We have a very interesting AHA panel that explores the autobiographical dimension of anthropological writings that has been accepted to the 2008 program. We still however require a commentator to tie it all together. I've posted the panel perspectus below for your consideration. Individual abstracts can be sent along at your request. Our focus is 19th century imperial anthropology but a variety of specializations could work to bridge the complex themes addressed therein. If you are interested, or know someone who might be, please contact me ASAP. We are under deadline to ammend our submission.
7274 Bunche Hall
Westwood, CA 90095
Shaping Human History: the personal/imperial objectives of 19th century anthropological authorship
As an emerging discipline, nineteenth century anthropology sought nothing less than a fundamental knowledge of human nature, assimilating a global analysis of race, religion, and schema of social development into its totalizing narrative. Few intellectual domains were quite so epic in the scope of their hypotheses or could credential so many ensuing forms of authority in the political and social realm. At the level of its discourse, then, anthropology has been centrally implicated in the West’s material and political subordination of the non-western world. Less attention has been paid however to the internal rivalries that characterized its disciplinary discussion, subjecting its core categories to revision or outright attack.
Rather than being the construct of some impersonal regime of language, anthropology was the work of individual writers coming from their own distinctive cultural and psychological locations. Each of the papers in this panel takes as its starting point the authorship of a nineteenth century anthropological text: Gustave le Bon’s Les Civilisations de l’Inde (1886), Andrew Lang’s Cocklane and Commone Sense (1894), Joseph Davey Cunningham’s History of the Sikhs (1849), and the works of Rudolf Virchow. Drawing from British, French, and German sources, the panel offers a breadth of anthropological perspectives conceived within a variety of national disciplinary conventions – yet all within the comparative context of the mid-to-late nineteenth century.
The aim is to explore the complicated relationship between authorial intention and intellectual production, apart from and in relation to the uses these texts had as politically meaningful objects. Given anthropology’s grandiose disciplinary aims, we cannot ignore the outsized individuals compelled to grapple with its narrative. Said himself leavened his orientalist critique by affirming his belief in “the determining imprint of individual writers upon the otherwise anonymous collective body of texts.” Although Said reserved this privilege for those involved in aesthetic rather than scientific projects (that is, artists not anthropologists are potentially creative), this panel hopes to recover some of the subjective positionality of these anthropological writers, and thus, a sense of their authorial agency. Andrew Lang’s work in “psycho-folklore” was a character-driven, romantic anthropology meant to subvert contemporary Tylorean interpretations of human nature, supplanting rationality with imagination as the key to European racial virility. Joseph Davey Cunningham, an officer in the Indian army, coped with the moral crisis of the Anglo-Sikh war by writing the History of the Sikhs (1849), eliciting so subversive and sympathetic an identification with his subject, that his own British identity was forfeit and he died an outcast. Rudolph Virchow extended his vigorous fight for liberal principals into the realm of anthropology, denying any fixed hierarchy amongst the races or racial component to cultural achievement. Le Bon on the other hand re-affirmed racial hierarchy, framing a popular and patriotic anthropology that upheld France’s paternal domination of the “inferior” Dravidian peoples of southern India, securing his own pride of place in French society by that same stroke.
7274 Bunche Hall
Westwood, CA 90095
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