The Lévi-Strauss Boas Death Story

Part of the oral tradition of anthropology is that Boas died in Lévi-Strauss’s arms when Lévi-Strauss was in New York, having fled the Nazi takeover of France. There are several versions of this story: that Boas died giving a speech on racial issues, or (my favorite) that Boas’s last words were “I have a new theory of race!” But where does this story really come from? While preparing a lecture on Boas I came across the answer — the journal Études/Inuit/StudiesThe English translation of the story goes like this:

“The incident I have just related [eating dinner at Boas’s home] took place a few weeks before he died. Since I witnessed this directly, perhaps the time has come for me to describe its circumstances which will remain engraved on my memory forever. Boas was host at a luncheon at the Columbia University Faculty Club in honour of Paul Rivet, then a refugee in Columbia, who was passing through New York on a mission for General de Gaulle. I was invited along with a few other people, including Mrs. Yampolski, Boas’ daughter, Ruth Benedict, Gladys Reichard and Ralph Linton. It was December 21, 1942. The city was in the grip of a bitter cold spell and Boas arrived from Grantwood wearing an astonishing faded fur hat that must have dated back to his travels among the Eskimos. The meal began gaily; you could tell that Boas was happy to see an old friend again and to be surrounded by former students, some of whom had followed in his footsteps. The conversation was going along at a good pace when suddenly, in mid-sentence, Boas jerked violently backwards, as under the effect of an electric shock, and fell over, taking his chair with him. I was sitting next to him and hurried to help him up, but he remained motionless. Rivet, who had been an army medical officer, tried in vain to revive him; he was only able to pronounce him dead. Boas’ son Ernst, a professor at Columbia, arrived a little later. Leaving Mrs. Yampolski and him to their sorrow, we withdrew in silence, grief-stricken at the loss of the greatest ethnologist of all time.”

I think I’ve read this story elsewhere — perhaps in View From Afar? — but since I ran into it here I thought I’d post it just to confirm that the story is in fact well grounded. Lévi-Strauss was never one to turn down the opportunity to seize the mantle of past giants. For instance, he was hardly a confidante of Marcel Mauss, but he did his best to paint himself as the true inheritor of Mauss’s brand of ethnology. This story subtly reinforces the sense that Lévi-Strauss walked among giants, and hence was one himself.


My review of Victoria Stead’s “Becoming Landowners” is on available open access

I’m happy to say that my review of Victoria Stead’s Becoming Landowners is on available, open access, on the Pacific Affairs website. The sum of the article is: Setting aside my personal fondness for Tori — who is one of the most intellectually alive people I know — I think I can say with impartiality that the book is very good. There were some drawbacks for me: I personally would have preferred that it focus just on PNG, just because I’m a PNG chauvinist. I also think some readers might miscrecognize Stead’s distinction between ‘custom’ and ‘modernity’ as romantic or exorcizing. But this is definitely not the case if you read the book carefully. The book has many more strengths than weaknesses, and I especially appreciated her willingness to point out how often Papua New Guineans get the short end of the stick when it comes to resource development and industry. There is a cynical strand in the PNG literature which she is fighting against — which I probably give in to too often! — and I am really glad that she keeps us honest in this account. Overall, it’s a good book and I hope UH publishes it in a less-expensive and more accessible form.

The Golub Horizon

I’m coining a new term: The Golub Horizon. It’s the amount you have to read in order to realize that the ideas in a book aren’t new. It’s not a measure of quality, just a measure of the erudition and historical consciousness, the amount of learning required of the reader to recognize the fact that one piece of writing is, at some level, old wine in new bottles or a reinvention of the wheel. For instance, Anna Tsing’s Friction is a fine book, but it also has a very low GH: Anyone who remembers historical anthropology of the 1980 and 90s will recognize the idea that ideas move unpredictably from context to context, or that working misunderstandings collaborate cross-cultural interaction. Mario Blaser’s 2009 “The Threat of Yrmo” also has a low GH, in that it just reminds us that different people see the world differently because of their culture, and this matters in political contests. It’s also an excellent article, I don’t mean to rubbish it by any means. I just think its message is something people need to hear in every generation… and have!

Gender of the Gift is very high GH. It’s a genre-defying masterpiece. At some level all books are ultimately a meditation on the human condition, since at some level the GH is inescapable. I think of Islands of History has high GH, but of course philosophers and poets have long mused on the fact that everything sort of changes but also sort of stays the same.

As a middle aged professor, I know many people (including myself!) who at time get angry or frustrated when low-GH work becomes popular. Why take Friction seriously when you could read Islands of History? What is the point of using the term ‘ontology’ if it literally just means ‘cosmology’? But we are wrong to experience the popularity of these works as a narcissistic wound. We need to get over ourselves. In fact, people are agreeing with our understanding of the world by embracing these works. If they use slightly different language to do so, then that shouldn’t really bother us. In fact, it means with just a few simple find and replace operations on our work, we can ensure our continuing relevance by submitting our ‘new’ pieces on the political ontology of global friction to journals again… for the very first time!

“The Jews of Hawai‘i” at the East-West Center

I am bad at publicising myself. On 15 July 2018 I gave at talk at the East West Center Art Gallery on the history of the Jewish community of Hawai‘i. There is a recording of it here. I want to correct one error in the talk: The first rabbi born in Hawai‘i, afaik, is Natan Margalit.  Eventually I’m going to turn this talk into a publication of some sort… in my Copious Free Time.

Edit: You can watch the talk on Vimeo (27 Aug 2018)

Some history of anthropology titles I want to read

The summer is winding up and the list of books I’d like to read during my Copious Free Time is growing. I want to highlight them here, just so I don’t forget about them, and to let people know they’ve been published (or soon will be), since they all look to be very good.

  • In The Field: Life and Work in Cultural Anthropology by George and Sharon “Baseball Magic” Gmelch will probably offer insight into the habits and lifetimes of baby boomer anthropologists like the Gmlechs. Given their past work I’m sure this will be readable and richly ethnographic.
  • Pioneers of the Field: South Africa’s Women Anthropologists by Andrew Bank offers us chapters on Monica Wilson, Ellen Hellmann, Audrey Richards, Hilda Kuper, Winifred Hoernlé, and Eileen Krige. I think I’ve read something of Bank’s before. His subjects are certainly worth the candle — remarkable women all, with remarkable stories to boot. I’m particularly interested in Audrey Richards, and enjoyed The Fires Beneath, the recent-ish bio of Monica Wilson
  • My Butch Career: A Memoir by Esther Newton. My god is it ever not a good time to read Esther Newton? Newton’s previous autobiographical writings are fantastic, and I’m sure this will be hilarious and insightful as well.

That’s it for now… not sure I will actually get to too many of these, as I’m struggling to finish up Margaret Bruchac’s excellent Savage Kin but am already running into other obligations, and finding time to squeeze in pleasure reading is always a challenge. But a pleasure is precisely what I expect these readings to be.

(Update: I almost forgot to mention My Life As A Spy by Katherine Verdery! – AG 9 Aug 18)

Sally Falk Moore and Gilles Deleuze: Parallel Lives

I had (am having?) a discussion on Facebook about whether or not Deleuze said anything new and interesting for anthropologists trying to write ethnographies. Isn’t it the case, someone (who hasn’t asked to be Named On The Internet) claimed, that Sally Falk Moore already said all this stuff about process, change, and transformation? I was fascinated so I got together entries for Moore and Deleuze on my history of anthropology timeline.Capto_Capture 2018-07-01_07-34-12_AM

It’s remarkable how similar their lives were. They were born within one year of each other, and both had their most productive periods (publication wise) from around 1960 to 1990. Différence et Répétition was 1968, while Moore’s collected essays Law and Social Change was 1973. Actually, Anti-Oedpius was just one year before Law and Social Change but I think D&R is more like L&SC in that they are both solo-authored statements of their author’s unique outlook. Moore outlived Deleuze — at the rate she is going, she will out-live me! — but I think 1994’s Anthropology and Africa marks the point at which she began turning to other things. Her articles of reminiscences and memoirs begin in the late 1990s (not on the timeline). All of the pieces in Comparing Impossibilities that are not autobiographical are from 1998 or earlier. I don’t mean to say she isn’t still an active researcher — apparently the Haskins Lectures are forthcoming — I just mean to point out that she and Deleuze worked at roughly the same time on topics that were similar: process, change, understanding the world as mutable and not fixed and static. It was (and is) in the air. I think this is a good example of how data visualization helps us see connections that might otherwise be obscured.

Review of of Joyce Appleby’s “Shores of Knowledge”

(Trying to keep track of my reading — so here is a quick review of my in-flight reading from #ASAO2018)

As with her previous books, Appleby’s history of European science seen from the angle of discovery and colonization is lucid and well-organized. It will be of interest to anyone who wants a broad and easy overview of the period from Columbus to Darwin, whether they are high school students or nonfiction buffs. The book works chronologically, walking through the biographies of the best-known thinkers from each period. Appleby expertly cherry-picks the literature to provide good summaries from well-respected sources. Although the focus is on European exploration, there are enough digressions into astronomy and chemistry to make this more than just an account geography and voyaging — although note that philology and religious studies are not covered. Overall, Appleby’s book went down easy and filled in several gaps in my knowledge. It made great in-flight reading. Those looking for an introduction to this topic, or something to string all the pieces together will enjoy this well-written volume, but people wanting to go deeper into the literature or already know something about it will be better served looking elsewhere.

January 2018 updates to timeline

I’ve updated the History of Anthropology timeline! Here are the changes:
– Added Nancy Munn and Terry Turner (as Terence Turner)
– Added some extra dates to Mead, Sapir, and Benedict in the mid-1920s.

– Added dates to Victor Turner from Larsen’s Slain God and other works.

– Added additional dates for Kathleen Gough and Laura Nader
– Added Talal Asad

– Added dates for Eric Wolf, Julian Steward, Michelle Rosaldo
– Added Sherry Ortner

– Added St. Clair Drake
– Added dates to Faye Harrison, George Marcus, Michael Fisher, and others
– Added dates to Rolph Trouillot
– Added dates to Gayle Rubin

– Added dates to Aihwa Ong
– Added dates to Paul Rabinow

– Added Anna Tsing

– Added Audrey Richards

As always, there are also minor corrections to dates and sourcing as well.

June 2017 updates to the history of anthropology timeline

A quick update on my history of anthropology time line: There is now an ‘official’ homepage for the timeline which explains how the tags, etc. are used in it. From now on, the ‘change log’ for new entries will just be my blog with the ‘timeline’ tag.

Changes as of today:

• For birthdays before 1911: added day of birth when missing, corrected colors for birthdate. Removed dupes.

• Changed display setting to ‘cascade unbroken groups from top’

• Random correction of people’s names (‘Malinowski’ for ‘Mal’ e.g.)

• Added date range of World Columbian Exposition

• For Ph.D.s awarded prior to 1957: corrected color, added citation

• Removed duplicate entity “Lévi-Strauss”. From now on I’ll just use Claude Lévi-Strauss

• Changed ‘Jo Comaroff’ to ‘John Comaroff’

• Other minor changes and corrections

• Removed dupes from publications

• corrected institutional event classified in publication arc

• Added dates for HRAF, CIMA, and a few more dates for George Murdock

• Added publications by Laura Nader

• Created Siegfried Nadel and added biographical dates

• Corrected color for Malinowski publications

• Corrected color for A.R. Radcliffe-Brown events and publications. Added 2 dates as well.

• Gregory Bateson added to timeline

• Added dates to Fei Xiaotong

• Added dates for W Lloyd Warner

• Added dates for Hal Conklin from Dove AA obit

• Added A.C. Haddon and Torres Straits

• Added C.G. Seligman

• Added W.H.R rivers

• Added Valerio Valeri

• Clarified dates and titles of Boas’s first positions at Columbia

• Added two earliest Ph.D.s Chamberlin and Dorsey

• Added Putnam’s chairship at Harvard (these are all from Voegelin 1950 Am Anth in Am Unis)

• Added founding date of Peabody

• Added early Uk dates and Oxford dates

• Added Michelle Rosaldo

• Added dates to Renato Rosaldo

• Added Carlos Castañeda

• Cleaned up and added dates for Victor Turner and Clifford Geertz

• Added Michael M.J. Fischer (as Michael Fischer)

• Added George Marcus and Late Editions dates

• Added LSE dates (including Westermark and Rockefeller)

• Removed duplicate person ‘Appadurai’

• Created color ‘tan’ for oceania

• Began using colors more strictly. Events nor color coded on location. In the past they were coded based on colonial posession – i.e. PNG events were yellow b/c it is/was commonwealth/British empire. Need to do more of this work.

• Added some French dates and Victor Turner publications. General cleanup.

• Added Jack Goody

• Added some ABA dates, including rought dates for Johnetta Cole, Faye Harrison, Irma McClaurin, etc.

Valerio Valeri: Tables of Contents

If you are like me, you are constantly forgetting which of the two edited volumes of Valerio Valeri’s work an essay is in. And you usually do it when you’re not in the same room as your copy of Fragments of Forests and Libraries. Basically, Fragments covers more of the Hualu end of things, while Rites has more Hawai‘i stuff in it. Here are the tables of contents for both volumes in case you forget:

Rites and Annals


by Marshall Sahlins
Editor’s introduction (with acknowledgments)
by Rupert Stasch
Chapter I: Kingship

Chapter II: The conquerer becomes king

Chapter III: The transformation of a transformation

Chapter IV: Constitutive history

Chapter V: Diarchy and history in Hawaii and Tonga

Chapter VI: Death in heaven

Chapter VII: Descendants of brother and sister in Oceania

Chapter VIII: Cosmogonic myths and order

Chapter IX: Rite

Chapter X: The power of gods, the laughter of men

Chapter XI: Ceremonial

Chapter XII: Mourning

I. Belief and worship

II. Feasting and festivity

III. The fetish
Fragments from Forests and Libraries

1. Feasting and Festivity
2. The Fetish
3. Belief and Worship
4. The Solomon Islands Discovered by the Europeans: From the Social Contract to Utilitarianism
5. Parts and Wholes: Social and Conceptual Dualism in the Central Moluccas
6. Notes on the meaning of Marriage Prestations among the Hualu of Seram
7. Buying Women But Not Selling Them: Gift and Commodity Exchange in Hualulu Alliance
8. Both Nature and Culture: Reflections on Menstrual and Partutritional Taboos in Hualu (Seram)
9. Those Who Have Seen Blood: The Memory of Sacrifice in Hualu Initiation
10. Wild Victims: Hunting as Sacrifice and Sacrifice as Hunting in Hualu
11. Autonomy and Heternomy in the Kahua Ritual: A Short Meditation on Hualu Society
12. Temporal Forms of Society: Chronological and Subjective Time, Mythical and HIstorical Time among the Hualua (Eastern Indonesia)
13. Prometheus In The Rainforest; Does Colecting Exist in Hualu
14. ‘Our Ancestors Spoke Little’: Knowledge and Social Forms in Hualu
15. On the Train to Chicago, via Paris: Confessions of an Idiosynratic Anthropologist
16. Fieldwork Yesterday and Today: The Future of Anthropologists