Great Books Chosen by Harvard Anthropologists
For over 140 years the collections of Tozzer Library have played an important role in shaping generations of anthropologists. In this virtual exhibition, which grew out of a 2006 celebration marking the addition of the quarter millionth volume to Tozzer Library, Harvard anthropologists (including faculty and graduates of the Anthropology Department and the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, and Peabody Museum curators) describe, in their own words, books that have inspired or guided or enlightened their scholarship and teaching.
Harvard anthropologists, wherever they may be, are invited to suggest a book for this online exhibition. Send your book title along with a brief statement explaining why it is important to you, to Janet Steins (email@example.com), Associate Librarian for Collections in Tozzer Library.
Selections are listed alphabetically by the last name of the contributor. The title of each selection is followed by a HOLLIS number that is a link to the full view of the catalog record.
The following individuals have made a contribution to this page.
The following authors are mentioned on this page.
Monni Adams, Peabody Museum
The Raw & the Cooked (translation of Cru et le cuit)
004561567 (see HOLLIS for other editions and reprints)
The author recognizes the cognitive complexities in myths created by people who do not express their thoughts in writing. Focusing on myths from South America, he points to a series of layered, interlocking structures of narrative units by which myths harbor their meaning: for example, oppositions, mediating middle elements, reversals, hierarchies, and permutations of these forms. His analysis unpacks the myths' messages for the outsider, enabling readers to use it to illuminate other mythic material, and to recognize this kind of complex structuring in other intellectual or social realms. Fortunately I read this book just before leaving for research in Eastern Indonesia. It enabled me to perceive complexities in the organization of villages, goods exchange, bridewealth formulas, and ritual activities that went beyond the structural oppositions observed earlier by Dutch ethnographers.
Ann Armbrecht, Ph.D., 1995
The Body Silent
Robert Murphy's The Body Silent, which I read my first year in graduate school, had a tremendous impact on me as an anthropologist. I was deeply moved by the ways Murphy used his own experiences with disability as a window into the world, showing that anthropology offers tools and insights that can shed light on philosophical questions that we all struggle with, disabled or not. Murphy helped me see that, at its heart, anthropology builds understanding and empathy and offers tools for building and deepening connections across lives and cultures.
Peter Bogucki, Ph.D., 1981
The Early Mesoamerican Village
If I had to name one anthropology book that had a decisive impact on me and my thinking, it would be The Early Mesoamerican Village, edited by Kent V. Flannery. This book not only presented me with a fresh way of looking at the archaeological materials I was excavating in Poland but also provided an example of sensible, non-polemic solid scholarship that was a welcome respite from the theoretical and methodological disputes of the day which in hindsight did not amount to much. For a graduate student, it was crucial to realize that one could make an impact on the field without having to be disagreeable and contentious, and Flannery and his students who contributed to this volume were a wonderful example.
John Borneman, Ph.D., 1989
The Interpretation of Cultures: selected essays
Law as Process, an Anthropological Approach
Geertz's perspective on meaning opened up, for me, several questions with which I am still preoccupied, such as the possibilities of translation of meaning across cultural contexts, and the necessity of self-critical reflection — personal and national — in order to proceed with analysis. Moore's book opened up a whole new set of questions about the exploration of "law" in social contexts, about the use of history in anthropology, about the understanding of public meanings, and about the authority of law, its limits and possibilities.
Ian W. Brown, B.A., 1973
Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley
I used this book in the first paper that I wrote in an introductory archaeology course at Harvard. I felt a connection at the time with the volume because Phillips and I were born on the same day (August 11) and the book was released in the year I was born (1951). Little did I realize that this volume, when combined with the guidance of my professors at Harvard (Stephen Williams and Jeffrey Brain), would lead me into a career of archaeology in the Mississippi Valley. Putting personal experience aside, the PFG '51 treatise is arguably the most influential volume of the twentieth century for Southeastern archaeologists. It is magnificent example of the many contributions made by the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Papers series.
Robbins Burling, Ph.D., 1958
No book in anthropology has ever been more important to me than Athropology by Alfred Kroeber. There was nothing exotic about it, and it is not the sort of thing that one puts in a book exhibit, but it is the book that persuaded me to study anthropology and we used to say (early 50's) that if you knew everything in Kroeber you could pass your General Exam. A remarkable fact about the field of anthropology is that today's graduate students have never heard of Kroeber, let alone his big green book. That says something about fads and fashions in anthropology.
Irv DeVore, Dept. of Anthropology
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
001284261 (see HOLLIS for many other editions and reprints)
More than any other person in history, Charles Darwin has influenced how we understand the living world and our place in it. His Origin of Species, together with The Descent of Man, provided a framework for understanding the history, proliferation, and modification over time of all living things. Darwin's influence on physical anthropology was immediate (for example, T. H. Huxley), and eventually came to be the foundation for all theory in biological anthropology and paleontology. His influence on the social sciences was no less profound, but mostly unfortunate. The early social theorists (e.g., L. H. Morgan, Karl Marx) completely misunderstood Darwinian principles, but even so cloaked their personal philosophies under the Darwin mantle. Sadly, many of these misunderstandings persist to this day. Only in the closing decades of the twentieth century have new techniques and discoveries in genetics, brain neurology, and behavioral biology begun to provide the first solid building blocks for a synthesis of biology with human evolution and behavior.
Peter Ellison, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology; Ph.D., 1983
Primate Behavior: Field Studies of Monkeys and Apes
It was important to me personally in demonstrating how close humans are to other primates, not just anatomically, but behaviorally. It was important to the discipline as a whole as the foundation stone of what has become one of its largest and most vibrant subfields. For a decade or more after its publication virtually every student of introductory anthropology in the country either read from this book or viewed one of DeVore's films of baboon behavior.
I pick this book, though I could easily have picked Man the Hunter, edited by Richard Lee and Irven DeVore, another seminal volume that virtually launched the subfield of hunter-gatherer studies by underscoring the critical importance of this form of subsistence to human cultural and evolutionary history.
Geoff Emberling, B.A., 1987
Reading the Past; Current Approaches to Interpretation in Archaeology
Hodder and his "post-processual" archaeology was far from popular when I was a graduate student at University of Michigan, but he undeniably began a series of debates that have shaped archaeology over the past two decades. Much of my own research has revolved around questions of meaning, symbols, and interpretation. Hodder raised these issues and discussed them at a time when few other archaeologists were considering them.
Barbara Fash, Peabody Museum
These illustrated and textually explicit volumes of the first scientific excavations in Central America are classics. Maudslay carefully recorded the archaeology while precociously setting the standard for recording monuments with his meticulous photographs and the technically accurate drawings by artists Annie Hunter and Edwin Lambert. Their dedication and perfection were inspirational to me when I first encountered the achievements of the ancient Maya, as they will continue to be to future artists and archaeologists.
William L. Fash, Dept. of Anthropology; Ph.D. 1983
The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization
This short but ambitious volume made the occasionally arcane subjects of Maya archaeology, hieroglyphic writing, and ethnology accessible to one and all. It was a thoroughgoing synthesis of a variety of data sets, nicely blending historical and anthropological perspectives. During my extensive reading on Mesoamerican archaeology and art in high school, this volume piqued my interest both in the Maya and the ways in which ethnohistory and ethnography could inform archaeologists about ancient lifeways and worldviews.
Gregory Finnegan, Tozzer Library
Facing Mount Kenya: the Tribal Life of the Gikuyu
008982878(see HOLLIS for other editions)
Malinowski’s legendary London seminar in the 1930’s included students from all over the world—Meyer Fortes from South Africa and Kenyatta from Kenya among them. Kenyatta’s classic functionalist ethnography came out of the seminar, before he returned to Kenya and, eventually, its independent presidency. The study has the strengths, and the now-more-emphasized weaknesses, of functionalism, with change hard to imagine if all facets support all others. But read after the colonial-officer and missionary ethnographies that preceded it, Kenyatta’s book is a breath of fresh air. And it’s among the first anthropological studies written by a ‘native,’ one in which the political and nationalist dimensions of ethnography aren’t hidden. While I was inclining toward anthropology, encountering Kenyatta when I was an undergraduate certainly made me an Africanist.
James Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., 2002
A Grammar of Mayan Hieroglyphs
There are many books that have contributed to my intellectual development over time, but I would have to say that the most formative one for me—one that led to me working in Mesoamerica to begin with—was this publication from the Middle American Research Institute. As an undergraduate at Tulane University, I became fascinated with the Maya inscriptions, and this book was my primary source for Classic Maya grammar as well as a treasure trove of the latest decipherments.
Although there have been many significant developments in Maya epigraphy since the publication of A Grammar of Mayan Hieroglyphs in 1986, this book has received—and should continue to receive—accolades because it was one of the first attempts to deal with a Precolumbian writing system as more than a simple collection of words and phrases, arranged so as to produce a general meaning. A Grammar of Mayan Hieroglyphs approached the inscriptions as a system. It brought linguistic terms to a field that was often (but not always) more concerned with the general ideas represented on monuments than with the specific phrasing of those ideas.As my undergraduate eyes fiendishly devoured this material, I began to think about what it would mean to work in the Maya area and, in so doing, began walking down a path that would ultimately lead me to graduate school at Harvard and the Peabody Museum.
Rowan Flad, Dept. of Anthropology
The Archaeology of Ancient China
The fourth edition of Chang's seminal synthesis has remained the unsurpassable English-language reference for all students of Chinese archaeology. I was introduced to it and to the earlier versions of the book as a graduate student and continue to use it. Chang was able to not only bring together vast amounts of information in this volume but also present a convincing argument for how societies developed in China based on the available data. The fourth edition furthermore demonstrates that Chang was willing to change his view as more data became available.
Jonathan Friedlaender, Ph.D., 1969
The Biology of Human Adaptability
The Genetics of Human Populations
These two books helped to free biological anthropology from its pervasive descriptive typological thinking and the racist perspective which had pervaded it up until the end of the Second World War, and remained dominant even into the early 1960s.
The Baker and Weiner volume developed from a Burg-Wartenstein Wenner-Gren conference in 1964 and brought together many leading human population biologists (geneticists, physiologists, nutritionists, and biological anthropologists) with the objective of defining the research to be conducted as a component of the International Biological Programme. In fact, it laid out the rationale for the modern study of human biological variability, which has subsequently uncovered the remarkable extent of human adaptability to different environments and the totally unexpected genetic variability within and among populations of humans.
The later Cavalli-Sforza and Bodmer tome (and its more accessible off-spring) formalized the description of human genetic variation and its major components and causes, emphasizing the importance of demographic dynamics. Although initially written for a small group of population geneticists, it became mandatory reading for all anthropologists with an interest in understanding genetic variation.
John P. Gerry, Ph.D., 1993
Prehistoric Maya Settlements in the Belize Valley
I think that this volume captures the full essence of what real Mesoamerican archaeology is all about. It is a trove of data, beautifully organized and illustrated, and written in an easily accessible and concise manner. I consulted with it, and its primary author, constantly while completing my dissertation. I searched high and low for my own copy of this Peabody Museum publication and had nearly given up when Steve Williams gifted his copy to me upon his retirement. For me, it is layered with many levels of meaning, both personal and professional.
Eugene Giles, A.B., 1955; Ph.D., 1966
Up From the Ape
This book, the text in my introductory physical anthropology course taught by its author, started me down the path to becoming a biological anthropologist. The late Harvard paleontologist, George Gaylord Simpson, called the book "sound" but "flippant and personal." So it was, and indeed, that was its allure. The style appealed to undergraduates and even to the more general public; the soundness made it, in its day, along with A. L. Kroeber's Anthropology, a text anthropology graduate students needed to know well to survive.
Irene Good, Peabody Museum
Cloth and Human Experience
I see this important volume as a landmark in cross-cultural study of material culture. It was the first comprehensive look at cloth and how its production interrelates material, economic, social and symbolic aspects of society. Taking the approach of these ethnographic and historical studies to the corpus of archaeological textiles was a logical next step for me.
Richard Michael Gramly, Ph.D., 1975
Patterns that Connect: Social Symbolism in Ancient & Tribal Art
by Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter (1996) 7255652
This well illustrated work, which accompanied the landmark three-volume publication Materials for the Study of Social Symbolism in Ancient and Tribal Art (1986-88), has had a profound impact upon my way of thinking about design elements on ancient artifacts and ethnological specimens. In it there are discussions about sets of designs that re-occur among contemporary tribal and prehistoric societies. Patterns interprets these "grammars" of design. Most designs, even the most intricate ones, either represent descent among generations of human beings or passage between the worlds of the living and dead. Schuster and Carpenter's hard-won insights have changed forever my way of thinking about designs upon the artifacts that I unearth.
Gloria Greis, Ph.D, 1995
Excavations at Star Carr: an early Mesolithic Site at Seamer near Scarborough, Yorkshire
The first systematic effort to integrate the data of productive economy into the total workings of prehistoric cultures in Europe was not made until the 1950s, and is primarily associated with the work of Grahame Clark. European archaeology lagged well behind American archaeology in this regard. In Star Carr, Clark put to work the principals he had outlined two years earlier in his great work Prehistoric Europe: the Economic Basis, to produce a detailed cultural and economic/ ecological analysis of the Mesolithic site. Although additional excavation and modern analytical techniques have modified some of Clark's conclusions, his pioneering work was the springboard for European economic archaeology in the subsequent decades.
Norman Hammond, Peabody Museum and Boston University
(1586) 004840965 (see HOLLIS for many later editions)
Camden’s Britannia was the book that launched the serious study of field archaeology, monuments, and artifacts in Renaissance England, and thus initiated the antiquarian tradition that developed through succeeding centuries into Prehistoric (rather than Classical) archaeology, and at several removes was responsible for the North American archaeological tradition exemplified in its early years by Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. Camden (1551-1623) was of middle-class origins, like almost all those in the prehistoric field (only aristocrats could afford either to travel in or collect artworks from the Classical lands). He was a schoolmaster at Westminster who, after several years’ antiquarian traveling around Britain, set out "to restore Britain to Antiquity and Antiquity to Britain" at the urging of the geographer Abraham Ortelius.
Britannia went through several editions, each radically different from its precursor, even during Camden’s lifetime. The 1586 edition opened with a general geography of the British Isles and their earliest inhabitants, then discussed the Roman, Celtic, Saxon, Danish and Norman immigrations and their impact on the creation of the shire counties. This was followed by an antiquarian account of each area including a description of the natural environment.
The 1586 edition also included the first archaeological illustration in an English book, the early medieval ‘Magnus Arch’ at Lewes in Sussex, while in 1590 Camden added four drawings of early coins, and in 1600 with several maps, a drawing of Stonehenge, and a careful drawing of a group of Roman altars with their texts. Long after Camden’s death his book, now known as Camden’s Britannia, was revised and vastly expanded several times and into several volumes: it had become the encyclopedia of antiquarian studies, and was still seen as a useful source of material on vanished antiquities when I began my archaeological career working on medieval sites in Sussex nearly half a century ago.
A similar educated middle class had established similar antiquarian traditions and publications in France, Scandinavia, Germany and the Hapsburg Empire, and it is striking how scholars across Europe responded similarly to the stimulus of Renaissance interest in the local past as a complement to and substitute for the more glamorous ruins, sculptures, mosaics, and vases of the Greco-Roman world: each of these, however, had an impact confined largely to its own country and language area (in spite of the use of Latin as the lingua franca): the British tradition established in print by Camden’s Britannia eventually resulted in the application of systematic investigation of the material remains of the human past across half the globe.
Julia Hendon, Ph.D., 1987
The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies (translation of Essai sur le Don)
001290581 (see HOLLIS for many other editions)
This short essay has engaged anthropologists such as Raymond Firth, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Marshall Sahlins, Maurice Godelier, Annette Wiener, Sergie Kan, and David Graeber (to name a few) in a fascinating and productive dialogue about the role of exchange in the reproduction of society. Mauss and his interlocutors have played a significant role in the development of my ideas about the nature of social relations in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican societies.
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, B.A., 1969; Ph.D., 1975
Origine de l'homme et des sociétés
by Clémence Royer (1870) 010008164
Quite a few of the books in this exhibit, most especially Darwin's Descent of Man and Richard Lee and Irv DeVore's Man the Hunter, had a profound effect on my intellectual development. But the exhibit also reminds me of works that were not in Tozzer, or indeed any of the Harvard libraries, back when I was a graduate student. Notable among these was Clemence Royer's Origine de l'homme et des sociétés. Published in 1870, I did not even learn of this book's existence by Darwin's French translator (also the first women in France to be elected to a scientific society), until 1997. This was the same year that I learned of Royer's suppressed manuscript "Sur la Natalité". It was humbling to learn that some of Royer's critiques of Darwinian theorizing predated by more than a century efforts by myself and others to raise Darwinian consciousnesses. Harvard now has a nearly complete complement of Royer's writings, testament to how knowledge, with the help of and in conjunction with great libraries like the Tozzer, continues to expand.
James Ito-Adler, Ph.D., 1987
Culture and Personality
Cooperation in Change; an Anthropological Approach to Community Development
Culture and Conduct; an Excursion in Anthropology
I used to think that Anthony F.C. Wallace’s classic book, Culture and Personality,
first published in 1961, was 50 years ahead of its time. Now that we are approaching
the half-century mark and anthropology seems hell-bent on spinning itself into meta-
discursive cul-de-sacs and reductionist dead-ends, Wallace’s careful discussion of a
scientific approach to culture and personality seems more prescient than ever. May
fifty years turn out to be the half-life of this remarkable work.
My inspiration for becoming an anthropologist came from Ward H. Goodenough in a team-taught course on social science in the University of Pennsylvania’s General Honors program. He laid out a robust anthropological approach to development in a series of contentious debates with his fellow faculty members: an economist, a sociologist, and a political scientist. Only later did I realize he was most likely teaching from the galleys of the soon-to-be published, Cooperation in Change — still an invaluable presentation of a theoretically-informed stance in applied work.
Finally, in my teaching I relied for years on a small paperback by Richard A. Barrett, Culture and Conduct—a succinct and lucid invitation to anthropology. I used it in every course I taught at Florida International University in the 1990’s to complement textbooks and specialized readings in introductory and upper-division courses. The supreme compliment came from students who remarked in their course evaluations that, although they sold most of their textbooks, they chose to hang on to their copy of Culture and Conduct. And this of a book that I told them in advance had neither assigned readings, nor questions on the final exam.
Robert Jurmain, Ph.D., 1975
The Fossil Evidence for Human Evolution: an Introduction to the Study of
W.E. Le Gros Clark was perhaps the first modern paleoanthropologist, and in this short, brilliant book he establishes the basic framework still followed by most researchers. He also relates the history of discoveries in a way that captures the excitement of the field and, in so doing, stimulated more than one of us to go to graduate school.
T.R. Kidder, Ph.D., 1988
Archaeological Survey in the Lower Yazoo Basin, Mississippi, 1949-1955
Thirty-seven years after its publication this work still stands as the foundation of archaeological scholarship for a vast region of eastern North America. The volume is perhaps one of the most elegantly written works in archaeology and combined innovative methods, sound field work, and extensive research to create a monumental synthesis. This volume is a guide to the archaeology of a large region as well as a model for how to report archaeological research. As fitting testimony to its value, after three plus decades of further research, the central conclusions of this work still stand largely unchanged.
Arthur Kleinman, Dept. of Anthropology
Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture: an Exploration of the Borderland Between Anthropology, Medicine, and Psychiatry
Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture was the most influential book in the building of the new medical anthropology in the 1980s and early 1990s. It since has been superseded by much more recent books by Paul Farmer, Margaret Lock, Lawrence Cohen, Adriana Petryna, and João Biehl among others. But for its time it set out the central conceptual and research questions for educating an entire generation of medical anthropologists, the generation that is now leading the field.
Louise Lamphere, Ph.D., 1968
Patterns of Culture
Patterns of Culture was the first anthropology book I read, and it inspired me to become a cultural anthropologist. Benedict's poetic evocation of non-Western cultures invited me into a discipline that valued cultural difference and called for a vision of humanity that celebrated the broad spectrum of human behavior and the varied repertoire of cultures across the world. Even though the Zuni lived in New Mexico, only about 400 miles from my hometown, at the time I knew little about their complex ceremonial life and philosophy. I was even more unfamiliar with the Kwakiutl and the Dobu, the two other peoples Benedict describes in the book. The literary quality of Benedict's descriptions and the poetic images she called forth gave each culture a complexity and a positive value that opened up other ways of thinking very different from my own experience.
Steven LeBlanc, Peabody Museum
Primitive Social Organization: an Evolutionary Perspective
War Before Civilization
The most important synthesis in all of anthropology, Service’s Primitive Social Organizationprovides the key organizing principle of human societies. In War Before Civilization, Keeley made a generation rethink much of archaeology and human history.
Richard Leventhal, B.A., 1974; Ph.D., 1979
Landa's relación de las cosas de Yucatán: a translation
001029507 (see HOLLIS for other editions)
This is a translation of one of the most important manuscripts in Maya studies. But it is clearly more than just a translation — it includes over 1,100 footnotes and references. The notes, in fact, completely dwarf the original manuscript and provide a critical resource for Maya scholars. This also provides us with a clear snap-shot of both Diego de Landa and the state of Maya studies in 1941.
Dan Lieberman, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology ; B.A., 1986; Ph.D., 1993
Cranial Variation in Man: a Study by Multivariate Analysis of Patterns of Difference among Recent Human Populations
Although a complex book written for specialists, W.W. Howell's Cranial Variation in Man is a masterpiece of research and an intellectual landmark. In terms of methods, the book succinctly and clearly outlines the innovative multivariate statistical techniques that Howells developed in order to quantify variation in skull shape. These methods — which included the separation of size and shape and the use of principal components analysis — transformed paleoanthropology. The monograph is also important because of its comprehensive nature and its profound conclusions. The monograph analyzes 70 variables from 17 populations (each sampled by more than 50 skulls) that derive from diverse corners of the world. Howells' analyses showed that most human cranial variation exists within rather than between human populations, and that only a few major aspects of variation distinguish the skulls of people from different parts of the world. And despite its difficult and highly quantitative subject matter, Howells wrote with clarity, elegance and a dry sense of humor.
Matt Liebmann, Dept. of Anthropology
The Tewa World; Space, Time, Being, and Becoming in a Pueblo Society
Alfonso Ortiz's masterful ethnography provides unique insights into Pueblo culture and worldview unsurpassed by any work before or since. As a native of San Juan Pueblo, Ortiz was a rare commodity indeed--a professionally-trained Native American anthropologist. The emic perspective on Tewa social organization and cosmology he provides in The Tewa World has been hailed as a landmark in the anthropology of the Rio Grande Pueblos, yet its publication earned the ire of some in his home community for disclosing what they considered to be privileged information to outsiders. Still, this work remains the benchmark of Southwestern ethnography more than 40 years after its initial publication, and has proved indispensable to generations of archaeologists as well as social anthropologists. When I first encountered this book in graduate school, I was immediately struck not only by how different it was from the other Pueblo ethnographies I had read (in its evocative detail), but how truly foreign and complex the fabric of Tewa social life seemed to me. Ortiz manages to convey these intricacies with remarkable clarity. Today, I keep The Tewa World within arms' reach of my desk.
Yi-Chieh Jessica Lin, PhD., 2009
Money Has No Smell: the Africanization of New York City
Before and after fieldwork for my Ph.D. dissertation, several anthropologists in my cohort highly recommended this book, which expanded my horizon of imagination for a good, detail-oriented ethnography of a transnational underground economy. Stoller’s fascinating illustration documents how traders, undocumented immigrants, and informal, relational contracts dominate for the legal fragility of unregistered operations which are major links in transnational networks and constitute much of New York City’s economic activities.
Diana D. Loren, Peabody Museum
In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life
It was during my first archaeological field experience on an early 18th century site in Philadelphia that I read Deetz's classic volume on historical archaeology. To this day, I continue to be inspired by his descriptions of everyday people and the material culture with which they constructed their lives; especially as some of the material culture that Deetz studied is a part of the Peabody Museum collections. For over 30 years, Deetz was a leading force in methodological and theoretical advances in historical archaeology and almost thirty years after its publication, In Small Things Forgotten is as influential as it was when first published in the 1970s.
Maija Lutz, Tozzer Library
The Central Eskimo
000897743 (see HOLLIS for reprint)
This book, which was based on field explorations Boas conducted in the Cumberland Sound area of Baffin Island, was one of the first scientific monographs to be published on the Inuit. It was this work, with its musical transcriptions and detailed descriptions of festivals and ceremonies, which piqued my interest in Inuit music and drew me to Baffin Island ninety years after Boas to see what this music was all about and how it had changed over time.
Castle McLaughlin, Peabody Museum
The Sun Dance Religion: Power for the Powerless
This ground-breaking comparative analysis of a Plains Indian dance ceremony introduced political economic interpretations into Native American studies and helped launch anthropology's enduring engagement with the concept of "power." Jorgensen's application of dependency theory to explain the "neocolonial" status of Indian reservations to the larger United States and the impact of that relationship on culture has influenced generations of scholars in many disciplines, myself included.
George Paul Meiu, Dept. of Anthropology
The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia
by Tom Boellstorff (2005) 9818004
The Gay Archipelago is quickly becoming a foundational text in contemporary anthropological studies of gender and sexuality. Tom Boellstroff offers the concept of ‘archipelagic subjectivities’ and sexualities as a way to describe queer subject positions in Indonesia, without falling back onto the old anthropological paradigms of difference and ethno-locality. Instead of an anthropology obsessed with cultural difference, Boellstorff proposes an “anthropology of similitude” – that is, an anthropology that also plays close attention to sameness in contexts of nationalism and globalization and to how difference, rather than being given, is often the product of power.
Richard Meadow, Dept. of Anthropology; B.A., 1968, Ph.D., 1986
New Perspectives in Archeology
Published in 1968, the year I entered graduate school, the articles in New Perspectives in Archeology comprise some of the foundational studies of 'Processual' or the 'New' Archaeology. They and other contributions by the various authors, Lewis Binford in particular, helped to create a sea-change in the way that American archaeologists came to investigate and conceptualize the past, especially for the prehistoric and protohistoric periods. For the same reasons, an equally important work for British archaeologists was David Clarke's tome Analytical Archaeology, which appeared in the same year. While today some approaches espoused in these volumes seem naive and some results even wrong, their emphases on the importance of framing significant questions about past societies and on carrying out systematic and often multidisciplinary research to try to answer those questions represent enduring contributions.
Richard Moench, Ph.D., 1963
The Rise of Anthropological Theory: a History of Theories of Culture
Teaching a graduate course in the history of theory, I of course welcomed Harris's book when it first appeared, and discovered I disagreed with its argument. Yet I was fascinated with his return to a neo-Kantian dualism, insisting on the difference in methodologies between science and history (or culture). Harris's evaluation of all the early figures of anthropology was formulaic (science requires diachronic, materialist, nomothetic approach, anthropology ought to be science, ergo good anthropology is nomothetic, diachronic, materialist, bad anthropology is idiographic, synchronic, idealist...sorry, Ruth Benedict!). This set me thinking about all the dualisms in social science and wondering if in fact a choice was mandated or alternatively whether the "opposing" pairs were complementary. I began to choose my texts to reflect this question (Bourdieu & objective/subjective; Sahlins & structure/history, etc. etc.). Teaching theory got to be more fun.
Robert Murowchik, Ph.D., 1989
Archaeological Research in Indo-China, vols. 1-3
Between 1934 and 1939, Swedish archaeologist Olov R.T. Janse conducted three expeditions in northern Vietnam that investigated Chinese tombs of the Han, Six, and Tang dynasties. Most importantly, at the ancient settlement site of Dong So'n in Thanh Hoa province, he undertook the first careful excavation of the indigenous bronze-using culture of the area, a people he called the "Indonesians" but now referred to as Dongson. Remarkable for the diversity of their bronze vessels, weapons, and musical instruments (the most famous being the large bronze kettledrums), the publication of these volumes (particularly vol. III) sparked new interpretations of similar bronze finds from south and southwest China since the late 1940s, including recognition of the Shizhaishan or Dian culture in Yunnan Province and the importance of cultural contact between southwest China and northern Southeast Asia during the late first millennium BC. Janse’s struggles to understand "Chinese" vs. "Indonesian" finds at Dongson continue to this day. Mirroring the ups and downs of the Sino-Vietnamese political relationship, Dian-Dongson archaeological discussions since the 1980s have provided fascinating case studies for exploring issues of colonialism, nationalism, and patriotism in archaeological interpretation.
Dolores Newton, Ph.D., 1972
Coleções e expedições vigiadas: os etnólogos no Conselho de Fiscalização das Expedições Artísticas e Científicas no Brasil
I began by thinking of works of grand theory that have most influenced me. But while they certainly exist, I could not single out one above all others. Then I thought of this relatively recent work which resonates with me still.
This particular work came from research for a master's thesis from a young man who was able to grasp his own world firmly and vividly enough to explain things that I as an outsider was able to experience as an "Aha!" moment. I did a book review of it that enumerated its virtues.... I started out a reluctant reviewer who became most grateful to have been asked.
David Plath, Ph.D., 1962
Mirror for Man: the Relation of Anthropology to Modern Life
000983038 (see HOLLIS for reprints)
If I were to pick one book that most shaped my decision to become an anthropologist, this is it. On active duty in the Far East during the Korean War, inundated by Cold War propaganda from all sides, I wanted a way to find a vision of the human potential not crimped by the petty parochial preferences of nation, creed, race or ideology. Stationed in Japan, I wanted a way to understand why Japanese and Americans had been blindsided into a pointless war in the Pacific. Mirror for Man didn't offer answers, but it offered the exciting possibility that answers can be found.
Jeffrey Quilter, Peabody Museum
The Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilization
A New Voyage and Description of the Isthmus of America
. Reprinted by The Burrows Brothers Company and edited by George Parker Winship in 1903. 001190656
The Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilization was a revision of Michael Moseley's dissertation, written as a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard. Despite its small size, the volume set the course for a great amount of archaeological research in Peru for the next three decades. In brief, Moseley proposed that the rich maritime resources of Peru's Humboldt Current provided a bountiful larder for early humans in coastal Peru, serving as the foundation for the rise of Andean complex societies. This theory ran counter to the conventional wisdom that it was agriculture which served as the basis of civilization. Was ancient Peruvian civilization thus an exception to the rule of the origins of complex societies? Scholars still debate the issue.
Lionel Wafer was a member of an English buccaneer raiding party which, in 1680-1681, crossed the Isthmus of Panama to attack a Spanish settlement there. Wounded in an accident, Wafer was left to fend for himself after the raiders' attack failed. After many months, Wafer successfully returned to the Caribbean coast, meeting native peoples along the way, and was eventually rescued by an English ship. A New Voyage..., his record of his travels, is a rare, early account of native life in southern Central America and very valuable for understanding chiefdom societies there. The original edition of 1699 was reprinted in a limited edition of 500 copies in 1903 making it quite rare.
These two very different books are emblematic to me of the two different tracks of my career. I began my professional studies as an archaeologist working in the Andes but spent a decade working in southern Central America when fieldwork in Peru was dangerous, in the early 1990s. Maritime Foundations is an example of the archaeology of the 1970s carried out in a scientific mode and was commonly available as a text while A New Voyage... was always a rare volume, written in as personal narrative, and an ethnography, of sorts, rather than an archaeological treatise. Both books are important in providing new ways to think about times, places, and societies different than our own and have greatly helped me and many scholars in our studies.
Meredith Reiches, Ph.D., 2012
Mother Nature: a History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection
This book was recommended to me by an astute high school biology teacher and occupied both the evenings of my senior spring and a lively place in the back of my mind long before I understood that biological anthropology was a field of study. It introduced not only the idea that female primates were and always had been agents in their social and reproductive lives but also pointed out the impact of what we notice--and what we don't notice--on the narratives we construct about the evolution and contemporary inevitabilities of human society. In the company of The Woman That Never Evolved, Mother Nature blazed a trail for biological, evolutionary science and a feminist analytical lens to function together.
Jeremy Sabloff, Ph.D., 1969
Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in the Viru Valley, Peru
This highly influential monograph successfully showed how the study of human settlement patterns could provide key insights into the social, economic, and political organization of past societies and had an immense impact on the conduct of archaeology in the second half of the 20th century.
Susan Seymour, Ph.D., 1971
The People of Alor: a Social-Psychological Study of an East Indian Island
I was first exposed to this book as an undergraduate seeking information about different societies' concepts of human nature for a paper I was writing. I came across The People of Alor and was fascinated by, among other things, Du Bois' descriptions of infant feeding practices and the inferences she made between these and adult attitudes towards food and hunger. Such psychocultural analyses stimulated me to pursue a career in anthropology. What I did not know at the time was that The People of Alor was a groundbreaking work in anthropology that helped to establish psychological anthropology as an important subdiscipline in the field. Du Bois, frustrated by the limitations of the kind of cultural analysis she was exposed to in graduate school, sought a new paradigm for anthropology — one that probed how culture gets internalized and, in turn, motivates individuals' behavior. That new paradigm became the driving force for most of my professional work in anthropology.
John Shea, Ph.D., 1991
In Pursuit of the Past: Decoding the Archaeological Record
Binford is the principal American exponent of processual archaeology, an explicitly scientific, hypothesis-testing approach to studying this human past. In this book Binford reviewed current debates about the major issues in prehistoric archaeology as informed by middle-range research — studying modern-day human behavioral variability in order to create more credible and testable models of past human behavior. Binford also told how his initial questions about Neanderthal technology and subsistence led him to conduct ethnographic research among living hunter-gatherers. I read this book during the summer before starting graduate school, and it profoundly influenced the course of my studies. From it, I learned the important lesson that answering the really interesting questions in archaeology requires critical self-consciousness about method — constantly asking oneself how you know what you think you know. It should be required reading for anyone seriously considering a career in archaeology.
Michael J. Sheridan, Ph.D., 2002
Europe and the People Without History
by Eric R. Wolf (1982) 372397
Envisioning power : ideologies of dominance and crisis
by Eric R Wolf (1999) 7853774
Eric Wolf’s Europe and the People Without History is the book that I read in Tozzer Library in 1985 (on many, many two-hour reserve checkouts) that first made me aware that there was something going on in anthropology beyond old-school functionalism and new-school interpretation. Wolf made Marxism ‘work’ for anthropology by setting up a typology of cultures according to how their ‘social labor’ – the work it takes to actually ‘do culture’ – is organized by kinship, tribute, and capitalism. It continues to inspire me with its intellectual breadth, its synthetic ambition, and its insistence that culture is a material social process among unequal social actors. Finding room in the model for symbols and ideologies led Wolf to write his 1999 book Envisioning Power, which is really a companion piece to Europe. I can’t imagine how anthropology would approach issues of power and globalization today without the foundation that Wolf built.
Diana Sherry, Ph.D., 2002
Advice to a Young Scientist
by P.B. Medawar (1979) 000855024
A book I admire a great deal is Advice to A Young Scientist, by Peter Medawar. He warns of "falling in love" with one's hypothesis and advocates subjecting hypotheses to all sorts of tortures instead. Isn't that a terrific challenge?
Gair Tourtellot, Ph.D., 1983
Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan
000980836 (see HOLLIS for many other editions and reprints)
What grabbed the attention of the world for Latin American archaeology was John L. Stephens' exotic Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Written before degrees were offered in anthropology, it is almost ethnographic in its acute descriptions of Maya Indians and their conditions just before a great Maya rebellion, and contains discoveries and descriptions of pristine Maya ruins stunningly illustrated with engravings by Frederick L. Catherwood. As well, it is a marvelous document for the study of Romantic travel and art, colonialist attitudes, cultural condescension, gender bias, ethnic intimidations, economic oppression, hegemonic impulses, and good writing. In any case, it led to Edward H. Thompson's account of exploring the eerie Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza that first chilled and thrilled me.
Hartmut Tschauner, Ph.D., 2001
Ecology, Meaning and Religion
A worthy candidate would be Ecology, Meaning and Religion, a collection of essays by Roy Rappaport. I found this book utterly fascinating because it lays out an approach to religion and symbolism that is at the same time materialist and anything but simplistic and reductionist. This is even more important in today's intellectual climate than it was at the time the essays were written. The book demonstrates that the seeming gulf between "scientific" approaches popular in the 70s and today's post-modern, often expressly anti-scientific approaches may be more apparent than real, more a matter of different language games than of substantive differences.
Christian Tryon, Dept. of Anthropology
Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England
Although not strictly speaking a book about anthropology, more than any other book this one changed my perception of past and present landscapes and the deep human impact on them. Your walks through the woods of New England are never the same after reading it!
Jason Ur, Dept. of Anthropology
Heartland of Cities: Surveys of Ancient Settlement and Land Use on the Central Floodplain of the Euphrates
Landscape archaeology of the New World has Harvard's own Gordon Willey, while the Old World has Bob Adams. Like Willey, starting in the 1950's Adams began to research ancient society (in his case, ancient Mesopotamia) from a regional perspective by mapping the changing organization of settlement through time. His innovation was to also reconstruct further elements of ancient landscapes such as the canals and rivers that sustained early cities. Heartland of Cities is the culmination of his survey work, and has set the paradigm within which all of his successors work.
Gary Urton, Dept. of Anthropology
Dialectical Societies: the Gê and Bororo of Central Brazil
This was the first in-depth, comparative look at social organization within the very complex societies of the central Amazon basin; this was the most visible result of the Harvard-Brazil project, headed by Professor Maybury-Lewis during the 1960s. These were the same societies (or at least their mythological traditions) that were the focus of Lévi-Strauss's studies for his four-volume structural study of Amazonian mythologies, called (collectively) Mythologiques.
Giovanna Vitelli, B.A., 1977
Archaeology and Modernity
Julian Thomas is an eminent prehistorian and thinker in European archaeology circles, with a solid and remarkably broad grasp of the history of archaeological thought (as opposed to theory). In this recent book, Thomas reviews the origins of our modernity and its effects on our standpoints within the social sciences. In the end his call for a more sensitive, "interiorised" approach to past traditional societies through the practice of more open-ended lines of enquiry is in line with many of his colleagues in North America, but I find his particular humanism and his search for alignment with traditional philosophies is echoed in particular among the Native American scholars I have worked with, and a special source of inspiration - to practice our discipline robustly, but as consciously modern observers of the radical alterity of the past.
James Watson, Dept. of Anthropology
Agricultural Involution: the Process of Ecological Change in Indonesia
This book was instrumental in establishing the field of cultural ecology in American anthropology. It appeared during my second year in graduate school at Berkeley; Geertz's analysis of Indonesian agriculture inspired my own research (conducted in 1969) on rice ecosystems in the Hong Kong region. Geertz has gone on to do many other things since the appearance of Agricultural Involution but, in my view, this book has stood the test of time. Anyone interested in agriculture, ecology, and political economy would be well advised to read this book — and the many critiques that followed in its wake.
Hazel Hitson Weidman, Ph.D. 1959
Man and his Works
by Melville J. Herskovits (1948) 000943413
Americans and Chinese
First it must be stated that Dr. Herskovits’ trailblazing work in 1941 (The Myth of the Negro Past) brought to light the influences of African cultural “survivals” in black populations in the U.S, the Caribbean, and South America. That was profoundly significant to me, because, as a teenager in California I had become acutely aware of the discrepancies between belief and behavior. I could not understand the religiously-professed “equality” of all human beings in a town that would allow black people to entertain them but would never allow them to remain in the community overnight. Dr. Herskovits’ research helped enormously in impressing upon me the concept of culture and some of the consequences of cultural differences that took the form of racism.
Aside from this helpful personal clarification, however, the Herskovits text book and teaching guide, Man and his Works, that Northwestern University anthropology majors used, offered a large, clarifying overview of cultural anthropology at that time. Other textbooks appeared about the same time, but this was the one that structured the field for undergraduate students by organizing it in a very systematic and meaningful way.
Francis L.K. Hsu’s groundbreaking volume, Americans and Chinese, actually appeared after my graduation from Northwestern University in 1951. However, it was evolving during my first course in anthropology at N.U. that happened to be taught by Dr. Hsu. His point-by-point comparisons and contrasts in diverse analytical categories were fascinating and impressive, but it was the implicit transcultural position of the investigator/author that had a permanent impact upon my theoretical orientation and career in medical anthropology.
Dr. Hsu’s class assignments required thoughtful analysis and insight into each student’s own worldview and set of values. This forced perceptual distancing from one’s own social milieu and unselfconscious behavior was an important ingredient in my later conceptualizations in lectures and publications regarding achievement of both the transcultural perspective and the process of cultural brokerage in applied anthropology.
As my interests at Northwestern became more and more focused upon "culture and personality" combined with "anthropology and medicine", it was Herskovits who said there was only one place in the country for me to go for additional training; that was to Harvard's then recently-developed Dept. of Social Relations. That was the only program to which I applied, and happily, that was where I was accepted.
William Caudill (medical anthropologist) was my advisor and Clyde Kluckhohn (whose Mirror for Man was very popular at the time) was the leading anthropologist in that stimulating multidisciplinary program.
Stephen Williams, Dept. of Anthropology (emeritus)
Archaeological Survey in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley
Published by the Peabody Museum in 1951 and printed by the Harvard University Printing Office, this was the first volume of the long-term archaeological program called the "Lower Mississippi Survey" which I headed from 1958 to 2001. That program continues under the direction of one of my PhD's, Tristram Kidder, the grandson of the well-known archaeologist Alfred V. Kidder, a Harvard grad and Ph.D. who ran the Carnegie's Middle American Archaeological Program and also had a post in the Peabody as well.
John P. Wilson, Ph.D., 1969
Final Report of Investigations among the Indians of the Southwestern United States, Carried on Mainly in the Years 1880 to 1885
003958929 (see HOLLIS for other editions and reprints)
Without hesitation I can say that the general work that is particularly well-written and has had the greatest impact on me is Adolph Bandelier’s Final Report of Investigations among the Indians of the Southwestern United States (1890-1892). I finally acquired a mismatched set myself and have used it innumerable times over the years, in both archaeological and historical situations. The publication of both Bandelier’s own writings and works about him continues and I think is in no danger of abating. The Final Report in my opinion is, if perhaps not exactly a capstone, a monumental tribute to the intellectual power of the man in creating a synthesis of historical, archival, archaeological, and ethnological materials that interpreted the late prehistory, protohistory and Spanish-Colonial history of the American Southwest in an enduring manner, such that it is not only very readable but valuable even today. He wasn’t always right but he was absolutely pioneering at a time when the hero of the historians, Herbert E. Bolton, was an undergraduate.
Nur Yalman, Dept. of Anthropology
The Political Systems of Highland Burma: a Study of Kachin Social Structure
The Savage Mind (translation of La Pensée Sauvage)
000547367 (see HOLLIS for other editions)
I have three suggestions:
The Todas is a brilliant book by a brilliant psychiatrist anthropologist who was instrumental in both in-depth fieldwork on a fascinating group in South India, and also in bringing together the two disciplines which are so crucial to each other. Rivers was an early pioneer in this field which has been so enriched by our Medical Anthropology group.
Another brilliant work, The Political Systems of Highland Burma is by a superb field worker who put together an analysis of systems that appear to work like clock-work in their interconnections between kinship systems, politics, culture and language. This unique work influenced many generations of anthropologists.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, one of the most creative of modern anthropologists, succeeded in destroying the very concept of "the primitives" by demonstrating the intricate and creative genius of cultures that are usually dismissed as being "simple" peoples. The Savage Mind paved the way to a most fertile field of research on categories of the mind and the creative elements in myth, ritual, and religion.
Marc Zender, Peabody Museum
The Hieroglyphic Stairway, Ruins of Copan: Report on Explorations by the
001670980 (see HOLLIS for reprint)
This key book represents an important landmark in the study of Copan's famous
hieroglyphic stairway, the longest and largest Precolumbian historical text in the New World, portions of which still grace the third floor landing of the Peabody Museum today. The sub-stairway buildings are currently under excavation by William R. Fash and his student, Molly Fierer-Donaldson.
The Peabody Museum has a large number of pieces from its early excavations at Copan, but by far the most interesting is the inscribed peccary skull unearthed in Copan's Tomb 1 by Marshall Saville and J. G. Owens in the late 19th-century.