Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture

Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: Published: March 2010

Author: Lee D. Baker

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Native and Indigenous Studies

In the late nineteenth century, if ethnologists in the United States recognized African American culture, they often perceived it as something to be overcome and left behind. At the same time, they were committed to salvaging “disappearing” Native American culture by curating objects, narrating practices, and recording languages. In Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture, Lee D. Baker examines theories of race and culture developed by American anthropologists during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. He investigates the role that ethnologists played in creating a racial politics of culture in which Indians had a culture worthy of preservation and exhibition while African Americans did not.

Baker argues that the concept of culture developed by ethnologists to understand American Indian languages and customs in the nineteenth century formed the basis of the anthropological concept of race eventually used to confront “the Negro problem” in the twentieth century. As he explores the implications of anthropology’s different approaches to African Americans and Native Americans, and the field’s different but overlapping theories of race and culture, Baker delves into the careers of prominent anthropologists and ethnologists, including James Mooney Jr., Frederic W. Putnam, Daniel G. Brinton, and Franz Boas. His analysis takes into account not only scientific societies, journals, museums, and universities, but also the development of sociology in the United States, African American and Native American activists and intellectuals, philanthropy, the media, and government entities from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the Supreme Court. In Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Culture, Baker tells how anthropology has both responded to and helped shape ideas about race and culture in the United States, and how its ideas have been appropriated (and misappropriated) to wildly different ends.


“By painstakingly sorting out the often overly synonymous and intertwining meanings of culture and race, Baker presents a refined understanding of what these concepts meant in alternating and overlapping contexts, including their more popular and political usages over a crucially formative period of anthropological history.” — Joshua Smith, Histories of Anthropology Annual

“The central question that runs through the four finely etched essays in Lee Baker’s new volume is why American anthropologists of the first half of the twentieth century applied such different terms and considerations to Native Americans and African Americans -- and what the legacy of this pattern has been for the discipline and profession.” — Curtis M. Hinsley, Journal of Anthropological Research

“This exceptionally thorough, well-documented volume highlights limitations and possibilities of anthropology as a discipline, and argues strongly for anthropology’s longstanding—albeit seldom acknowledged—influence on public policies on race. . . . Recommended.” — S. D. Glazier, CHOICE

“[A] many-layered analysis. . . . As Baker documents, since the 1950s white-supremacist and anti-Semitic organizations have argued for the existence of a Boas conspiracy that promotes racial amalgamation, degeneration, and equality. The tangled roots of race and culture, Baker argues, continue to trip us up.”
— Julia E. Liss, Journal of American History

“Baker convincingly shows anthropology's role in a struggle to move the nation from a biological understanding of race. . . [A]n entirely brilliant book.” — Anthony J. Lemelle Jr., Journal of African American Studies

“Lee Baker is almost peerless as a social, political, and intellectual historian of anthropology, its entanglements with emerging ideas like race and culture, and its collisions with public policy and the law. . . . The book is a great read, filled with engaging untold stories gleaned from archives and primary documents.” — Brett Williams, American Anthropologist

“Written with an ironic sense of humor, Baker succeeds in ferreting out little known material and enhances and broadens our understanding of the history of anthropology as well as the discipline’s relationship to past and present political currents.” — Vernon J. Williams Jr., American Studies

“In these fascinating essays, Lee D. Baker interrogates several key dichotomies (culture/race, Native Americans/African Americans, anthropology/sociology) to cast new light on the history of American anthropology. He asks anthropologists to think again about the peculiar combination of progressive and conservative arguments that anthropological theories of culture and race seem always to reproduce.” — Richard Handler, University of Virginia

“In this smart and provocative book, Lee D. Baker takes on a terribly important topic: the transformations in the discipline of anthropology as it relates to race and culture. Among other things, Baker raises very good questions about how anthropology ‘treats’ Native Americans versus African Americans. The answers aren’t going to make anyone feel good, but they are going to make people think. I learned a lot from this thoughtful work.” — Jonathan Holloway, co-editor of Black Scholars on the Line: Race, Social Science, and American Thought in the Twentieth Century

“Lee D. Baker’s new book astutely and convincingly argues for new ways of reading the ways anthropology has treated the racial politics of culture and the cultural politics of race. These precise, masterfully researched and elegantly written vignettes map new vistas for understanding the critical crucible in which Native American and African American experiences illuminate each other through academic research and institutions. Baker’s insights are fresh, basic, and important.” — Robert Warrior, President, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lee D. Baker is Dean of Academic Affairs in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Sociology, and African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896–1954 and the editor of Life in America: Identity in Everyday Experience.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface: Questions ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 1

1. Research, Reform, and Racial Uplift 33

2. Fabricating the Authentic and the Politics of the Real 66

3. Race, Relevance, and Daniel G. Brinton's Ill-fated Bid for Prominence 117

4. The Cult of Franz Boas and His "Conspiracy" to Destroy the White Race 156

Notes 221

Works Cited 235

Index 265
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4698-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4686-9
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