Han F. Vermeulen. Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment. 746pp., illus., notes, refs. cited, index. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. $75 (hardcover)
You will not find much curiosity among the Norse settlers in Greenland to observe, describe, and understand the clothing, tools, rituals, and legends of the skraelings. This derogatory term for the Greenlandic Inuit practically bracketed curiosity, signaled that there was nothing there to learn at all, but only a people to be feared and, one hoped, defeated. This has been the default stance toward other peoples, particularly peoples at an apparently lower stage of social and technical development, throughout most of human history, with classic works such as Tacitus’s Germania, in which the northern heathen tribes are described in some detail, standing more as an exception than a rule.
Marc Flandreau. Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: A Financial History of Victorian Science. 421pp., 12 halftones, notes, sources, works cited, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. $105 (cloth), $35 (paper), $10-35 (e-book options)
Note: This review first appeared in the Times Literary Supplement (no. 5943, 24 February 2017, pp. 9-10) with the title “The Cannibal Club: How Victorian Anthropologists Tried to Defraud the Financial Markets” and is reprinted with permission of TLS and the author.
When the American railway engineer George Earl Church visited La Paz in 1868, it was to lay the groundwork for a grandiose scheme to build a railway through Bolivia’s rainforested border with Brazil, allowing its natural resources to be exported via the Amazon River. After several more stops, Church was in London where he got himself elected to the Royal Geographical Society, lending a sheen of scientific credibility to what was in fact a financial scam. No railway was built, but the scheme was a marvel of financial engineering. After Church signed the loan contract in Bolivia’s name, bonds to fund the loan were sold to English investors. These bonds traded on the London Stock Exchange.
Audra Simpson. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States. 280pp., 4 illus., app., notes, refs., index. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. $89.95 (cloth), $24.95 (paperback)
Audra Simpson’s Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of the Settler States (2014) explores the complexities of Mohawk sovereignty along the U.S.-Canadian border offering critical insights into the fraught past and present relationships between Indigenous and settler societies. Focusing on Kahnawà:ke, a Mohawk Indian reserve located in present-day Canada with ties to the Iroquois Confederacy whose territories interrupt the current settler-colonial nation-state border, Simpson begins her inquiry with three interdigitating claims that reemerge throughout the book. First, Simpson challenges readers to see that a sovereign entity can exist within another (10). This “nested” conception of sovereignty compels us to recognize that when Indigenous political orders prevail in the present, they do so, seemingly paradoxically, “within and apart from settler governance” (11). Second, Simpson offers a critique of the dominant and narrow politics of recognition that confines Indigenous peoples and their rights to essentialized and discernable forms of cultural difference (11, 20). Throughout the book, we see cases in which Mohawk peoples “refuse” this paradigm and the inherent power asymmetries that it works to reproduce and naturalize.
Joan M. Jensen and Michelle Wick Patterson (Editors). Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies. 464 pp., illus., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. $75 (hardcover)
Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies draws together a biography of the twentieth century anthropologist with a compilation of both new and previously published works on Densmore’s professional heritage. Although both parts of the book span much of Densmore’s career, Joan M. Jensen and Michelle Wick Patterson contend that the book is not intended to be comprehensive. Instead, they ask the reader to consider Travels with Frances Densmore a “travel guide” through the anthropologist’s remarkably productive career as well as the broader professional, social, and political contexts in which she worked.
Amos Morris-Reich. Race and Photography: Racial Photography as Scientific Evidence, 1876-1980. 320pp., 72 halftones, notes, index. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. $97.50 (cloth), $32.50 (paper), $10-32.50 (e-book options)
Photography was a major medium in racial science and Amos Morris-Reich, a professor at the University of Haifa, has written Race and Photography to show how racial scientists used photographs as evidence. He presents his subject not as a history of anti-Semitic pseudoscience or propaganda but as a history of science that aims to take seriously the role of photographs in books about race. The starting point is his “practical epistemology” (4): a study of photography that looks at scientific practices rather than at theories for their underlying epistemological assumptions. This means that Morris-Reich’s analysis consists of close readings of photographs and their position in publications, paying attention to things as varied as photographic angles, publication quality, the order of photographs, and the way in which they connect to the written text.
Terry A. Barnhart. American Antiquities: Revisiting the Origins of American Archaeology. 594pp., illus., bibl., index. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. $75 (hardcover)
The ancient inhabitants of the United States left artifacts and structures across the continent, from Florida to the Great Lakes and Chaco Canyon to Puget Sound. Today’s archaeologists study how these populations moved, changed, and interacted, using material traces to understand the lives of their makers. The current professional consensus as to how archaeology is done and what it tells us about America’s past did not emerge in a linear fashion. Terry Barnhart’s American Antiquities chronicles the “organic and altogether untidy process” (1) by which antiquarian interest in Indian mounds, and speculation about their non-Indian origins, transmuted into the work of scientific societies, state-sponsored surveys, museums, and ultimately an academic discipline at pains to escape the burden of its own history.
Tracy Teslow. Constructing Race: The Science of Bodies and Cultures in American Anthropology. xiii + 399pp., bibl., index. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. $129 (hardback), $29.99 (paperback), $24 (e-book)
Historians have argued that racial science and theories of biological determinism disappeared from academia after 1945. Under pressure from forces within academia and without, biological anthropologists turned their attention to population studies while cultural anthropologists produced nuanced studies of non-western cultures. More recently, however, historians of racial science such as Veronika Lipphardt and Alice Conklin have criticized and complicated this teleological narrative and have suggested that it is the result of post-war anthropologists distancing themselves from a disreputable past. Tracy Teslow’s Constructing Race: The Science of Bodies and Cultures in American Anthropology is a crucial contribution to this revisionist historiography. Teslow details the history of American anthropology between 1900 and 1960, which, according to her, has been understudied and misinterpreted. Rather than presenting a smooth success story of the triumph of cultural relativism in anthropology, Constructing Race shows the messiness and complexity of this history.
Edvard Hviding and Cato Berg (Editors). The Ethnographic Experiment: A.M. Hocart and W.H.R. Rivers in Island Melanesia, 1908. 320 pp., illus., bibl., index, apps. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2014. $120 (hardback), $34.95 (paperback)
British anthropology’s founding myth is that Malinowski was the first to pioneer intensive fieldwork methods. The eight chapters in this absorbing edited volume present the view that it was within the important—but largely forgotten—Percy Sladen Trust expedition to the Solomon Islands in 1908 that professional anthropologists first undertook such an “ethnographic experiment.” The authors focus on expedition members W.H.R. Rivers and A.M. Hocart, who carried out ethnographic research on Simbo and Vella Lavella, New Georgia province. It is perhaps Rivers who is the more famous of the pair, due to his pioneering work on ‘shellshock’ during World War I. However Rivers’s legacy within anthropology has been more ambivalent than that of Hocart who has lately been lauded for his theoretical contributions, which had particular influence on Louis Dumont and Marshall Sahlins. In an introduction to Sahlins’s recent lecture in his honour, Hocart was heralded as “the Foucault before Foucault, the Latour before Latour.” Hocart’s later work may be deemed as pre-empting postmodern critique by suggesting that a cosmic-political imagination is prior to historically-particular categories, divisions, and techniques of organisation whilst rejecting a radical break between pre-modern and modern, magic and rationality. The third member of the expedition, G.C. Wheeler, left Hocart and Rivers after two months to carry out independent fieldwork in the Shortland Islands. Although Wheeler’s fieldwork is acknowledged by the editors to be “by far the most extensive” of the trio, he did not achieve similar fame. In focusing on Rivers and Hocart, this volume does little to address Wheeler’s obscurity.
David H. Price. Cold War Anthropology: The CIA, the Pentagon, and the Growth of Dual Use Anthropology. 488 pp., illus., bibl., index. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. $104.95 (cloth), $29.95 (paperback)
Price’s careful and morally centered narrative concludes a trilogy of works describing various relationships between American anthropologists and intelligence agencies in the United States from World War II through the Vietnam War. His preceding volumes discussed anthropologists working for the state during WWII and the persecution of anthropologists under McCarthyism; this volume hones in on arguably the prickliest territory of the three, describing covert and overt relationships between military/intelligence agencies and anthropologists from the close of WWII through the Vietnam War.
Herbert S. Lewis. In Defense of Anthropology: An Investigation of the Critique of Anthropology. xvii + 244 pp., bibl., index. New Brunswick: Transaction, 2013. $69.95 (hardcover)
For years, Herbert Lewis has defended classical anthropology (meaning here American cultural anthropology produced in the first half of the twentieth century) from postmodern and postcolonial critique. This volume collects eight of Lewis’s essays on this subject, and also includes an original piece written especially for the volume. For those sympathetic with Lewis’s claims, this volume will be welcome. However, Lewis’s strident tone will probably not sway the unconvinced, much less those critical of classical anthropology.