History of Anthropology

The History of Anthropology Working Group is an outgrowth of the History of Anthropology Review. Originally called the History of Anthropology Newsletter, HAR has been a nerve center for the history of anthropology for over forty years. In 2014, our editorial collective brought the newsletter into the digital age, redesigning it as an open access website with new sections and features. Over the six years since HAR’s relaunch we’ve seen the field of history of anthropology expand beyond an earlier focus on classic texts and figures to incorporate global traditions of anthropology, approaches from Indigenous Studies, STS and the History of Science, museology, library and information science, and the politics of collecting and displaying cultures. The history of studying the world’s cultures, ways of life, and systems of knowledge is vitally important as a means to address current issues, where increasing global connections do not erase significant differences.  
HAR’s editors sought a forum in which to discuss and develop the issues that drive the journal beyond what is there on the site; we’re grateful to CHSTM for providing that space. This Working Group is open to anyone who wants to reflect on the histories of anthropology—anthropologists, historians, interested others.  
Building on last year’s series of discussions on anthropology’s historical entwinement with racial science, white supremacy, and anti-racist activism, our discussions this year (2021-22) will explore the significance of anthropology’s history to its current practice. We are inviting anthropologists to choose historical texts or moments in the history of the field which they have found useful, difficult, or inspirational for their own work. Among other topics we aim to question the difference between histories of anthropology approached from inside the discipline and from outside of it, and the different ways in which critical and archival research about anthropological precedent informs current inquiry. We warmly welcome anthropologists, historians, and any other interested parties to join the conversation.

Please set your timezone at https://www.chstm.org/user

Consortium Respectful Behavior Policy

Participants at Consortium activities will treat each other with respect and consideration to create a collegial, inclusive, and professional environment that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

Participants will avoid any inappropriate actions or statements based on individual characteristics such as age, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, nationality, political affiliation, ability status, educational background, or any other characteristic protected by law. Disruptive or harassing behavior of any kind will not be tolerated. Harassment includes but is not limited to inappropriate or intimidating behavior and language, unwelcome jokes or comments, unwanted touching or attention, offensive images, photography without permission, and stalking.

Participants may send reports or concerns about violations of this policy to conduct@chstm.org.

Upcoming Meetings

  • Wednesday, December 1, 2021 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST

    This month's session will not have any readings. Instead, we will be hearing and discussing the work of some of the editors of the History of Anthropology Review who presented papers at the 2021 American Anthropological Association (AAA) and History of Science Society (HSS) conferences taking place this month.
    They'll have the chance to share their work, discuss the conference reactions, and reflect on the state of History of Anthropology as shown in these two (zoom-heavy) conferences.
    We will hear from Patricia Martins Marcos, Tracie Canada, Nick Barron, and Cameron Brinitzer, members of our editorial board and longstanding participants in the working group. Titles will be added soon.
    Please join us December 1st for a lively and multi-faceted conversation!

  • Wednesday, January 5, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Wednesday, February 2, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Wednesday, March 2, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Wednesday, April 6, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


  • Wednesday, May 4, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


Past Meetings

  • November 3, 2021

    This session, led by Elizabeth Ferry and Les Field, will consider past and present perspectives in the anthropology of value with special attention paid to the study of gold. Please find the list of readings below and all readings either hyperlinked or in the zip file. 
    Main Readings: 

  • June 2, 2021

    Session 7: "Visualization"
    This session, led by Abigail Nieves Delgado and Iris Clever, will take a broad view of visualization from the 18th to 20th centuries across a range of traditions. Please find the list of readings below and all readings either hyperlinked or in the zip file.
    Main Readings:

    • Keevak, Michael. 2011. “Taxonomies of Yellow: Linnaeus, Blumenbach, and the Making of a ‘Mongolian’ Race in the Eighteenth Century.” In Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking. Princeton University Press.
    • Qureshi, Sadiah. 2012. "Peopling the landscape: Showmen, displayed peoples and travel illustration in nineteenth-century Britain." Early Popular Visual Culture 10(1): 23-36.
    • Evans, Andrew. 2020. “‘Most Unusual’ Beauty Contests: Nordic Photographic Competitions and the Construction of a Public for German Race Science, 1926–1935,” Isis 111(2): 289-309.
    • Stinson, Catherine. 2020. “Algorithms Associating Appearance and Criminality Have a Dark Past.” Aeon, May 15, 2020. https://aeon.co/ideas/algorithms-associating-appearance-and-criminality-....

    Additional Readings

    • Sekula, Allan. 1986. “The Body and the Archive.” October 39: 3–64.

  • May 5, 2021

    Session 8: "Data futures"
    The discussion will be led by Taylor M. Moore.
    Main Readings

    • Benjamin, Ruha. 2019. Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. John Wiley & Sons, "Introduction: The New Jim Code," 1-25
    • Browne, Simone. 2015. Dark matters: On the surveillance of blackness. Duke University Press,Chapter 3, "Branding Blackness: Biometric Technology and the Surveillance of Blackness,"  89-129.
    • Dryer, Theodora, 2019. "The New Critical History of Surveillance and Human Data." Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences (2019): 556-565.
    • Karen Hao, "We read the paper that forced Timnit Gebru out of Google. Here’s what it says." MIT Technology Review, Dec 2, 2020.

    Additional Readings

    • Roberts, Dorothy, interview with "Reimagining Race, Resistance, and Technoscience." In Captivating Technology, pp. 328-348. Duke University Press, 2019 (included)
    • Battle-Baptiste, Whitney, and Brit Rusert, eds. 2018. W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America. Hudson, NY: Princeton Architectural Press (included)
    • Hanna, Alex, Emily Denton, Andrew Smart, and Jamila Smith-Loud. 2019. “Towards a Critical Race Methodology in Algorithmic Fairness.” , ArXiv:1912.03593 [Cs].
    • Lemov, Rebecca. 2017. “Anthropology’s Most Documented Man, Ca. 1947: A Prefiguration of Big Data from the Big Social Science Era.” Osiris 32 (1): 21–42. https://doi.org/10.1086/694171.
    • Müller-Wille, Staffan. 2018. “Making and Unmaking Populations.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 48 (5): 604–15. https://doi.org/10/gg4vhs

  • March 3, 2021

    Session 6: "Policing and Applied/Public Anthropology"
    Main Readings

    Additional Readings

    • Scannell, R. Joshua. 2019. “This Is Not Minority Report: Predictive Policing and Population Racism.” In Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life, edited by Ruha Benjamin, 107–29. Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9781478004493-007.
    • French, Jan Hoffman. 2013. “Rethinking Police Violence in Brazil: Unmasking the Public Secret of Race.” Latin American Politics and Society 55 (4): 161–81. https://doi.org/10/f5mbd8.
    • Karpiak, Kevin. 2016. “No Longer Merely ‘Good to Think’: The New Anthropology of Police as a Mode of Critical Thought:” Theoretical Criminology, November. https://doi.org/10/gg4vhk.
    • *Mutsaers, Paul, Jennie Simpson, and Kevin Karpiak. 2015. “The Anthropology of Police as Public Anthropology.” American Anthropologist 117 (4): 786–89. https://doi.org/10/gg4vhn.

  • February 3, 2021

    Session 5: "Racism in science"
    How does racism shape science? How has anthropology (biological and cultural) contributed to Western/European self-definitions as rational, scientifcally progressive-- and white? How do we reckon withthe fact that biologists have long claimed to recognize the abritrary, constructed nature of race, while racial categories remain central to much biological research, and remain profoundly consequential in everyday life and politics? How do race and racism-- including "eugenic scripts" (Subramaniam)-- continue to inform scientific training, careers, and content, in biology, chemistry, and environmental justice?
    In addition to discussing readings by Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Ann Morning, and Michelle Murphy (50 pages total), we want to signal last week's appointment of Alondra Nelson as "STS Czar" (or, officially, Deputy Director of the the Office of Science and Technology Policy for Science and Society) with a news clip on the announcement and brief essays in response to her book, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. The discussion will be facilitated by John Tresch.
    Main readings (provided in zipfile):

    • Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. "Anthropology and the Savage Slot: The Poetics and Politics of Otherness." In Global Transformations, pp. 7-28 (New York: Palgrave, 2003).
    • Morning, Ann. The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference (California: University of California Press, 2011); Chapter 7, "Conclusion" 219-248.
    • Murphy, Michelle. "Alterlife and Decolonial Chemical Relations." Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 4 (2017): 494–503.
    • https://abcnews.go.com/US/video/biden-picks-alondra-nelson-deputy-science-policy-chief-75299191

    Additional readings:

  • January 6, 2021

    Session 4: "Antiblackness and indigeneity"
    Main readings:

    • Patricia M. E. Lorcin, "Imperialism, Colonial Identity, and Race in Algeria 1830-1870: The Role of the French Medical Corps," Isis 90 no. 4 (1999): 653-79. https://doi.org/10/fspzkm.
    • Maile Arvin, Possessing Polynesians: The Science of Settler Colonial Whiteness in Hawai`i and Oceania (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019). https://www.dukeupress.edu/possessing-polynesians. Excerpt: Chapter 2, "Conditionally Caucasian: Polynesian Racial Classification in Early Twentieth-Century Eugenics and Physical Anthropology."

    Additional readings:

    • Warwick Anderson and Ricardo Roque, “Introduction: Imagined Laboratories: Colonial and National Racialisations in Island Southeast Asia,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 49, no. 3 (October 2018): 358–71. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022463418000309.
    • Yuko Miki, Frontiers of Citizenship: A Black and Indigenous History of Postcolonial Brazil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018). https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108277778. Excerpt: Chapter 1, "Outside of Society: Slavery and Citizenship."

  • December 2, 2020

    Session 3: "Race, slavery, ethnography"
    This session considers two very different texts—one ethnographic, one historical—that consider racism, race science, and slavery as central structures of "enlightened" industrial modernity:

    Below are suggested excerpts for a short, medium, and longer reading, depending on the time readers have available (all readings/excerpts are available in the zip file below if you are logged into your CHSTM account):

    SHORT VERSION: 56 pp

    • Thomas: introduction excerpts pp. 1-7, 14-19; chapter 1 excerpts pp. 22-32, 52-60
    • Curran: chapter 4 excerpts pp. 167-86, 190-94, 199-204


    • Thomas: add preface pp. xi-xv
    • Curran: add preface pp. ix-xi and introduction excerpt pp. 1-15

    LONG VERSION: 150 pp

    • Thomas: read full preface + introduction + chapter 1
    • Curran: read full preface + introduction + chapter 4


    For those interested in hearing the oral testimony of Tivoli Gardens community members captured by Thomas (in ch 1 excerpts), see also: https://www.tivolistories.com/bearing-witness.html.
    Additional readings:


  • November 4, 2020

    Session 2: "Race in American anthropology"
    This session focuses on work by Lee D. Baker to explore the history of American anthropology and its role in creating, reinforcing, and challenging racial categories. We selected a forthcoming piece  from Baker to capture a picture of American anthropology that is wider than its predominant figure, Franz Boas (around which many histories have been narrated). However, recognizing the continuing importance of Boas studies, we will also read an essay by Geoff Bil that reviews 3 major recent works on Boas and offers a critical evaluation of the direction Boas histories are going.
    Main readings:

    Additional readings:


  • October 7, 2020

    Please use pass code 989255 to join the meeting
    Session 1: "Anthropology and the universal liberal human"
    In this first session, led by Rosanna Dent (NJIT), we will read pieces by Ryan Cecil Jobson and Sylvia Wynter that consider how anthropology is mired by problems of the (so-called) universal liberal human. Readings for this opening session are longer than we anticipate future sessions will be (normally we aim for ~50pp max). Given the length of Wynter's piece, we have provided Elisabeth Paquette's encyclopedia article for a guide to Wynter's work. PDFs of all readings (main and additional) are provided in the "Session 1 Readings."
    Main readings:

    • Ryan Cecil Jobson, “The Case for Letting Anthropology Burn: Sociocultural Anthropology in 2019,” American Anthropologist 122, no. 2 (2020): 259–71, https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13398.
    • Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation--An Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 3 (2003): 257–337, https://doi.org/10/d2js45.

    Additional readings:

    • Elisabeth Paquette, “Wynter and Decolonization,” in Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory, ed. Michael A. Peters (Singapore: Springer, 2017), https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_476-1.
    • Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús and Jemima Pierre, “Special Section: Anthropology of White Supremacy (introduction),” American Anthropologist 122, no. 1 (2020): 65–75, https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13351.

Group Conveners

  • nmbarron's picture

    Nicholas Barron

    Nicholas Barron is an Associate Faculty of Anthropology at Mission College and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. His research interests include the history of applied anthropology and Indigenous political formations in North America. He is a managing editor with the History of Anthropology Review.


  • tjcanada's picture

    Tracie Canada

    Tracie Canada is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. She has research and teaching interests in race, sport, kinship, and the performing body.


  • pmarcos's picture

    Patrícia Martins Marcos

    Patrícia Martins Marcos is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History and Science Studies Program, University of California, San Diego.


  • jtresch's picture

    John Tresch

    John Tresch is Professor and Mellon Chair in History of Art, Science, and Folk Practice at the Warburg Institute in the University of London. He is author of The Romantic Machine: Utopian Science and Technology after Napoleon and editor-in-chief of the History of Anthropology Review.


156 Members