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How and in what ways did socially complex societies emerge on the East African coast and southern Africa? Scholarship has shown that elite investment in interregional trade and in extractive technologies, monopolization of wealth-creating resources, and warfare may have played a key role in the emergence of early states. To what extent was elite and non-elite engagement in local, regional, and transcontinental economic networks crucial to development of social complexity in eastern and southern Africa? Extensive research on the eastern coast of Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) and southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa) has yielded adequate data to enable a discussion on the trajectories of the evolution of social complexity and the state. So far, three crucial factors: (a) trade, (b) investment in extractive technologies, and (c) elite monopolization of wealth-creating resources coalesced to propel the region toward greater interaction and complexity. Major transformations in the form and increase of household size, clear differences in wealth and status, and settlement hierarchies occurred toward the end of the first millennium ad. Regional scholarship posits that elite control of internal and external trade infrastructure, restricted access to arable land and accumulation of surplus, manipulation of religious ideology, and exploitation of ecological crises were among the major factors that contributed to the rise of the state. Could these factors have also favored investment and use of organized violence as a means to gain access to and monopolize access to information and wealth-creating resources? Scholarship in the 21st century favors the notion that opportunistic use of ideological and ritual power enabled a small elite initially composed of elders, ritual specialists, and technical specialists to control the regional political economy and information flows. The timing of these transformations was continent-wide and date to the last three centuries of the first millennium ad. By all measures, the evidence points to wealth accumulation through trade, tribute, and investment in agrarianism, pastoralism, and mining.

Article

Aditi Saraf

The term “frontier” is generally taken to mean an area separating two countries, or a territorial limit beyond which lies wilderness. But frontier is also used symbolically to refer to the limit of knowledge and understanding of a particular area, as in “frontiers of science” or in the idea of outer space as the “final frontier.” A certain elasticity therefore inheres in the term. Scholarship on frontiers generally examines geographical and cultural “peripheries”—zones that are viewed both as political barriers and sites of contact and exchange. However, the frontier as an empirical object as well as a scholarly heuristic is intertwined with long and often violent histories of colonialism, imperialism, and resistance. Anthropological concepts of the frontier are developed in relation to neighboring terms such as border, boundary, and line and methodologies for its empirical investigation in relation to other social science disciplines like history, international relations, geography, and gender studies. Drawing on a multidisciplinary perspective, ethnographic research aims to destabilize conventional notions of the frontier as the limit of settlement or as a space of statelessness, anarchy, or disorder in order to attend to the diverse cultural and political institutions that produce distinctive ideas of sovereignty, mobility, commerce, and community in such spaces.

Article

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article. The definition of heritage in West Africa has to adopt a wider perspective to incorporate tangible and intangible heritage as recognized and defined by UNESCO. In general terms, the West African region does not feature monumental heritage, as elsewhere in Europe and the Americas. The few monumental heritage properties belong to the historic period and are located in the Sahel zone (Mali, in particular), while the coastal regions include monumental heritage properties that were essentially relics of the European contact period and colonialism (Benin Republic, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal). Heritage resources in West Africa are therefore essentially discrete and non-discrete prehistoric and historic archaeological sites that include rockshelters, relics of ancient settlements, mounds, earthworks, industrial relics such as furnaces and surface finds, isolated historic buildings and spaces, and tangible (traditional architecture and artifacts) and intangible (language, poetry and songs, dance and festivals, beliefs and value systems) ethnographic resources. Some studies in the 2010s considered all archival materials, such as audio-visual recordings of events and entertainment of the colonial and the early postcolonial periods, to be heritage resources. Heritage management in the West African region had been problematic due to various factors that could be both historical and attitudinal, such as colonialism, intrusion of foreign religions and ideologies, economic and social conditions of the people, insufficient and ineffective legal and policy frameworks for the protection and conservation of heritage resources, and a general lack of awareness and interest in matters of heritage by the populace. In spite of the foregoing, there have been some efforts at managing heritage in manners that can be interrogated. Government efforts to promote heritage seem to be more evident in the areas of cultural festivals, dance, and music, with the establishment of cultural troupes at various political administrative levels, thus creating the impression that heritage is limited to the intangible cultural resources. Museums are few and far between, priceless artifacts are still looted and illegally exported to foreign museums to join those looted during the colonial era, facilities are limited and not standard, while the staff is poorly trained and unmotivated. In the face of expanding infrastructural developments and urbanization, the most appropriate management strategy and practice would be conservation by recording of archaeological sites and historic properties.

Article

Pervasive presumptions in the human sciences project anthropology and history as taken-for-granted divisions of knowledge, whose relationship is then tracked as being vexed but constructive. At the same time, it is more useful today to rethink history and anthropology as disciplines of modernity – in their formation, elaboration, and transformation. To begin with, going back to the Enlightenment and Romanticism, historical and anthropological knowledge each appeared as mutually if variously shaped by overarching distinctions between the “primitive/native” and the “civilized/modern.” It followed that the wide-ranging dynamic of empire and nation, race and reason, and analytical and hermeneutical orientations underlay the emergence of anthropology and history as institutionalized enquiries in the second half of the nineteenth century. Further, across much of the twentieth century and through its wider upheavals, it was by attempting uneasily to break with these genealogies yet never fully even escaping their impress that history and anthropology staked their claims as modern disciplines. This entailed especially their discrete expressions of time and space, culture and change, tradition and modernity. Finally, the mutual makeovers of history and anthropology since the 1970s have thought through the formidable conceits of both these disciplines while reconsidering questions of theory and method, object and subject, and the archive and the field. Based upon salient intersections with a range of critical understandings – for instance, postfoundational and postcolonial perspectives, considerations of gender and sexuality, and subaltern and decolonial frames – the newer emphases have imaginatively articulated issues of historical consciousness and marginal communities, colony and nation, empire and modernity, race and slavery, alterity and identity, indigeneity and heritage, and the state and the secular. At the same time, considering that such disciplinary changes are themselves embedded within wider shifts in social worlds, the haunting terms of the antinomies between the “savage/native” and the “civilized/modern” unsurprisingly find newer expressions within ever emergent hierarchies of otherness.

Article

Andrew Brandel

Literature is often understood to be one of anthropology’s most recurrent and provocative companions in thought. The relationship between the two has taken a number of different and variously interrelated forms. Perhaps the most familiar of these is the theorization of the anthropologist’s status as a writer; this work tends to take its cue from certain strands of postmodernism and invokes literary techniques as tools through which to address concerns around representation and the evocation of lived experience. A second important, if often overlooked, area of research involves the study of concrete literary practices including reading, writing, performing, sharing, and listening, whether by means of ethnographic fieldwork or anthropological modes of textual analysis. Finally, there are the myriad relationships that anthropologists have maintained with particular literary figures or texts, which have proven essential to their thinking and to their lives.

Article

Glenn Davis Stone

Robert Malthus’s 1798 Population has proven to be one of the most influential publications in history. Challenging ideas popular among Enlightenment writers, including the perfectibility of human institutions, he argued that since population could grow exponentially and agriculture only linearly, there was an inherent and irresolvable imbalance in nature that unavoidably led to population being checked by mortality among the poor. The policy implication was that aid to the hungry would only create more misery. The most famous “proof” of the theory came in Ireland in the 1840s, and Malthus’s policy recommendations were followed. However, Ireland was setting food export records during the famine, and agriculture has grown much more rapidly than population ever since. The basic tenets of Malthus’s have been debunked, but it continues to be influential, especially in the form of neo-Malthusianism, largely because of the interests it serves.