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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/3nrs-ch49

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Ethnographic Historicism: Senior Anthropologists' Perspectives on Fieldwork Careers


history of anthropology


collaborative research

At a time when anthropology’s historical self-consciousness can seem trapped between extremes of defensive hero-worship and paralyzing villainization, this panel explores the potential of ongoing research into the history of anthropology to enrich and inform contemporary disciplinary endeavors and move toward a more historicist reckoning with current disciplinary “histories, harms, and possibilities.” The panelists explore how the sort of “affective, historicist orientation” long advocated by George Stocking and others with respect to past projects of anthropological research can help to historicize present practices (and presentist assumptions) in contemporary anthropology. We seek an approach to past projects that goes beyond either defensiveness or triumphalism to bring critical insights to our current situation. While all the papers critically interrogate past anthropological work, some also engage in what Ira Bashkow has recently characterized as “generous” efforts to recover forgotten and marginalized anthropological projects. All seek to mobilize historical research toward the creation of productively critical, rather than merely affirmative, insights into contemporary theories and practices. Panelists address a range of historical cases that will enrich the historical consciousness of the discipline, from a reconsideration of the notorious 19th century craniological researches of Samuel George Morton that recovers the unexpected diversity of political motives in that work, to the role of Malinowskian-style ethnographic methodologies in 20th century efforts to craft contemporary Ukrainian identity narratives, to contemporary practices of “autoethnohistory” that allow practitioners to reflect upon the assumptions, approaches, and engagements that have shaped the trajectory of their fieldwork careers. A specific concern of many of the papers is the practical and conceptual engagement of anthropologists with Indigenous communities, investigating the complex ways in which colonial complicities and anti-colonial sentiments may be seen as entangled in the work of Americanist anthropologists of the mid-twentieth century, and the ramifications of this entanglement for current disciplinary practice with stakeholder communities.


Transcript English (automatic)

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