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.  
This year’s series of readings focuses on anthropology’s many connections to race, racism, anti-racism, the anthropology of policing, white supremacy, and authoritarianism. They were chosen as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests and a strong wish to interrogate the field’s past, present, and future. We have sought to combine very contemporary ethnography with more historically-oriented work. The history of anthropology has become a lively object (and target) for reflection on how to confront centuries of imperial violence and racism-- legacies clearly still alive with the open return of white supremacy with the Trump presidency and other resurgent ethno-nationalisms, but also, as many critiques have made clear, built into the fabric of Western societies. 
Anthropology’s extreme relevance to these current issues is a result of the field’s intrinsic ambiguities: it has been a tool of colonialism and a key field for the development of scientific racism, as well as the central site for a scientific rebuttal of racism, and a space for romantic and utopian aspirations of all kinds. This year’s discussions, led by members of HAR’s editorial collective and open to all, seek to explore these ambiguities and aim to rethink the past of anthropology in order to contemplate its future.

Upcoming Meetings

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

  • Wednesday, November 4, 2020 12:00 pm EST

    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:


  • Wednesday, December 2, 2020 12:00 pm EST

    Session 3: "Race, slavery, ethnography"
    Main readings:

    • Thomas, Deborah A. 2019. Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation: Sovereignty, Witnessing, Repair. Durham: Duke University Press. https://www.dukeupress.edu/political-life-in-the-wake-of-the-plantation. [Selections TBA]
    • Curran, Andrew S. 2011. “The Natural History of Slavery, 1770–1802.” In The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment. Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Additional readings:

    • David Graeber, “Turning Modes of Production inside out: Or, Why Capitalism Is a Transformation of Slavery,” Critique of Anthropology 26, no. 1 (2006): 61–85, http://doi.org/10.1177/0308275X06061484.
    • Keel, Terence D. 2013. “Religion, Polygenism and the Early Science of Human Origins.” History of the Human Sciences 26 (2): 3–32.
    • Philip, Kavita. 2003. Civilizing Natures: Race, Resources, and Modernity in Colonial South India. Rutgers University Press.

  • Wednesday, January 6, 2021 12:00 pm EST

    Session 4: "Antiblackness and indigeneity"
    Main readings:

    Additional readings:

    • Anderson, Warwick, 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.
    • Miki, Yuko. 2018. Frontiers of Citizenship: A Black and Indigenous History of Postcolonial Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108277778.

  • Wednesday, February 3, 2021 12:00 pm EST

    Session 5: "Racism in science"
    Main readings:

    Additional readings:

  • Wednesday, March 3, 2021 12:00 pm EST

    Session 6: "Policing in applied/public anthropology"
    Main Readings

    • Singer, Merrill. 2000. “Why I Am Not a Public Anthropologist.” Anthropology News 41 (6): 6–7. https://doi.org/10/c74n99.
    • Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, “The Jungle Academy: Molding White Supremacy in American Police Recruits,” American Anthropologist 122, no. 1 (2020): 143–56, https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13357.
    • Smith, Christen A. 2015. “Blackness, Citizenship, and the Transnational Vertigo of Violence in the Americas.” American Anthropologist 117 (2): 384–87. https://doi.org/10/gg4vhm.

    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.

  • Wednesday, April 7, 2021 12:00 pm EDT

    Session 7: "Visualization"
    Main Readings

    Additional Readings

  • Wednesday, May 5, 2021 12:00 pm EDT

    Session 8: "Data futures"
    Main Readings

    Additional Readings

    • Hanna, Alex, Emily Denton, Andrew Smart, and Jamila Smith-Loud. 2019. “Towards a Critical Race Methodology in Algorithmic Fairness.” ArXiv:1912.03593 [Cs], December. https://doi.org/10.1145/3351095.3372826.
    • *Müller-Wille, Staffan. 2018. “Making and Unmaking Populations.” Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 48 (5): 604–15. https://doi.org/10/gg4vhs.
    • 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.


Past Meetings

  • 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

  • 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.


  • giovine's picture

    Allegra Giovine

    Allegra Giovine is an independent scholar and editor of HAR and H-SEAsia. She has a background in linguistics, history of science, digital libraries, and Southeast Asia studies, with research focusing on colonial Burma and the history of economics.


  • 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.


102 Members