Symposium: Anthropology of Expeditions: Travel, Visualities, After-Lives


Thursday, February 2, 2012 – Friday, February 3, 2012


Thursday, 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Friday, 9:30 am – 6:00 pm


BGC, 38 West 86th Street

212.501.3019, academicevents@bgc.bard.edu



Registration is now closed for this event.

Between the 1890s and 1930s, innumerable collecting expeditions traversed the globe in pursuit of scientific facts and specimens for natural history and the allied field of anthropology. This symposium draws together scholars working on the anthropology of expeditions and their collected natural and cultural materials. There was tremendous diversity in the size, length, and organization of expeditions; some fieldworkers traveled solo for years in familiar places, while others formed specialized caravans which set foot for a fortnight along untraveled paths. Itineraries were structured by engagements with bureaucrats, local intermediaries, and native collectors who played central roles in shaping the collections shipped from the field. This symposium is organized around three themes which explore the fieldwork of expeditions, the material culture of exploration, and the dispersal of collections. Travel and assemblage considers the narratives, technologies, and collecting habits of expedition members.  Visualities examines the processes and encounters of artistic work in the field and the research and exhibitions that were the outcome of those labors. And, after-lives and reassemblage assesses the research, and exhibition potential of expedition objects, archived documentation, and photographs for museums of natural history and anthropology. Although dreams of totality were the rationale of most expeditions, the papers presented here highlight their idiosyncrasies and unexpected outcomes, and the bearing they could have for histories of the natural sciences and anthropology.


Conference Schedule

Thursday, February  2, 2012


Science as Adventure

6:00 PM - 8:00 PM         

Henrika Kuklick, University of Pennsylvania 


Friday, February 3, 2012

9:30 AM - 10:00 AM: Coffee + Tea

Panel I: Travel and Assemblage  10:00 AM -12:00 PM


A Most Solitary Expeditionist: Berthold Laufer Collecting China    
Laurel Kendall, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History

Love, Lineage, and the Transmigration of Souls during the Gansu Adventure of Joseph Rock, Li Shichen, He Shuishan, Zhao Zhongdian, et al., 1924-1927
Erik Mueggler, University of Michigan

12:00 PM - 1:30 PM: Lunch Break

Panel II: Visualities 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM


In the Field / En Plein Air:  The Art of Anthropological Display at the American Museum of Natural History, 1905–30
Ira Jacknis, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum, University of California, Berkeley

Different Types: Dealing with Marguerite Milward’s Sculptural Odyssey
Mark Elliott, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, UK

3:30 PM - 4:00 PM: Coffee + Tea

Panel III: After-Lives and Reassemblage 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM


The Lives of 'Sweet' Things: Performances of the 1928 USDA Sugarcane Expedition Collections
Joshua Bell, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Orphaned Collections, Data Cemeteries and Himalayan Archives:
The Ebb and Flow of Digital Documents from the Field

Mark Turin, Digital Himalaya Project and World Oral Literature Project, University of Cambridge and Yale University

6:00 PM: Reception 


February 2, 2012


Science as Adventure
Henrika Kuklick, University of Pennsylvania

In his recent survey of those who pursued understanding of the natural world for more than two centuries, The Species Seekers (2011), the popular science writer Richard Conniff represents nature study as a sort of divine madness.  Its practitioners were literally prepared to risk life and limb—even to interrupt their participation in military battle—in order to capture a specimen of some previously unknown variety of snake or beetle.  The divine was not far from their minds:  to inventory the world’s species was to document God’s creation (which was, after all, considered finite until the nineteenth century).  But naturalist’s activities were also animated by sheer love of adventure; that a lion might devour most of a fieldworker’s arm somehow added value to his pursuit of knowledge, rather than discouraging him from his research.

Conniff’s analysis certainly has some merit:  there are persons who delight in stalking dangerous creatures, just as there are persons whose risk-taking behavior goes no further than doing really difficult crossword puzzles.  But in science the really important question is how to justify belief observers’ reports.  The laboratory scientist whose experiments fail can always fall back on what Harry Collins has termed “the experimenter’s regress”:  some unforeseen circumstantial peculiarity (dirty glassware, unusually high humidity, and so on) caused unanticipated results.  The field scientist can deploy what Gregory Raddick calls  “the fieldworker’s regress”:  natural events in the field are inevitably transitory.  As Margaret Mead, for example, repeatedly reminded her critics (obviously, Derek Freeman in particular), her observations in Samoa in the 1920s could not possibly be replicated decades later, since Samoa itself had changed.  Thereby hangs my tale.  Field scientists as adventurers are essentially establishing their credibility:  it is because they act heroically that their testimonials can be believed.  This argument will be elaborated in my paper. 


February 3, 2012

 Panel I: Travel and Assemblage
A Most Solitary Expeditionist: Berthold Laufer Collecting China
Laurel Kendall, Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History 

As the leader of the Jacob H. Schiff Expedition (1901-1904,) Berthold Laufer was charged with making a collection that would embrace the historical depth and cultural sophistication of “China.”  By every indication, Laufer worked alone in a manner very different from the military connotations of the term “expedition” but with an ambitious itinerary that would distinguish his efforts from the sedentary fieldwork that would come to characterize anthropology for most of the 21st Century.  What then does “expedition” mean in Laufer’s case?  How did this early 20thcentury ethnologist structure and attempt to execute his ambitious project?  In what ways was the resulting collection colored by the tastes and interests of this omnivorous, erudite, and in some instances eccentric sinologist as well as by the institutional priorities of his sponsor, the American Museum of Natural History and his mentor, Franz Boas? How did Laufer proceed with this charge in the field and how were his initial intentions refigured by the opportunities, frustrations, and pure serendipity of collecting in China circa 1900?  This paper uses Laufer’s field correspondence and the record of his collections in the American Museum of Natural History to reconstruct the diverse practices subsumed by his mandate to make a “collection” in and of China.


Love,  Lineage, and the Transmigration of Souls during the Gansu Adventure of Joseph Rock, Li Shichen, He Shuishan, ZhaoZhongdian, et al., 1924-1927 
Erik Mueggler, University of Michigan

From 1924  to 1927, botanist Joseph Francis Charles Rock undertook an expedition for Harvard's Arnold Arboretum  to Gansu province, China, which then included most of Amdo, the northeastern province of Tibet.  He traveled overland from the capital of Yunnan in a huge caravan of soldiers, muleteers, porters, and chair-bearers. Accompanying him were twelve young men from a Naxi village in Yunnan, who had already founded his career as a plant explorer by guiding him through that province on routes established by their fathers and uncles. The party settled into in a monastery town called Chone and spent two eventful years attempting to approach the great sacred mountain, Amnye Machin, hampered by war, banditry, famine and disease. This paper examines the agonized relationships between Rock and the twelve men of his entourage, several of whom later became the unacknowledged co-authors of his works on Naxi language, history and ritual.  Rock attempted to insert these young men into conflicted roles: brother and child, companion and servant, soul-mate and inferior, encountering complicated resistance at every turn.  In a region where local power and wealth were rooted in carefully-tended patrilineages, Rock envied his companions’ domestic lives while reserving his right to despise them as racial inferiors. His unconventional sexual constitution placed him outside of the connective certainties of lineage; borrowing from the Buddhist monks around him, he experimented with fantasies about the transmigration of souls as a substitute.  Some of his companions eventually offered to make him an adoptive father, but in the last instance, his complex racism defeated his longing for intimacy and connection, returning him to the road as a rootless wanderer.   


Panel II: Visualities
In the Field / En Plein Air:  The Art of Anthropological Display at the American Museum of Natural History, 1905–30.

Ira Jacknis, Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

During the early years of the 20th century, the American Museum of Natural History expanded the idea of naturalistic habitat groups and murals to their anthropological halls.  As part of their ambitious program, the museum sent both artists and anthropologists to the field to collect artifacts and visual records that could serve as the basis for the final dioramas and murals. My talk will focus on the linked series of American Indian halls completed or revised between about 1905 and 1930 (Northwest Coast, Plains, Southwest, and the small Eskimo gallery).  Most of the principal anthropologists involved­-George T. Emmons, Harlan Smith, Clark Wissler, Robert Lowie, Herbert Spinden, and Pliny Goddard­-are today relatively well-known.  On the other hand, the main artists­-Will S. Taylor, Edwin W. Deming, Louis Akin, Howard McCormick, and Mahonri Young--are largely forgotten. Among the issues to be examined will be authenticity and the representation of ethnographic reality; artifact collection for research and/or display; the use of still photography and film as visual notes; the differing approaches of anthropologist, artist, and administrator; and the competing goals of visual education in a large urban science museum.


Different Types: Dealing with Marguerite Milward’s Sculptural Odyssey 
Mark Elliott, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge

In April 1938 the British sculptor Marguerite Milward arrived in the Naga Hills, at the end of her second solo expedition through the Indian subcontinent. In three years she had produced almost 100 portraits of individual men and women, forming a kind of catalogue in sculpture of India’s different ethnic and cultural groups. Although a largely solitary endeavor, Milward’s work intersected with and was informed by the practices and theories of successive anthropologists, administrators, planters, industrialists and missionaries, who assisted her in identifying ‘good’ types and securing models for sculpture. In the years since her sculptures were acquired by the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology in 1948, the very idea of taxonomies of human types became obsolete. Milward’s sculptures became irrelevant, even embarrassing. Suffering by comparison with the collections assembled by her contemporaries, they languished in the reserve collections, off display and unstudied. This paper examines the processes and encounters through which the sculptures were produced, and continues the biography of the collection during its years in Cambridge. Decades after their production, and after so long in the oblivion of a Museum’s reserve, what relevance can these sculptures have to contemporary scholars, audiences and source communities?


Panel III: After-Lives and Re-Assemblage
The lives of 'Sweet' Things: Performances of the 1928 USDA Sugarcane Expedition Collections

Joshua Bell, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution 

In 1928 the United States Department of Agriculture, in partnership with corporate and non-US government agencies, sent three scientists and a pilot to the Territories of Papua and New Guinea to find new varieties of sugarcane with which to breed hybrid cane resistant to the mosaic virus. Successfully locating some 130 varieties of “noble” cane, and discovering two new varieties, the Expedition helped transform the global sugarcane industry. Expedition members also collected some 1,000 dried botanical specimens, 428 ethnographic objects, and an unknown number of mammal, birds and insect specimens, as well as shooting some 2,000 photographs, and 4,000 feet of 35 mm film. Motivated by solving a problem of economic botany, broader interests in science, geography, discovery and the romance of the perceived primitive also motivated these collections. Today these collections are dispersed between the two natural history museums, three archives, at least two herbariums, and in the homes of three of the participants' descendants. Weathering de-accession, a grenade attack, and outright destruction, the USDA Expedition's collections have been put to diverse ends as artifacts for display, scientific specimens, illustrations, as stock for breeding and as mementoes. Brought together, and examined individually the collections provide perspectives on the otherwise obviated collaborations with Papuans and the array of social labor that was essential to the USDA Expedition's success. Bringing these histories and relations back into view allows for the exploration of what ends the collections of expeditions were deployed, what has been lost during these performances over time, and what their re-assemblage might hold for our understanding of colonial science, and the transformed landscapes and communities of Papua New Guinea and the United States' South.


Orphaned Collections, Data Cemeteries and Himalayan Archives: The Ebb and Flow of Digital Documents from the Field
Mark Turin, University of Cambridge and Yale University

A decade ago, the Digital Himalaya project came into being as an online portal for ethnographic materials collected in the great classificatory moment of the early 20th century. Copious reels of 16mm film and thousands of photographs generated through expeditions in Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and northern India from the 1930s onwards had been consigned to deep storage on their return to Europe, little known and poorly catalogued. Moreover, while many of these colonial-era researchers had been technologically innovative, the multimodal and holistic nature of their fieldwork was not reflected in the dissemination strategies of the time: returning home, scholars were expected to produce monographs while their audio-visual collections were archived in a fragmentary manner according to the format of the recording medium. Through Digital Himalaya, I had become an agent in the rehabilitation of previously inaccessible ethnography, disseminating old collections to a global public. I was, paradoxically, a salvage ethnographer of salvage ethnography: collecting and protecting legacy materials, and connecting them with descendants of the communities where the recordings had been made. And through digitization, ‘objects’ became ‘documents’, taking on levels of authenticity and credibility that had escaped them in analogue form.



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