In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Specter of Races: Latin American Anthropology and Literature between the Wars by Anke Birkenmaier
  • Silvio Torres-Saillant

White Supremacy, Racist Ideology, Dogma Of Phenotype, Disparagement, Colonial Transaction, Anke Birkenmaier, Silvio Torres-Saillant, Transculturation, Language, Culture, Caribbean, Latinamericanists, Haiti, Brazil, France, Cuba, Race, Racism, Colonialism, Anti-Colonialist Humanism, Racist Ideology, Anke Birkenmaier, Silvio Torres-Saillant

birkenmaier, anke. The Specter of Races: Latin American Anthropology and Literature between the Wars. U of Virginia P, 2016. 224 pp.

Professor Birkenmaier, a literary scholar at Indiana University's Department of Spanish and Portuguese, sets out in The Specter of Races to tell the story of the academic discipline of anthropology in Latin America during the interwar years. The chronology she invokes to frame her inquiry might seem counterintuitive. It refers to the two major international armed conflicts in the first half of the twentieth century in which the leading Western powers militarily wrought the havoc of carnage against one another, the events known in historiographical convention as "World War I" (1914–1918) and "World War II" (1939–1945). Here the choice of a [End Page 124] temporality drawn from events involving European nations—and belatedly the United States—as a proper frame for examining a phenomenon pertinent to Latin American scholarship gets explained implicitly by the transnational networks, intercultural exchange, and routes of scholarly collaboration that stand out as emphases in The Specter of Races.

Consisting of a short introduction, four chapters, and a brief epilogue, the volume maps the trajectories of key individual authors with their corresponding circuits of relations. The main figures are social scientists with a measure of artistic flair: the Cuban Fernando Ortiz, the French anthropologist Paul Rivet, the Haitian literary artist and ethnologist Jacques Roumain, and the Brazilian human science scholar Gilberto Freyre. The study brings them together on the grounds of their shared qualities as intellectual leaders distinguished for the roles they played in the establishment of distinct anthropological practices in the countries where they operated. They exerted their measure of influence by disseminating their thought through the books they penned, the vibrant communities of knowledge of which they formed part, the institutions they built (museums, research institutes, university-based academic departments), and the specialized scholarly journals they edited. Participating in wider networks of learned peers beyond their countries of civic belonging, as thinkers they "coalesced around key concepts, such as race (but, more important, anti-racism), culture, language, and transculturation" (16). Birkenmaier identifies them as Latin Americanists "who came of age in the interwar period" and who concerned themselves with two "open questions: how cultural contact had affected societies over time and in what way history of language and history of culture were related" (10).

A welcome and highly suggestive study, this book offers a sort of cultural history of a chapter in the life of a discipline as it evolved in a particular time and a specific place, with a study of the lead roles that distinct individuals played within the possibilities and constraints of their given circumstances. A German-born Hispanist specializing in the Caribbean, having previously written much on Cuban letters, Birkenmaier undertakes in this project a look at Latin America through the lens of a Caribbeanist. The cartography of her project entails travels of people and ideas among different countries and linguistic zones, including Spanish-speaking Cuba, with telling references to Mexico in tandem with Francophone and Creole-speaking Haiti. France is another key country, not only as the birthplace of Paul Rivet, one of our four main authors, but also as the former colonial overlord of Haitians. The Lusophone republic of Brazil, especially the Northeast, a region linked to the Caribbean by virtue of its plantation history, also enters center stage. Finally, we have the United States, the powerful nation north of the Rio Grande, which exerts incontestable imperial influence over the lives and works of scholars, as well as ordinary citizens throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. [End Page 125]

Birkenmaier finds Ortiz, Rivet, Roumain, and Freyre interconnected by their distinct ways of inhabiting the field of anthropology, namely their lack of a strict adherence to the tenets and research questions of the differentiated branches into which...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 124-128
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.