Reinhard Johler, Christian Marchetti, Monique Scheer, eds. Doing Anthropology in Wartime and War Zones: World War I and the Cultural Sciences in Europe. Bielefeld: Transcript - Verlag für Kommunikation, Kultur und soziale Praxis, 2010. 392 pp. $54.95 (paper), ISBN 978-3-8376-1422-0.
Reviewed by Noah Soltau (University of Tennessee-Knoxville)
Published on H-German (August, 2011)
Commissioned by Benita Blessing
Creating Identity and Studying the Enemy: Anthropology at War
In Doing Anthropology in Wartime and War Zones: World War I and the Cultural Sciences in Europe, editors Reinhard Johler, Christian Marchetti, and Monique Scheer assemble and contribute to a collection of essays that explore the role of anthropology, ethnology, and other cultural sciences during the First World War. The essays, sixteen in total, cover three broad subjects: anthropological sciences in Europe, Austrian ethnography in the Balkans, and anthropological research in prisoner-of-war camps.The editors' introduction addresses the ethical issues raised by conducting research into "national character" and within prisoner-of-war camps, placing the contributions both theoretically and historically within a larger, interdisciplinary scholarship. The volume's vast subject matter focuses particularly on the research devoted to Austrian and German anthropology and ethnography. As the editors make clear in their detailed analysis of the relationship between anthropologists and the state during the world wars, anthropological work undertaken during World War I was at its infant stage of cultural-scientific and state cooperation. The volume also takes pains to illustrate both the liberal and illiberal sides of German anthropology, thereby obligatorily distancing their subjects, however slightly, from the atrocities of the Second World War.
Other conflicts are also present in this volume. In the first section, "Adapting to Wartime: The Anthropological Sciences in Europe," the contributors relate anthropological practices during the Great War to those social, political, or military events that surrounded it: for example, the relationship between Britain and Ireland at the turn of the century, or the military institution of anthropology during World War I and the Russian Revolution. Together, the contributions trace trends and techniques across borders of culture and conflict, which highlight the pan-European obsession with nationhood and cultural identity. These essays provide not only a discussion of anthropological techniques or developments during the war, but also a history and evolution of those techniques, institutions, and methods.
If there is a weakness in this section of the volume, it is that some of the essays raise a myriad of anthropological, social, and political questions that they do not address. This is due in part to the length of the essays: some of them are only 17-20 pages in length, with extensive footnotes that account for a large portion of that. Conversely, many of the contributions are of a more traditional length and scope, and do not leave the reader frustrated by unaddressed issues of colonial domination, racism, and eugenics. Anthropology during the long nineteenth century was fraught with racial, national, and biological assumptions, and the contributions generally address these tensions with nuance and insight.
The second section, "Constructing a War Zone: Austrian Ethnography in the Balkans," provides a varied discussion of the relationships between the Habsburg government, its satellites, and their peoples. It takes up the problems of colonialism and Orientalism (in this case, the dialectic romantic obsession with and subordination of the eastern Other), largely with nuance and critical analysis. Furthermore, this section details the methods and circumstances of ethnographic research within the empire, and situates those practices and their results within contemporary theoretical and analytical constructs. This collection of essays will be of greatest interest to those scholars concerned with colonial relationships. They provide a useful foil to that work concerned with other European nations and their non-European colonies. The contrast that the authors draw between the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the other "Great Nations" gives well-researched insight into the expanding realm of colonial scholarship.
The third and final section of the volume, "Studying the Enemy: Anthropological Research in Prisoner-of-War Camps" analyzes the most ethically and methodologically dubious challenge in the volume. Several of the contributions in this section explore the mania for detail that led anthropologists into the prisoner-of-war camps to record everything, from skin tone to chest circumference to skull length, as part of a widespread project to trace the racial origins of the many European, Slavic, and African peoples represented in the conflict. Some contributions also detail the shift in the liberal-humanist project of tracing racial origins to a common source, to the illiberal project of nationalizing race, as it appeared under the auspices of the Third Reich. What every contribution shares is significant methodological detail, and efforts to situate those methods historically. This approach shows the origins of early cultural sciences, how they contributed to the study of anthropology, their weaknesses, and how they developed or changed after the war.
Perhaps the greatest resource this volume offers, besides the unique subject matter, is its wealth of footnotes. Each contribution is thoroughly documented, so that the footnotes not only provide traceable documentation of the authors' sources, but also suggestions for further reading on other, related subjects. Occasionally, the footnotes provide selected bibliographies on unaddressed topics, such as U.S. anthropological activities during the war, and anthropological studies undertaken in Europe during the Second World War. What the volume possesses in excellent footnotes, however, it lacks in a bibliography. The reader must find all reference information within the individual texts. Scholars looking for quick, accurate access to historical sources on a particular topic will find this search frustrating.
From any critical point of view, colonial and wartime anthropology is deeply problematic, particularly as regards ethical considerations and methodology. The texts in this volume recognize the subject's multiple sites of conflict and ambiguity and address them with care and gravity. The scope of the contributions is also noteworthy, as they deal with many nation-states (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, and Britain among them), many populations (foreign, domestic, and prisoners), and many media (written observation, photographs, and audio and film recordings). Historians, anthropologists, and cultural critics and theorists can mine this volume for sources and glean useful overviews of a wide range of topics.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Noah Soltau. Review of Johler, Reinhard; Marchetti, Christian; Scheer, Monique, eds., Doing Anthropology in Wartime and War Zones: World War I and the Cultural Sciences in Europe.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
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