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.

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

Upcoming Meetings

  • Wednesday, September 7, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


  • Wednesday, October 5, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


  • Wednesday, November 2, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


  • Wednesday, December 7, 2022 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Wednesday, January 4, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Wednesday, February 1, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Wednesday, March 1, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EST


  • Wednesday, April 5, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


  • Wednesday, May 3, 2023 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm EDT


Past Meetings

  • May 4, 2022

    Please join us for a discussion about an overlooked moment in the history of anthropological engagements with American Indian activism with Grant Arndt, Associate Professor of Anthropology and American Indian Studies, Department of World Languages and Cultures at Iowa State University. Alongside a working draft of Arndt’s latest article, we will read and discuss related pieces from Nancy Lurie and Vine Deloria Jr.  

    • Grant Arndt. “Joining the Ongoing Struggle: Vine Deloria, Nancy Lurie, and the Quest for a Decolonial Anthropology.” [Working Draft] 
    • Vine Deloria Jr. "Anthropologists and Other Friends" from Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto   
    • Nancy Oestreich Lurie. "As Others See Us" from New University Thought. 
    • Nancy Oestreich Lurie. "Action Anthropology and the American Indian" from Anthropology and the American Indian: Report of a Symposium. 


  • April 6, 2022

    Thin Description: A Conversation with John L. Jackson Jr.
    Please join us for a discussion about the politics and poetics of ethnography, past and present, with John L. Jackson, Jr., Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania https://anthropology.sas.upenn.edu/people/john-l-jr-jackson
    Main Readings (included as PDF):

    • John L. Jackson, Jr., Thin Description: Ethnography and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, Harvard University Press, 2013. Chapters 1-4 and 20 ("Thin") (1-38, 149-155)
    • Clifford Geertz, "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture," 1973, 14 pp.
    • John L. Jackson, Jr. "Bewitched by Boas," 18-22, in Hau- Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7, no. 3 (2017): 18-22.

    Additional readings (also included as PDF):

    • Jackson, Thin Description, Chapter 5, "Chicago."
    • The rest of the special section of Hau which contains "Why do we read the classics?" with pieces by Fred Myers, Anastasia Piliavsky, Yarimar Bonilla, Adia Benton, and Paul Stoller. Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7, no. 3 (2017): 1-38.


  • March 2, 2022

    A discussion with Anand Pandian, Professor and Department Chair of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University, on relations between current anthropological practice and the discipline's history.
    -Anand Pandian, "A Method of Experience: Reading, Writing, Teaching, Fieldwork," pp.44-76, in A Possible Anthropology: Methods for Uneasy Times (Duke, 2019). Attached below.
    -Claude Levi-Strauss, from Tristes Tropiques (John and Doreen Weightman, trans., NY, Atheneum, 1975): "The Quest for Power" (37-45); and "The Making of an Anthropologist" (51-61), Scanned in zip file below; full text of Tristes Tropiques is available here for borrowing.
    NOTE: this session will end fifteen minutes earlier than usual (1:15 pm EST) to allow for Professor Pandian's teaching schedule.

  • February 2, 2022

    Multi-Species Anthropology: An Open Discussion
    This session will discuss excerpts from two recent works of "multispecies anthropology": Anna Tsing's The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015), and Radhika Govindrajan's Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India's Central Himalayas (2018).
    These books have been much discussed among anthropologists and historians of science (and "the human" sciences); they mark an intriguing turn in anthropology toward ethnography beyond the human.
    In our planning for this session, other candidates were raised for discussion--  including Donna Haraway on primates and companions, Gergory Bateson on cats, wolves, and octopi, Japanese primatology, Konrad Lorenz, Marisol de la Cadena, Stefan Helmreich, Tim Ingold,Geof Bil and Harold Conklin on Ethnobotany,  Marcy Norton on chickens and Quetzal, Rousseau on orangoutans-- and many more.
    We look forward to discussing these two texts informally, while asking how to situate multispecies ethnography within the longer history of anthropology.
    Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World:On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015), vii-9
    Radhika Govindrajan's Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India's Central Himalayas (2018), Chapter 2, 31-61; (and optional: Chapt 3, 91-118; Chapt 5, 119-145).
    Looking forward to seeing you there.

  • December 1, 2021

    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.
    Patricia Martins Marcos: Racialized Knowledges: Manipulating Nature, Blackness, and Epistemic Disciplining in the Portuguese Inquisition.
    Tracie Canada: From panel: Vindication, Imagination, and Decolonization: African Americans and the Experience of Anthropology (George W. Stocking, Jr. Symposium)
    Nick Barron: Cultural Islands: The Pluralistic Politics of Anthropology
    Cameron Brinitzer : Social Learning Mechanisms: The Evolution of Culture and Its Sciences.
    Others TBA
    Please join us December 1st for a lively and multi-faceted conversation!

  • 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:

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 an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University. She has research and teaching interests in race, sport, kinship, and the performing body.


  • rdent's picture

    Rosanna Dent

    Rosanna Dent is an assistant professor at NJIT, where she teaches courses on the history of science, medicine, and technology, with an emphasis on the global South. She is currently working on a book manuscript on the history of twentieth century research in Xavante (Indigenous) communities in Central Brazil. The book examines how a half-century of iterative interactions of scholars and community members have shaped knowledge production as well as the political and social realities of both subjects and scholars. 


  • 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.


  • Brigid Prial


  • 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.


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