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Threatening Anthropology


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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A vital reminder of the importance of academic freedom, Threatening Anthropology offers a meticulously detailed account of how U.S. Cold War surveillance damaged the field of anthropology. David H. Price reveals how dozens of activist anthropologists were publicly and privately persecuted during the Red Scares of the 1940s and 1950s. He shows that it was not Communist Party membership or Marxist beliefs that attracted the most intense scrutiny from the fbi and congressional committees but rather social activism, particularly for racial justice. Demonstrating that the fbi’s focus on anthropologists lessened as activist work and Marxist analysis in the field tapered off, Price argues that the impact of McCarthyism on anthropology extended far beyond the lives of those who lost their jobs. Its messages of fear and censorship had a pervasive chilling effect on anthropological investigation. As critiques that might attract government attention were abandoned, scholarship was curtailed.

Price draws on extensive archival research including correspondence, oral histories, published sources, court hearings, and more than 30,000 pages of fbi and government memorandums released to him under the Freedom of Information Act. He describes government monitoring of activism and leftist thought on college campuses, the surveillance of specific anthropologists, and the disturbing failure of the academic community—including the American Anthropological Association—to challenge the witch hunts. Today the “war on terror” is invoked to license the government’s renewed monitoring of academic work, and it is increasingly difficult for researchers to access government documents, as Price reveals in the appendix describing his wrangling with Freedom of Information Act requests. A disquieting chronicle of censorship and its consequences in the past, Threatening Anthropology is an impassioned cautionary tale for the present.


An archival history of governmental investigations of anthropologists in the 1950s, based on over 20,000 pages of documents obtained by the author under the Freedom of Information Act.

About the Author

“An enthralling expedition into the heart of academic darkness. David H. Price brilliantly confirms that there are no depths to which policemen and professors will not sink.”—Alexander Cockburn, coeditor of CounterPunch and columnist for The Nation
“David H. Price’s painstaking account of political repression in anthropology after the Second World War is a unique contribution to the history of the field. More than that, it may foreshadow what some today may entertain. Let us hope not, but let us not be naive.”—Dell Hymes, editor of Reinventing Anthropology
“Threatening Anthropology is a bold piece of scholarship, one that breaks the silence on many issues in the American trajectory that have changed only a bit since the Cold War and—given recent indications—might still come to the foreground in such a way as to make the McCarthy era look like play.”—Laura Nader, University of California, Berkeley

Table of Contents



1 A Running Start at the Cold War: Time, Place, and Outcomes 1

2 Melville Jacobs, Albert Canwell, and the University of Washington Regents: A Message Sent 34

3 Syncopated Incompetence: The American Anthropological Association’s Reluctance to Protect Academic Freedom 50

4 Hoover’s Informer 70

5 Lessons Learned: Jacobs’s Fallout and Swadesh’s Troubles 90

6 Public Show Trials: Gene Weltfish and a Conspiracy of Silence 109

7 Bernhard Stern: “A Sense of Atrophy among Those Who Fear: 136

8 Persecuting Equality: The Travails of Jack Harris and Mary Shepardson 154

9 Estimating the FBI’s Means and Methods 169

10 Known Shades of Red: Marxist Anthropologists Who Escaped Public Show Trials 195

11 Red Diaper Babies, Suspect Agnates, Cognates, and Affines 225

12 Culture, Equality, Poverty, and Paranoia: The FBI, Oscar Lewis, and Margaret Mead 237

13 Crusading Liberals Advocating for Racial Justice: Philleo Nash and Ashley Montagu 263

14 The Suspicions of Internationalists 284

15 A Glimpse of Post-McCarthyism: FBI Surveillance and Consequences for Activism 306

16 Through a Fog Darkly: The Cold War’s Impact on Free Inquiry 341

Appendix: On Using the Freedom of Information Act 355

Notes 363

Bibliography 383

Index 405

Product Details

Price, David H.
Duke University Press
Sociology - General
United States - 20th Century
Marxist anthropology
Anthropology - General
Political Ideologies - Communism & Socialism
Blacklisting of anthropologists
United States History.
Anthropology -- United States -- History.
US History - 20th Century
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Series Volume:
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9.25 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Anthropology » Cultural Anthropology
History and Social Science » Anthropology » General
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » Politics » Leftist Studies
History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General
Science and Mathematics » Mathematics » Applied
Travel » Travel Writing » General

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Product details 448 pages Duke University Press - English 9780822333388 Reviews:
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An archival history of governmental investigations of anthropologists in the 1950s, based on over 20,000 pages of documents obtained by the author under the Freedom of Information Act.
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