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  • From the Margins: Historical Anthropology and Its Futures
  • Theodore Jun Yoo
From the Margins: Historical Anthropology and Its Futures. Edited by Brian Axel. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002. 313 pp. $79.95 (cloth); $22.95 (paper).

Over the past decade, many institutions in higher education moved toward a more global and interdisciplinary approach to learning. While this kind of interaction across and between disciplines has facilitated dialogue and enriched our perspective, the ever-shifting imperatives of globalization, the emergent or changing world orders, and clashes between civilizations have blurred discrete institutional boundaries as well as their conventions and epistemological underpinnings.

In this highly readable and informative collection of essays, Brian Axel has brought together a group of prominent scholars to reexamine the dilemma of "interdisciplinarity" in the study of history and anthropology to facilitate a "critical exchange" between two "sister disciplines." The book consists of nine essays with an introductory overview and a discussion of methodology.

Axel opens his introduction with the "role of citation" and pedagogy in the production of knowledge in anthropology. In the words of Bernard Cohn, this constant conjuring of "ghosts of our discipline's 'theoretical guides'" not only has perpetuated and institutionalized the banal practice of "enshrining" certain citations in texts and collegiate curricula, but has encouraged anthropologists "consciously or unconsciously" to accept and naturalize these citations as doxic and "gifts from our predecessors" (p. 1). As Axel suggests, From the Margins seeks to question these "disquieting limitations" of our predecessors and rearticulate historical anthropology as a field that can look into the noneventful and how "supposed margins and metropoles, or peripheries and centers, fold into, constitute, or disrupt one another" (p. 2).

Particularly noteworthy is Axel's genealogical inquiry into the interactions between history and anthropology and the fields of inquiry that have preoccupied these two respective fields. The 1950s and 1960s proved to be a critical period for historical anthropology. For the first time, there was an enormous interest in "interdisciplinary collaboration" [End Page 535] as a result of the Cold War and its disparate sites of inquiry (e.g., knowledge production of area studies). Following Ruth Benedict's lead, anthropologists such as Margaret Mead introduced new ways of studying the "other" by exploring "cultures at a distance." Spatially or temporarily inaccessible cultures could now be studied, and "history was qualified as a means of measuring temporal distance" (p. 5).

With the demise of colonial powers, historical anthropology found itself in the middle of global change with the violent displacement of peoples and emergent nation-states. Anthropologists such as E. Evans-Prichard and I. Shapera debated whether anthropologists should be historians. In other words, could history be used as a "technique" to explain social change? Although these polemic debates stimulated important discussion, it was with the emergence of the department of anthropology at the University of Chicago that discussions about historical anthropology became central. Edward Shils and his colleagues at the University of Chicago, who created the Committee on the Comparative Study of New Nations, facilitated dialogues with historians in hopes of deconstructing "received empiricism and categories of analysis" which could be viewed as "remnants and embodiments of colonial modalities of rule" (p. 8). Instead of looking at "the primitive" and the impact Europeans had on them, Bernard Cohn sought to look at the "paradoxes of domination" by going beyond social change or modernization and revaluating the "dynamic interaction between the colonizer and the colonized" (p. 9). Throughout his discussion, Axel reveals the debates and disjunctures as well as the tensions that have informed the relationship between history and anthropology.

The two essays in the first section of the book, which is titled "Ethnography and the Archives," seek to illustrate the "transparently privileged sites of knowledge production" in these two disciplines. Instead of looking at the "archives" as an indispensable repository of facts, Axel posits that we should look at "archivization" as a process of "entextualization" where texts of the "putatively precolonial is itself a colonized modality of knowledge production" and a disparate colonial practice of generating "truth" (p. 14). In many ways, the subaltern studies school has cautioned us over the years to look carefully at the "colonial...