Four Anthropologists: An American Science in Its Early Years

Four Anthropologists: An American Science in Its Early Years

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Mark, Joan, 1981


Four Anthropologists: An American Science in Its Early Years describes the activities and work of leading American anthropologists during the years 1865–1900, before and just after the arrival of Franz Boas from Germany. Paradoxically, the achievements of the American anthropological community at that time, though acknowledged in Europe, were soon forgotten or downgraded in the United States. Using both private correspondence and published writings, Joan Mark has succeeded in unearthing the stories, achievements, and eccentricities of this unique scientific community. She describes in convincing terms the true magnitude of these pioneer American accomplishments in establishing anthropological methods and studies.

Frederic Ward Putnam, Alice C. Fletcher, Frank Hamilton Cushing, and William Henry Holmes founded, along with John Wesley Powell, the chief anthropological institutions of the United States. They pioneered the methods that dominated twentieth century anthropological work. This book gives their work the attention, evaluation, and appreciation it deserves.

Through four biographical sketches, the author shows the inner workings of a nineteenth-century scientific community, including its rivalries and struggles for recognition and power.

Putnam built up the Peabody museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the departments of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and at the University of California, also organizing the exhibits that became the nucleus of the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago.

Fletcher lived among the Omahas and Nex Perce, recording their traditions and music, while simultaneously working, as an employee of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, to get the Indians to give up their traditional ways and take on white "civilization."

Cushing, initiated into the Zuni tribe and considering himself a Zuni, developed the idea of cultural relativity.

Holmes, through his careful studies of American Indian pottery and textiles, initiated the sophisticated use of stratigraphy in archaeological studies.

Hovering around these achievements and careers is the figure of Franz Boas, at first Putnam's protégé, then the leading, if overshadowing, influence in American anthropological work.

This book is the story of the birth, growth, and legacy of American anthropologists to an important world science.