Anthropology, Philanthropy, and Empire

Maximilian Forte | 16 September 2010 at 7:09 am | Tags: anthropology, Edgar Lee Hewett, empire, equgenics, franz boas, Frederick W. Putnam, history of anthropology, John D. Rockefeller, Margaret Mead, Melville J. Herskovits, Michael Barker, NAACP, philanthropy, Rockefeller Foundation, social sciences, University of Chicago | Categories: “NOTES & QUOTES”, POLITICAL ECONOMY OF ACADEMIA | URL:

Published yesterday in Dissident Voice, Michael Barker‘s article “Foundations and Anthropology in the United States,” could be very useful reading for students, those who may not be too familiar with the role of elites in shaping and founding key pillars of American anthropology, and members of the broader public. Speaking of the latter, this article was recommended to me by a friend in Twitter. Barker’s article relies almost exclusively on Thomas C. Patterson’s A Social History of Anthropology in the United States (Berg, 2001), well worth reading in turn.

Barker’s argument is that,

“despite the cynical manner by which philanthropic elites have dominated the field of anthropology, the fruits of its study are essential to any radical movement which is intent on eradicating capitalism….in anthropology, as in many other fields of scholarship, class conscious elites have used the power of capital to manage and harness the power of knowledge. What is clear is that knowledge producing networks must be reclaimed by the majority to serve the needs of all humans. Unfortunately, to date, within many radical circles there is a collective amnesia as to the manner by which this power has been exerted; but with ample knowledge now at our fingertips this need not be the case any longer.”

He begins his account with Franz Boas, “perhaps the most important thorn in the side of the capitalist anthropological community,” cast as a quasi-nomadic outsider who was hired by Columbia University thanks to the efforts of Frederick W. Putnam. Boas anti-racist work led him to support W.E.B. Du Bois and help to form the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Boas’ anti-racism put him in direct conflict eugenists and their powerful philanthropic supporters, such as Andrew Carnegie, Mary Harriman, John D. Rockefeller, and the Kellogg family.

What follows is an outline of political conflict and controversy between anthropologists with some, such as friends of Edgar Lee Hewett, working to cut off Boas from funding. Boas’ denunciation of anthropologists working as spies (see here), “‘incensed a majority of the anthropological community in the United States.’ Consequently in early 1920, ‘Boas was forced to withdraw his candidacy for a seat on the National Research Council which was presided over by John C. Merriam, who would soon become president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington’.”


About carlos

I'm a curious person, of reasonable intellect, "on the beach" (retired) and enjoying my interest in anthropology, language, civil rights, and a few other areas. I've been a hippie/student/aerospace tech writer in the '60s, a witness to the Portuguese revolution in the ‘70s, a defense test engineer and witness to the Guatemalan genocide in the '80s, and a network engineer for an ISP in the '90s. Now I’m a student and commentator until my time is up. I've spent time under the spell of the Mesoamerican pyramids and the sweet sound of the Portuguese language. I've lived in Europe, traveled in Brazil, Central America, Iceland, New Zealand, and other places. My preferred mode of travel is with a backpack and I eat (almost) anything local. Somehow, many of the countries I have been to have had civil unrest (for which I was not responsible). I'm open to correspond with anyone who might share my liberal, humanist interests. I live in San Buenaventura, California.
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