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Anthropology and the Racial Politics of Cultureby Lee Baker
Synopses & Reviews
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.
An analysis of how anthropology has historically viewed African Americans and Native Americans differently.
An account of how anthropology has responded to and helped shape ideas about race and culture in the United States, and how its ideas have been appropriated to different ends.
About the Author
“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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History and Social Science » African American Studies » General