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The Contemporary Pacific 14.2 (2002) 516-518



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Review

An American Anthropologist in Melanesia:
A B Lewis and the Joseph N Field South Pacific Expedition, 1909-1913


An American Anthropologist in Melanesia: A B Lewis and the Joseph N Field South Pacific Expedition, 1909-1913, edited and annotated by RobertLWelsch.Volume I: Field Diaries. Volume II: Appendixes. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1998.ISBN0-8248-1644-7; xxi + 632 pages (Vol I), 287 pages (Vol II), maps, photographs, figures, bibliographies, indexes. US$125.00.

In the early twentieth century, American anthropologist A B Lewis undertook a remarkable ethnological expedition to collect objects, mainly from New Guinea, for Chicago's burgeoning Field Museum. And collect he did! Lewis returned with an astounding 14,000 items and 2,000 photographs. Pioneering though he was, Lewis's contributions to Pacific Island studies have been difficult to appreciate. But no longer. In an encyclopedic effort, Robert Welsch has masterfully compiled Lewis's field diaries and annotated them with a wealth of contextual information culled from Lewis's photos and writings, museum storerooms and archives, maps and gazettes, and his own fieldwork along the north coast of Papua NewGuinea. This innovative two-volume work is important for anthropology, history, museology, and material culture studies. It offers a comprehensive, textual and pictographic view of a pivotal era in Pacific studies, showing how early twentieth-century science quite literally "saw" Pacific Islanders and their things.

Volume I opens with an introduction that contextualizes the Joseph N Field South Pacific Expedition of 1909-1913 in the history of anthropology and ethnological collecting, and sketches the intellectual biography of Lewis. The bulk of the volume contains slightly edited, footnoted versions of Lewis's seven field diaries, with a huge and stunning assortment of photos from Fiji, Humboldt Bay and the north coast of German New Guinea,West New Britain and the Huon Gulf, the Sepik, Gazelle Peninsula and Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Papua, Admiralty Islands, and Dutch New Guinea. An excellent historical introduction accompanies each diary, enhanced by the inclusion of letters sent by Lewis from the "field." Particularly impressive isWelsch's keen sense for the colonial setting of these extraordinary collecting journeys and the scientific outlook of the era that framed Lewis's endeavors. A brief conclusion to Volume I summarizes the contributions made by Lewis and his collection to the history of anthropology. Welsch capably puts to rest any notion that there is, or was, such a thing as mere collecting: all collecting is thoroughly motivated by theory, however unstated, and history. In a nuanced discussion,Welsch explains the diminutive status of A B Lewis today: as Lewis unpacked his crates in Chicago, Malinowski was in the Trobriand Islands, initiating the theory [End Page 516] of functionalism that would replace the eclectic, extensive, typological, and historical vision of Lewis and what Welsch calls the "expeditionary period" of ethnology. Lewis's gaze today may seem dilettantish but it combined a rigorous attention to detail and a commitment to science with a sweeping appreciation for human diversity and culture history.

The diaries are fascinating for what they contain—and omit. Lewis comes across as a pragmatic hero of the old school, pursing his dispassionate, descriptive science despite the travails of transportation, food, and illness. The sheer quantity of Lewis's data is awesome. Indeed, these diaries are all about "data," as it was defined in the early twentieth century. They are spartan "aides-mémoire," simple declarative sentences lacking rhetorical flourish and scandalous Malinowskian introspection.What we learn about Lewis-the-man is what we glean from Lewis-the-scientist.

Welsch's organization of Lewis's diaries, letters, and photos presents the material as a multiple-voiced conversation about the meaning of material culture in the early—and late—twentieth century. The diaries concern the day-to-day logistics and mundane details of colonial fieldwork. But they also contain a wealth of clues about the emergence of anthropology, fieldwork, and early twentieth century social...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 516-518
Launched on MUSE
2002-07-01
Open Access
No
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