The Americas 59.1 (2002) 1-8
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Denounced by Lévi Strauss
Clah Luncheon Address
Stuart B Schwartz
New Haven, Connecticut
When in 1984 I accepted an invitation from editor Frank Smith at Cambridge University Press to collaborate in a new "Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas," I was naive and somewhat unaware of the potential intellectual dangers and pitfalls involved in what seemed to me, at that time, to be a challenging and worthwhile project. Now, eighteen years later, and having been recently been denounced as the Americanist equivalent of a Holocaust Revisionist by no less than Claude Lévi-Strauss, the grand figure of structural anthropology and arguably the most distinguished scholar in his field in the late Twentieth Century, I am forced to question myself and the whole enterprise of trying to write such as history. Lévi-Strauss's critique was published in the French anthropology journal L'Homme. 1 It was a thunderbolt cast from Olympus—a place which as Brazilian anthropologist Roberto da Matta has recently reminded us, is located roughly between the Rue des Ecoles and the Boulevard St. Michel—and I find it particularly discouraging since its author was one of my intellectual heroes and Tristes tropiques one of the formative books of my own education. 2 To be accused by him of editing a volume that is "politically correct," and "post-modernist" I find slightly amusing. [I carry a copy of the review to show my graduate students whose characterizations of me tend to run in quite the opposite direction]. Why a Lévi-Strauss should use the analogy of holocaust denial to criticize a work edited by two guys named Salomon and Schwartz is itself worthy of consideration, but it is not what concerns me in these remarks. [End Page 1]
And, I am told that there is more to come, and that other French scholars—in one case at least, a Lévi-Strauss student—will publish even more critical reviews. I am informed by my Parisian sources that the dismissive tone in these reviews has more to do with the internal internecine wars of French anthropology in the post-structuralist age than with the quality or sins of the Cambridge History. Perhaps my friends are just being kind. One colleague suggested a nationalist agenda and summarized the situation by saying that, "French anthropology is undecided about where it is headed, but wherever that may be, it wants to be sure that the Americans don't get there first."
But Lévi-Strauss makes some valid points and his review raises some basic methodological, heuristic, and interpretative questions that should be of interest to all of us concerned with the native peoples of the Americas and the history that touches them and of which they are a part. And so in a few minutes today, I want to tell you about how the CHNPA vol. 3 South America was edited, what its objectives were, and why those objectives, particularly that of making Indians not simply victims, but actors and agents in their history have produced the reaction and debate that has resulted.
The CHNPA was conceived and organized in the period preceding the Quincentenary, not as a celebration but as recognition of the five hundred years of contact. The work was designed in three volumes—North, Meso, and South America—each in two parts. Each volume was to be edited by an historian and an anthropologist or archaeologist. The six editors did meet once early on in the project, but coordination was loose and essentially each volume's organization and content represent the decisions of the individual volume editors. Frank Salomon and I drew up a 17 page single-spaced outline of our conception of the volumes on South America with capsule chapters and we then sought to find authors. Frank took primary responsibility for the Andes while the Lowlands fell to me. Early on we decided to make an effort to include the considerable research results of scholars from the region, much of it still...