Accession card for Franz Boas’s first US/Berlin transaction, 1887. National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

Project (2017-2018)

Instituting Anthropology: The Circulation of Scientists and Ethnographic Materials Between North America, Germany, and Austria, 1883–1933

This project examines the impact of the circulation of, and exchanges with, German-speaking scientists on the practice and institutionalization of American cultural anthropology. With a concentration on the mutable nature of scientific inquiry and methodology, and collaborative efforts to stabilize these through material exchanges and the implementation of standardized norms over the course of time and geographic distance, research looks to migrants, their networks, and the circulation of materials as a means of understanding the development of science as a culturally contingent process shaped by the interests and material exchanges affected by those involved.

The project thesis is that the circulation of scientists and their working materials are of comparable utility for interpreting the development and institutionalization of a scientific field. Drawing upon ethnographic collections, publications, and correspondence spread across an international body of cooperating institutions, the project establishes the function of those materials as tools for the analysis of intercultural transfer, contextualizes the socio-political and professional agendas of migrant scientists within the development of North American anthropology, and analyzes the role of material culture and exchange networks in effecting scientific change and/or continuity.