Anthropology’s Collection Histories, ca. 1840-1911


Fall 2010


4th Floor Classroom


Erin Hasinoff

This course will explore the place of ethnological collections in the history of anthropology in North America and England.  In our weekly classes we will focus on a range of amateur and professional collectors—travelers, traders, dealers, military officials, missionaries, and scientists—from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, and we will trace how their collections have been the “raw data” for many of the discipline’s key paradigms (including social evolutionism, cultural relativism, and structural functionalism).  In light of renewed disciplinary concerns with material culture studies and museum collections, our readings will include theories of objects (artifacts and photographs) and collecting, contact and colonialism, collections management and archiving practices, and the “tribal” art market. The scope of the course will not be confined to any particular area of the world; our approach will be comparative as we look at collecting practices in the Americas, Asia, Oceania, and Africa.  Students will each work on the “ethnography of collecting” of an accession in the American Museum of Natural History’s Asian Ethnographic Collection.  Over the course of the semester, participants will undertake individual archival and collections-based research on the objects (and their collectors) and associated documentation in preparation for a Focus Gallery exhibition in the fall of 2012. 3 credits.