond the synchronic method of participant observation, anthropologists began to infuse a temporal...

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1 Berlin’s Monopoly

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pp. 12-28

German imperial expansion to Africa and Oceania increased the possibilities for anthropological research. Although the founder of the Berlin Ethnological Museum, Adolf Bastian, openly opposed colonial expansion and annexation, he did not fail to see the possibilities for research emerging from German...

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2 Commercializing the Ethnographic Frontier

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pp. 29-49

Felix von Luschan’s attempt to engage the commercial frontier in German New Guinea for the purposes of his African and Oceanic division at the Berlin Ethnological Museum had ample precedent. Luschan was not alone in realizing that, along...

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3 Losing the Monopoly

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pp. 50-70

Even though Felix von Luschan grew increasingly impatient with commercial agents in German New Guinea, he could expect little sympathy from fellow German museum officials. Faithful to the Federal Council Resolution achieved by Bastian, Luschan defended the monopoly position of his African...

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4 Restructuring Ethnology and Imperialism

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pp. 71-96

Felix von Luschan’s emphasis on “primary” collecting had resulted from an interplay between museological competition and the fact that colonial residents lacked proper collection methods. Primary collecting, however, also meant that artifacts became secondary to an understanding of the mental culture of their producers....

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5 Albert Hahl and the Colonization of the Ethnographic Frontier

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pp. 97-117

The interplay between the colonial periphery and the metropole had become a crucial component in the development of the anthropological discipline. Felix von Luschan’s attempt to monopolize collectors’ efforts on the periphery of German New Guinea failed to bring about the results he desired. Much to...

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6 Indigenous Reactions

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pp. 118-136

Throughout the last five chapters I have examined the investigation of the ethnographic frontier in German New Guinea as a purely Western endeavor. While this is in no way inconsistent with the explicit aim of the present work, an investigation that seeks to uncover anthropology’s global flavor should also take into account...

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7 The Ethnographic Frontier in German Postcolonial Visions

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pp. 137-153

The onset of Europe’s Great War and the postwar era presented German anthropologists with a number of predicaments. Few practitioners doubted their nation’s legitimate defensive struggle, which compelled them to accept the ensuing hardships....

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Conclusion: Anthropology’s Global Histories in Oceania

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pp. 154-170

This conclusion proposes to return a global historical flavor to anthropology. To do so, I examine German tradition in light of other anthropological endeavors in the Pacific Ocean. I begin with a close glance at the academic and colonial settings of American and British anthropology in the Pacific Islands. I then explore...


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pp. 171-208


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pp. 209-228


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pp. 229-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861476
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824831844

Publication Year: 2009