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Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology

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Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology

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Leslie A. White

Evolution and Revolution in Anthropology

William J. Peace

Few figures in modern American anthropology have been more controversial or influential than Leslie A. White (1900–1975). Between the early 1940s and mid-1960s, White’s work was widely discussed, and he was among the most frequently cited American anthropologists in the world. After writing several respected ethnographic works about the Pueblo Indians, White broke ranks with anthropologists who favored such cultural histories and began to radically rethink American anthropology. As his political interest in socialism grew, he revitalized the concept of cultural evolution and reinvigorated comparative studies of culture. His strident political beliefs, radical interpretive vision, and often combative nature earned him enemies inside and outside the academy. His trip to the Soviet Union and participation in the Socialist Labor Party brought him to the attention of the FBI during the height of the Cold War, and near-legendary scholarly and political conflicts surrounded him at the University of Michigan.
Placing White’s life and work in historic context, William J. Peace documents the broad sociopolitical influences that affected his career, including many aspects of White’s life that are largely unknown, such as the reasons he became antagonistic toward Boasian anthropology. In so doing, Peace sheds light on what made White such a colorful figure as well as his enduring contributions to modern anthropology.

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Lev Shternberg

Anthropologist, Russian Socialist, Jewish Activist

Sergei A. Kan

This intellectual biography of Lev Shternberg (1861–1927) illuminates the development of professional anthropology in late imperial and early Soviet Russia. Shortly after the formation of the Soviet Union the government initiated a detailed ethnographic survey of the country’s peoples. Lev Shternberg, who as a political exile during the late tsarist period had conducted ethnographic research in northeastern Siberia, was one of the anthropologists who directed this survey and consequently played a major role in influencing the professionalization of anthropology in the Soviet Union.

But Shternberg was much more than a government anthropologist. Under the new regime he continued his work as the senior curator of the St. Petersburg Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, which began in the early 1900s. In the last decade of his life Shternberg also played a leading role in establishing a new Soviet school of cultural anthropology and in training a cohort of professional anthropologists. True to the ideals of his youth, he also continued an active involvement in the intellectual life of the Jewish community, even though the new regime was making it increasingly difficult.
This in-depth biography explores the scholarly and political aspects of Shternberg’s life and how they influenced each other. It also places his career in both national and international perspectives, showing the context in which he lived and worked and revealing the important developments in Russian anthropology during these tumultuous years.

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Looking through Taiwan

American Anthropologists' Collusion with Ethnic Domination

Keelung Hong

Anthropologists have long sought to extricate their work from the policies and agendas of those who dominate—and often oppress—their native subjects. Looking through Taiwan is an uncompromising look at a troubling chapter in American anthropology that reveals what happens when anthropologists fail to make fundamental ethnic and political distinctions in their work. Keelung Hong and Stephen O. Murray examine how Taiwanese realities have been represented—and misrepresented—in American social science literature, especially anthropology, in the post–World War II period. They trace anthropologists’ complicity in the domination of a Taiwanese majority by a Chinese minority and in its obfuscation of social realities.
At the base of these distortions, the authors argue, were the mutual interests of the Republic of China’s military government and American social scientists in mischaracterizing Taiwan as representative of traditional Chinese culture. American anthropologists, eager to study China but denied access by its communist government, turned instead to fieldwork on the Republic of China’s society, which they incorrectly and disingenuously interpreted to reflect traditional Chinese society on the mainland. Anthropologists overlooked the cultural and historical differences between the island and the mainland and effectively legitimized the People’s Republic of China’s claim on Taiwan. Looking through Taiwan is a powerful critique of American anthropology and a valuable reminder of the political and ethical implications of social science research and writing.

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Melville J. Herskovits and the Racial Politics of Knowledge

Jerry Gershenhorn

Melville J. Herskovits and the Racial Politics of Knowledge is the first full-scale biography of the trailblazing anthropologist of African and African American cultures. Born into a world of racial hierarchy, Melville J. Herskovits (1895–1963) employed physical anthropology and ethnography to undermine racist and hierarchical ways of thinking about humanity and to underscore the value of cultural diversity. His research in West Africa, the West Indies, and South America documented the far-reaching influence of African cultures in the Americas. He founded the first major interdisciplinary American program in African studies in 1948 at Northwestern University, and his controversial classic The Myth of the Negro Past delineated African cultural influences on American blacks and showcased the vibrancy of African American culture. He also helped forge the concept of cultural relativism, particularly in his book Man and His Works. While Herskovits promoted African and African American studies, he criticized some activist black scholars, most notably Carter G. Woodson and W. E. B. Du Bois, whom he considered propagandists because of their social reform orientation.
After World War II, Herskovits became an outspoken public figure, advocating African independence and attacking American policymakers who treated Africa as an object of Cold War strategy. Drawing extensively on Herskovits’s private papers and published works, Jerry Gershenhorn’s biography recognizes Herskovits’s many contributions and discusses the complex consequences of his conclusions, methodologies, and relations with African American scholars.

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The Meskwaki and Anthropologists

Action Anthropology Reconsidered

Judith M. Daubenmier

The Meskwaki and Anthropologists illuminates how the University of Chicago’s innovative Action Anthropology program of ethnographic fieldwork affected the Meskwaki Indians of Iowa. From 1948 to 1958, the Meskwaki community near Tama, Iowa, became effectively a testing ground for a new method of practicing anthropology proposed by anthropologists and graduate students at the University of Chicago in response to pressure from the Meskwaki. Action Anthropology, as the program was called, attempted to more evenly distribute the benefits of anthropology by way of anthropologists helping the Native communities they studied.

The legacy of Action Anthropology has received limited attention, but even less is known about how the Meskwakis participated in creating it and shaping the way it functioned. Drawing on interviews and extensive archival records, Judith M. Daubenmier tells the story from the viewpoint of the Meskwaki themselves. The Meskwaki alternatively cooperated with, befriended, ignored, prodded, and collided with their scholarly visitors in trying to get them to understand that the values of reciprocity within Meskwaki culture required people to give something if they expected to get something. Daubenmier sheds light on the economic and political impact of the program on the community and how some Meskwaki manipulated the anthropologists and students through their own expectations of reciprocity and gender roles. Giving weight to the opinions, actions, and motivations of the Meskwaki, Daubenmier assesses more fully and appropriately the impact of Action Anthropology on the Meskwaki settlement and explores its legacy outside the settlement’s confines. In so doing, she also encourages further consideration of the ongoing relationships between scholars and Indigenous peoples today.

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Racial Science in Hitler's New Europe, 1938-1945

Anton Weiss-Wendt

In Racial Science in Hitler’s New Europe, 1938–1945, international scholars examine the theories of race that informed the legal, political, and social policies aimed against ethnic minorities in Nazi-dominated Europe. The essays explicate how racial science, preexisting racist sentiments, and pseudoscientific theories of race that were preeminent in interwar Europe ultimately facilitated Nazi racial designs for a “New Europe.”

The volume examines racial theories in a number of European nation-states in order to understand racial thinking at large, the origins of the Holocaust, and the history of ethnic discrimination in each of those countries. The essays, by uncovering neglected layers of complexity, diversity, and nuance, demonstrate how local discourse on race paralleled Nazi racial theory but had unique nationalist intellectual traditions of racial thought.

 Written by rising scholars who are new to English-language audiences, this work examines the scientific foundations that central, eastern, northern, and southern European countries laid for ethnic discrimination, the attempted annihilation of Jews, and the elimination of other so-called inferior peoples.

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Ruth Landes

A Life in Anthropology

Sally Cole

Ruth Landes (1908–91) is now recognized as a pioneer in the study of race and gender relations. Ahead of her time in many respects, Landes worked with issues that defined the central debates in the discipline at the dawn of the twenty-first century. In Ruth Landes, Sally Cole reconsiders Landes’s life, work, and career, and places her at the heart of anthropology.
The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, Landes studied under the renowned anthropologist Franz Boas and was mentored by Ruth Benedict. Landes’s rejection of domestic life led to an early divorce. Her ideas regarding gender roles also shaped her 1930s fieldwork among the Ojibwa, where she worked closely with Maggie Wilson to produce a masterpiece study of gender relations, The Ojibwa Woman. Her growing prominence and subsequent work in Bahia, Brazil, was marked by outstanding fieldwork and another landmark study, The City of Women. This was a tumultuous time for Landes, who was accused of being a spy, and her remarkable work fed the envy of such prominent scholars as Melville Herskovits and Margaret Mead. Ultimately, however, the errors and excesses that her critics complained of long ago now point us to the innovations for which she is responsible and that give her work its lasting value and power.

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Theodore E. White and the Development of Zooarchaeology in North America

R. Lee Lyman

Theodore E. White and the Development of Zooarchaeology in North America illuminates the researcher and his lasting contribution to a field that has largely ignored him in its history. The few brief histories of North American zooarchaeology suggest that Paul W. Parmalee, John E. Guilday, Elizabeth S. Wing, and Stanley J. Olsen laid the foundation of the field. Only occasionally is Theodore White (1905–77) included, yet his research is instrumental for understanding the development of zooarchaeology in North America.
               R. Lee Lyman works to fill these gaps in the historical record and revisits some of White’s analytical innovations from a modern perspective. A comparison of publications shows that not only were White’s zooarchaeological articles first in print in archaeological venues but that he was also, at least initially, more prolific than his contemporaries. While the other “founders” of the field were anthropologists, White was a paleontologist by training who studied long-extinct animals and their evolutionary histories. In working with remains of modern mammals, the typical paleontological research questions were off the table simply because the animals under study were too recent. And yet White demonstrated clearly that scholars could infer significant information about human behaviors and cultures. Lyman presents a biography of Theodore White as a scientist and a pioneer in the emerging field of modern anthropological zooarchaeology.

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Visionary Observers

Anthropological Inquiry and Education

Jill B. R. Cherneff

Visionary Observers explores the relationship between anthropology and public policy, examining the careers of nine twentieth-century American anthropologists who made important contributions to debates about race, ethnicity, socialization, and education. Included are Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology; Ruth Benedict, who analyzed modern societies during and after World War II; Margaret Mead, anthropology's most recognized public educator; Gene Weltfish, whose “pragmatic anthropology” positioned education at the core of culture; Hortense Powdermaker, whose fieldwork embraced Black America, Hollywood, and the Pacific; Solon Kimball, who studied the impact of desegregation; Ruth Landes, who adopted a cultural approach to educating teachers; Jules Henry, who analyzed the institutional consequences of imposing middle-class culture; and Eleanor Leacock, who pioneered “advocacy anthropology.”
The questions they asked—about culture and human behavior, democracy and inequality, and systemic function and disjunction—and the dilemmas they faced as citizen-scientists are recurrent ones. The topics they addressed illustrate how the lens of American anthropology has long been focused on domestic issues. Through its emphasis on anthropologists as practitioners as well as theorists, this anthology adds a new dimension to the history and development of anthropology in the United States.

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