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date: 06 May 2021

History, Anthropology, and Rethinking Modern Disciplinesfree

  • Saurabh DubeSaurabh DubeEl Colegio de México

Summary

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.

Overture

In discussing together history and anthropology, it is often acknowledged that the relationship between the two has been contradictory and contentious but their interplay has also been prescient and productive. At the same time, such considerations, turning on dissension and dialogue, are principally premised upon framing anthropology and history as already known, taken-for-granted disciplines. Here, each prefigured enquiry is seen as characterized by its own discrete desires and distinct methods, concerning research and writing, analysis and description. If these entities are presumed as being or becoming complete unto themselves, this means too that accounts of disciplinary dialogues equally assume palpably “presentist” and “parochial” attributes. Arguably, what is required is a different disposition—the lineaments of which already, actually exist—to the subjects of history and anthropology, their tensions and intersections, their contentions and crossovers.

Convergent Questions

In revisiting history and anthropology, at least three matters assume salience. First, to juxtapose anthropology and history is to rethink these enquiries, sieving them against their formidable disciplinary conceits.1 Second, such tasks require exploring the constitutive linkages of the two with the wider processes of meaning and power of the Enlightenment and Romanticism, empire and nation, race and reason, and hermeneutic and analytical procedures, as well as with broader transformations of the human sciences. These reveal curious connections as much as mutual makeovers, especially when mapped as careful genealogies and critical poetics of anthropological and historical knowledges as well as their conjunctions. Third and finally, at stake are bids that stay with and think through received configurations of culture and power, the traditional and the modern, and space and time based on the shared sensibilities of anthropology, history, and orientations such as poststructural and postcolonial perspectives, decolonial and subaltern studies. All of this makes possible the tracking of incisive articulations, empirical and theoretical, of subaltern formations and historical conceptions, colonial cultures and imperial imperatives, gender and sexuality, nation and state, slavery and heritage, and alterity and modernity on the cusp of anthropology and history as well as their larger intersections with the human sciences.

Now, if the imagination and writing of history are often traced back to classical antiquity and its pasts (Kelley 1998), a similar claim can be made about the pursuit and practice of anthropology (Hartog 2009). At the same time, this article charts a different course. To start off, I consider the common grounds and key attributes of anthropology and history as institutionalized enquiries formed in the second half of the 19th century. Yet I do so only while looking back over my shoulder to delineate prior intellectual-political currents going back to the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and their byways, which have continued to shape later terrains. This sets the stage for the principal focus of the article on the elaborations and articulations of anthropology and history as modern knowledges from the 20th century onward. Here, I stay away from singular readings, grounded in the present, that plot the pasts of the disciplines—including their meetings, mating(s), and makeovers—in tendentious and teleological ways.2 Actually, such eschewal on my part is itself premised upon a deciphering of texts and times by attending to their terms and textures, that is, readings and renderings that contextually construe continuities and contradictions, ambivalences and excesses. Taken together, such measures can hopefully unravel a few of the consequences of critically juxtaposing anthropology and history: from their mutual presumptions to their disciplinary distinctions to their contending conjunctions—not as a straight line but as crisscrossing pathways.

Modern Knowledges

Arguably, the common grounds of anthropology and history as modern enquiries rest upon enduring oppositions between static, traditional groups (that is, “savage” peoples or “native” communities) on the one hand and dynamic, modern societies (that is, “civilized” states or European orders) on the other.3 Evidently, such a duality and its distillations have undergirded also other antimonies between ritual and rationality, myth and history, community and state, magic and the modern, emotion and reason, and East and West (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992; Dube 1998; Lutz 1988). At the same time, the pervasive dichotomies have found diverse values and shifting expressions both in modern knowledges and among the discrete subjects that the distinctions and disciplines have named, described, and objectified over at least the past three centuries (Comaroff and Comaroff 2009; Dube 2017). Taken together, under consideration are not only disciplinary knowledges but commonplace understandings, and the ways in which these terrains come together while they also fall apart.

A Contended Enlightenment

I begin with the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries and the accompanying processes of the secularization of Judeo-Christian time.4 Now, instead of an exclusive Enlightenment I am speaking here of rather more plural Enlightenments, not merely on empirical registers but in critical ways. At stake were distinct expressions of universal and natural history alongside contending strains of rationalism in, say, France and of empiricism-skepticism in, for instance, Britain (Kelley 1998; Porter 2000; Stocking 1987); key challenges to analytical procedures through various counter-Enlightenments that shaped the Enlightenment (Berlin 2001, 1–24; McMahon 2002); and procedures of the secularization of Judeo-Christian time as at once an emergent and consequential idea (Fabian 1983) yet a circumscribed and limited process (Becker 1932; Stocking 1987; see also Crapanzano 2000; Hamann 2016; Moore 2003). After all, the Enlightenment, broadly understood, entailed the reordering of philosophy and the remapping of history, the reworking of human reason and the replotting of human nature. At stake was the rethinking—at once philosophical, historical, and anthropological—of “man,” “civilization,” and “nature,” in places where biblical assumption continued to cast its light and shadow.

On the one hand despite the critical contentions among such schemes, they could nonetheless frequently project—albeit in necessarily different ways—developmental images of universal history. This is to say that, from the rationalist, progressivist claims of Voltaire and Immanuel Kant through to the contending, historicist frames of Giambattista Vico and Johann Gottfried von Herder, projected forthwith were grand historical designs of civilization and culture, of Europe and nation (Kelley 1998, 211–262; Stocking 1987). On the other hand the tension-ridden knowledges never simply coalesced together in order to become a uniform Western (or Enlightenment) mentality. Rather, they pointed toward the face-offs between analytical and hermeneutic orientations, between developmental and historicist imaginaries, and between progressivist and romanticist dispositions.

Taken together, the interplay and admixture of these tendencies across the first half of the 19th century underlay the institutionalization of anthropological and historical knowledge in that century’s second half.5 Indeed, these wider, contending but overlapping dispositions to human worlds and their knowing have continued to inform ever since the uneven unraveling of anthropology and history as modern enquiries, revealing also the excesses of meaning these disciplines have been unable to contain.6

Evolutionism and After

The sociocultural evolutionism that characterized British anthropology from the 1860s brought together two separate, prior tendencies: “on the one hand, a study of the variety of mankind that that had yet to free itself from the constraints of biblical assumption; and on the other, a study of the progress of civilization for which a positivistic program was already well established” (Stocking 1987, 45). This conjunction itself turned upon the erosion of the intellectual defenses of antievolutionism, the decline of biblical anthropology, and the increasing legitimacy of naturalistic apprehensions of human variety. Now the key question to be explained was that of the development of civilization, especially the unequal participation of different subjects in its inexorable progress. Thus, linear and progressive time formatively entered the core of evolutionary anthropology and its racial assumption (Fabian 1983), frequently shoring up temporal sequences and hierarchical stages between the savage and the civilized. To be sure, Victorian anthropologists betrayed their own differences and distinctions, as becomes clear from considering the predilections and persuasions of Edward Tylor, Herbert Spencer, Henry Maine, and Lewis Morgan: but together they purposefully, tendentiously raided—what appeared to them as—the historical past, in order to elaborate a vehement episteme of meaning and power through their positivistic, naturalistic, progressivist articulations of the developmental process of civilization and its elisions.

Biblical assumption had distinctly shaped diffusionist ethnology and comparative philology—joined at the hip by the imaginings and implications of the Tower of Babel—in their search for the unity and variation of humankind through the linkages of history, language, customs, and mythology. Not unlike sociocultural evolutionism, the formative presumptions of these orientations were now challenged by the archaeological revolution of the 1850s and the rise of the biological evolutionary paradigm (Fabian 1983; Stocking 1987).7 All this underlay a variety of challenges to sociocultural evolutionism, including those bearing affective resonances of the romanticist tradition—especially of a German provenance—in newer configurations. In the interest of space, I turn to an exemplary critic of evolutionary anthropology.

As the 20th century dawned, Franz Boas (1974, 35) defined anthropological knowledge as consisting of “the biological history of mankind in all its varieties; linguistics applied to people without written languages; the ethnology of people without historic records; and prehistoric archeology.” This was broadly in keeping with wider ethnological assumption, and Boas added to all these enquiries across his career. At the same time, for “Boas, the ‘otherness’ which is the subject matter of anthropology was to be explained as the product of change of time” (Stocking 1992, 347), an insistence on the diachronic that covered also his unifying definition of the discipline. Before the end of the century, Boas had offered “a neo-ethnological critique of ‘the comparative method’ of classical evolutionism” (Stocking 1992, 352–353), which insisted upon on specific historical enquiry, detailed linguistic investigation, and grounded physical anthropology. At the same time, the work of Boas is better understood as straddling the dualism between progressivist and romanticist traditions, interweaving universalistic and rationalist orientations with particularistic and emotional dispositions, which is to say as at once entwining and holding in contrapuntal tension these contending schemes of modern knowledge (Boas 1928; Stocking 1992). The intrepid anthropologist had built a form of enquiry that principally freed itself of racial/biological determinism in order to point toward a disciplinary conception of culture as relativistic and pluralistic. Yet, as I will show, this particular turn to the diachronic, the historical, and the temporal signified a pathway mostly ignored by anthropology during most of the 20th century.8

History and Its Elisions

Turning to history, its professionalization in the second half of the 19th century equally expressed the contradictions and contentions of modern knowledges.9 At stake were discrete claims on the terms and textures of civilization and culture, shaped by the imperatives of class and race, nation and empire. To begin with, important strands of history-writing representing “historicism,” especially instituted as a discipline in Germany, bore a double-sided relationship with the ideas and imaginaries of universal human progress. Expressing hermeneutic, historicist, and counter-Enlightenment impulses, such histories acutely articulated notions of culture, tradition, and the volk (folk), principally of the nation, to interrogate implicitly the conceits of an aggrandizing reason as well as developmental schemes of philosophical history these accounts saw as leitmotifs of the Enlightenment. This could allow for relatively relativistic and pluralistic understandings of cultures and nations. At the same time, following the influence of Leopold von Ranke’s avowals of “source criticism,” the official archive, and historical narration (as “telling it the way it really was”)—and resting of course on the lasting legacy of Barthold Georg Niebuhr—classical historicism principally reinforced the exclusive designs of singular histories, turning on a decidedly noncosmopolitan, indeed divisive, nation and its statist power politics.10 The documentary dispositions and the philological methods underlying the historicist principle of continuity meant also that most non-European “others” were banished from the canvas of history, discretely animating thereby the antimonies of modernity. In sum, going back to the compelling influence of Johann Gottfried Herder on these traditions, we find here at once the possibilities of pluralist and relativist imaginaries and the presence of nationalist and racialist presumptions, putting a particular spin as well on hermeneutic dispositions, analytical orientations, and their conjunctions.

Moreover, the elaboration of the discipline elsewhere in the Euro-American world in the 19th century meant that history-writing not only bore the flag of the nation but carried the impress of empire. Here, the proximate pasts of dark terrains, mainly colonial territories, frequently appeared as footnotes and appendices to the ur-history of Europe, even as the extending frontiers of the historical imagination in settler spaces orchestrated their primitive subjects through civilizational allegories (Klein 1999; Wolfe 1999).

Finally, the modern histories construed in colonized countries and emergent nations were not merely replications of blueprints out of Europe, but instead imbued their accounts with particular protocols of proof and method, truth and philosophy (Chakrabarty 2015; Deshpande 2007; Thurner 2011). But these accounts of the past were also often envisioned in the image of a progressive European civilization, albeit using unto their own purposes the hierarchies and oppositions of Western modernity (Chakrabarty 1992; Cooper 1994, 1519–1526; Sarkar 1997, 30–42; see also Prakash 1994).

Disciplinary Departures

The institutionalizations and contentions of anthropology and history as modern enquiries emerged after the wider processes of the French and industrial revolutions; as responses to changes in class structures and the revolutions of 1848; and alongside the consolidations of nations and empires. These developments informed also broad streams of social thought from Karl Marx to Emile Durkheim to Max Weber, figures who were to have a significant impact on history and anthropology in the 20th century. Indeed, the influence of Durkheim was to play a key role in the disciplinary makeovers of both anthropology and history during the interwar years.

Anthropology, History, Temporality

At the turn of the 20th century, the antievolutionary impulse in anthropology was manifest both in the influence of Franz Boas and the implications of diffusionism. Now, the emergence of fieldwork-based “scientific” anthropology, under the auspices of Bronislaw Malinowski and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, was premised upon a break with the speculative historical procedures of diffusionism, while bearing a more ambiguous relationship with evolutionism. This put a question mark on history as such within the functionalism of Malinowski (1922) and the structural-functionalism of Radcliffe-Brown (1952). The contradistinction between the work of anthropology and the labor of history in these paradigms bore the influence of Durkheimian sociology, such that the privileging of “synchrony” over “diachrony” presupposed that social orders were best apprehended in abstraction from their historical transformations (Eisenstadt 1990, 243–244; Kuper 1973, 92–109; Stocking 1995, 233–441; Vincent 1990, 155–171). Here, the disciplinary emphasis on tracking continuity and consensus—to the neglect of change and conflict—in societal arrangements was premised upon sharply distinguishing non-Western cultures presumed to be held in place by myth and ritual from dynamic Western societies thought to be grounded in history and reason.

All of this has wide implications for anthropology at large. Johannes Fabian (1983) has argued that anthropological inquiry has repeatedly construed its object as its constitutive other through measures turning on temporality, such that the ethnographic object stands ever denied the “coevalness of time” with the instant of the anthropologist subject. Here, the historical time-space of the observing modern subjects and their societies—alongside the taken-for-granted objective time of scientific knowledge—emerge as always ahead of the mythic space-time of the observed objects and their traditions; anthropological analytics and narrative techniques project a lasting “ethnographic present”; and change and transformation usually enter native structure in exogenous ways. Such protocols underlie the “savage slot” (Trouillot 1991) and the “native niche” (Dube 2004a) of anthropology that have been formative of the discipline. This is not to deny that such disciplinary schemas have been attended by exceptions and challenges, issues to which I shall return. The point is that beyond the influence of evolutionist understandings on contemporary anthropology (Thomas 1991), at stake are pervasive modern metageographies that authoritatively if ambiguously carve up social worlds into enchanted terrains of tradition and disenchanted domains of modernity.

The crisis of classical historicism and the narrowness of history-writing, their preoccupation with politics in the shadow of the nation, meant that from the early 20th century there were attempts to found the historical discipline on “scientific” principles as well as to redress the hitherto residual role of society and economy in the historian’s craft.11 For our purposes, special importance is occupied by the Annales school of history-writing in France, which in the 1920s made a decisive break with event-based political history. Drawing on sociological considerations, particularly the work of Durkheim, the Annales suggestively, imaginatively opened up the scope and subject of history-writing to draw in processes of society, economy, and culture (e.g., Bloch 1954; Febvre 1973). At the same time, while registering the importance of such departures, it is equally important to resist the persistent tendency that casts the Annales as initiating a gradual expansion of social-cultural history that led inexorably to its eventual embrace of anthropology. Here, we need to consider what was foreclosed by the formative “structural histories” of the Annales as well as to probe the implicit oppositions in their writings between “backward” communities and “civilized” societies, which return us to the common antinomies and mutual hierarchies concerning time and space that link anthropology and history as modern enquiries.12

Meanwhile, the simultaneous presence of progressivist and romanticist tendencies in the modern human sciences, meant that imaginative endeavors could critically engage dominant disciplinary designs yet also emerge as constrained by the meta-geographies of modernity. Consider the work of the anthropologist E. E. Evans-Pritchard (1939, 1940) on time and space. Here, the entwining of hermeneutic impulses and analytical tendencies imbue­—with their motive force and their critical limitations—Evans-Pritchard’s considerations of time-space among the Nuer peoples. His hermeneutic renderings unravel the production within routine activity of concrete, everyday time-space among the Nuer, thereby founding the temporal and the spatial in the image of social diversity and cultural heterogeneity. At the same time, simultaneously, following Evans-Pritchard’s analytic assertion, the Nuer peoples entirely lack long-term time, revealing lasting projections of non-Western primitive places and Western modern spaces (Dube 2007a, 13–15; Munn 1992, 94–98).

Other Emergences

Evans-Pritchard’s exemplary study bears linkages with the wider rethinking of the principal predication of social action on sociological structure within functionalist and structural-functionalist paradigms. Did not the counter-colonial movements, nationalist struggles, and other practices of colonized subalterns during the interwar years reveal a certain discrepancy between classical functionalist apprehensions of social action and the emphatic agency of non-Western subjects? There were diverse shifts within British anthropology after the 1930s: from the efforts of the Rhodes Livingstone Institute in Africa to move the locus of ethnographic enquiry to proletarians (Ferguson 1999; Kuper 1973, 133–135; Vincent 1990, 276–283); through to the emergent interrogation of functionalism within British anthropology, especially its Manchester mutations, which explored anew social conflict, individual action, and collective processes, particularly from the 1950s (Bailey 1957, 1969; Barth 1959; Gluckman 1963; Leach 1954; Turner 1957; Uberoi 1962; see also Worsley 1957). Such efforts could not simply shake off the long shadow cast by functionalist schemes, but they were also not innately opposed to the work being undertaken by social historians at the time. Indeed, here were attempts to think through the autonomy of analytical traditions, which could include wider reconsiderations of the discipline. The last included Evans-Pritchard’s (1962, 1–157; see also 1965) famous endorsement of anthropology as a humanistic enquiry as well as his assertions of the intersections between anthropology with history (Evans-Pritchard 1961; see also Schapera 1962).

At stake were varied endeavors to grapple with the shifting contexts of anthropology; to respond to wider political and historical transformations affecting the discipline and its subjects; and to extend received disciplinary blueprints. Such bids also characterized anthropology in the United States after World War II. Here, at least three tendencies emphasized the significance of diachronic and historical understandings for the discipline. In the first place, focusing on complex civilizations and social change, the studies of Robert Redfield elaborated continuums of “little” and “great” traditions and communities. His formulations pointed to societal transformations, influenced by forces that were exogenous and endogenous, while understanding anthropology as bridging the breach between historical and scientific enquiry (Redfield 1956). Moreover, shaped by Marxist understandings and leftist politics, the work of anthropologists such as Eric Wolf (1959) and Sydney Mintz (1960) articulated temporal and historical considerations in explorations of political economy, subordinate groups, and political transformations. Finally, the field of “ethnohistory,” delineated in the 1950s, came to distinctly combine history and anthropology with limitations and possibilities (Krech 1991).13 At the same time, the terms of the temporal remained principally at a remove from the textures of the discipline and its varied specializations, frequently presenting culture as essentially coherent and bounded, autonomous from power relations and societal transformations, and relentlessly inward-looking as it principally turned upon its own axes. Unsurprisingly, even writings, such as those of Clifford Geertz (1973), that opened up possibilities for anthropology and history by stressing signifying action within webs of meanings tended to remove temporality from the terms of practice within culture (Munn 1992, 98–100; Ortner 1999, 3), including the writings of Geertz when he turned later to cultural pasts (Geertz 1980).

Disciplinary Transformations

The long 1960s witnessed civil rights, antiimperialist, radical-student, emergent feminist, and continuing anticolonial endeavors across the world. Did not such processes implicitly indicate the discrepancies between anthropological projections of invariant structures and unchanging cultures on the one hand and emphatic assertions of human action and history-making in wider worlds (Comaroff 1985; Lan 1985; but consider also sociological accounts of peasant movements in the 1970s) on the other? Of course, such reminders of the urgent practices of historical subjects often escaped disciplinary attention. Yet they were constitutive for the emerging critiques of the social sciences, at large, extending from what Fabian (1983, x) was later to call the “scandal” of Western domination to the place of anthropology in the outrage, including considerations of the discipline’s complicity with colonialism (Asad 1973; Banaji 1970; Gough 1968; see also Hymes 1972). None of this is to deny that exactly in these contexts, the success of “dependency” theories and “world-system” analytics—interrogating the capitalist and imperialist continuities of Western domination in non-Western theatres through polarities of core and periphery, development and underdevelopment—entailed a privileging of structure/system that went hand in hand with an undermining of action/practice (Wolfe 1997, 380–420; see also Stoler 1995b, vii–xxxiv). The point might well be that the rhetorical avowal of history and power intimated the transformations of the human sciences that were under way.

At stake specially were critical explorations across different disciplines of the interplay between structure and practice, rules and processes, social structure and historical action (Abrams 1983; Bourdieu 1977; Comaroff and Roberts 1981; Giddens 1979; Ortner 1984; see also Thompson 1978; Williams 1973). Although it had antecedents, from the second half of the 1970s an increasing emphasis on practice, process, and power came to characterize anthropological inquiry. The influence of world systems theory and structural Marxist analytics did not simply disappear: but the emergent forms of anthropological practice distinctly attended to the temporal textures of culture and subject, meaning and structure, social reproduction and societal transformation (Cohn 1987; Dirks 1987; Fabian 1983; Fox 1985; Ohnuki-Tierney 1987, 1990, 1993; Rosaldo 1980; Sahlins 1985; Sider 1986; see also Appadurai 1982). Indeed, history was making urgent claims upon anthropology (Cohn 1980, 1981; Sahlins 1993). Engaging the archival record, important ethnographic writings focused on meanings and practices of non-Western subjects as critical attributes of the contradictory elaboration of colonialism and capitalism, themselves understood as temporally and culturally layered fields, revealing too the sustained interchanges between Western and non-Western worlds (Comaroff 1985; Nash 1979; Price 1983; Stoler 1985; Taussig 1980, 1985).

Underscoring the presence of power and difference in formations of meaning and practice, being questioned were anthropological objects of enquiry as insinuating bounded and coherent entities, based on antinomies between traditional orders and modern societies. Simply put, the conjoint emphases on process, practice, and power went on to reinvigorate the study of such staples of the discipline as religion and ritual, magic and witchcraft, symbolism and law, and kinship and kingship (Kelly and Kaplan 1990; Krech 1991; Merry 1992; Peletz 1995; Reddy 1999). At the same time, the emergence of an anthropology of Europe from the late 1970s had complementary, compelling consequences: it queried reified distinctions between the West as theory/self and the non-West as object/other; probed a priori projections of an exclusive, unique Europe ahead of the plurality of its variously fissured social facts; revisited the imperial, “crypto-colonial,” and nationalist genealogies of the discipline; untangled particular constructions of histories and identities on the Continent and its margins; and unraveled the discursive constructs that at once underlie anthropology itself as an ethnographic object and the cultural identifications it studies as theoretical subjects (Barrera-González, Heintz, and Horolets 2017; Hastrup 1992; Herzfeld 1982, 1985, 1987, 1992, 2009; see also Asad et al. 1997; Rabinow 1989; Latour 1993). Unsurprisingly, these dispositions have all variously involved implicit and explicit recognition that not merely wider social processes but anthropological analyses are themselves enacted temporally as well as spatially.

Fates of Cultures

The changing fate of “culture”—that category of categories in ethnography in its American incarnation yet with implications for understandings of “structure” and “tradition” concerning anthropology at large—brings home such reconfigurations. For the terms of culture were now shown to contain, within themselves, lineaments of dominance and contentions of dissonance: that is, projections of seamless, static cultures with their arrangements of authority and alterity excised—arrangements entailing the fissures of community and gender, race and office, stratification and sexuality—shaped over the last five centuries by colonialism and capitalism, nation and modernity (Asad 1983; Rebel 1989; Sider 1980). Unsurprisingly, the critiques of the culture concept have been taken forward in distinct directions in recent decades: from the “reflexive” turn in the “experimental” ethnography of the 1980s that highlighted questions of narrative “authority” in ethnographic “representation” (Clifford and Marcus 1986; Marcus and Cushman 1982; Marcus and Fischer 1986) through to interrogations of anthropology as itself an alterity-engendering mechanism that has exoticized and institutionalized cultural difference unto its particular disciplinary ends (di Leonardo 2000; Lutz and Collins 1993) and made culture stick to particular locales (Abu-Lughod 1999; Marcus 1997); and from demands for writing against culture on account of its complicities with dominant projects of empire, nation, and globalization (Pemberton 1994) through to the articulations of culture as interwoven with transnational processes of diaspora and modernity, entangled identities and hybrid histories (Alonso 1994; Foster 1991; Hefner 1998; Merry 1992; van der Veer 2001). Unsurprisingly, it has become evident also that rather more than simply an analytical device, culture is a concept-entity and a critical resource that has been central to the imaginings and practices of the very people the notion has variously sought to define and describe: from the fourth world to the first world; from impoverished indigenous peoples to privileged ethnic constituencies; from violent religious militants to dominant holders of power.

Needless to say, these critiques and such emphases have neither been all of a piece, nor have all turned toward history: but they have nonetheless variously emphasized the salience of practice, process, and power as constitutive of social worlds and their scholarly apperceptions. Unsurprisingly, these emphases have followed upon wider historical developments: the end of innocence of the Bandung Era as newly independent nations revealed their authoritarian and corrupt designs; the retreat of the institutionalized visions of state-sponsored equality with the fall of the Berlin Wall; the rise and decline of the magic of unfettered capital and the Midas of the market; and the ascent to power in the second decade of the 21st century of plutocratic and populist regimes that avow entitlement, while raising walls of different descriptions.

Affective Histories

Meanwhile, the gradual expansion after World War II of the discipline of history—not unlike that of anthropology—included an increase in professional specialization and job opportunities. If these shored up the development of identifiable terrains of social history, the wider historical developments after World War II have had their own impact on the discipline at large. For our purposes, the elaboration of important trends in social/cultural history beginning in the 1950s might be usefully understood as part of common attempts with different emphases to construe accounts that focused on subjects hitherto marginalized from the historical record, including the wider democratization of history-writing (Dube 2004a, 133–137). The influence of anticolonial imaginaries and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the civil rights movement and the reckoning with Nazi pasts, the energies of 1968 and the mobilizations against the Vietnam War all played a role here. Considering the paucity and perversity of the historical record of marginal subjects, here were bids to seek out distinct archival materials, read them with new eyes, and think anew their validities as “sources” of history, all of which equally resulted in dialogues with anthropology (Thomas 1963, 1971; Thompson 1972, 1977; Sewell 1980) but also conversations with other disciplines, including sociology, demography, and psychology, further leading historical narratives in fresh directions.

The new forms of historiography carried critical possibilities but also their own limitations. I have in mind major traditions that have included the third generation (and after) of the Annales school in France (e.g., Chartier 1993; Ladurie 1979; Le Goff 1980; Schmitt 1983); the erstwhile British Communist Group of Historians (e.g., Hill 1973; Hobsbawm 1993; Thompson 1993); historians of African American slavery in North America (Genovese 1974; Levine 1977); the collective subaltern studies project focusing on South Asia (e.g., Amin and Chakrabarty 1996; Arnold and Hardiman 1994; Chatterjee and Pandey 1992; Guha 1982–1989; see also Dube 2004a, 129–163); pioneering social-cultural histories of Europe also of a North American provenance (Darnton 1985; Davis 1977; Sewell 1980; see also Scott 1988); “microhistory” in Italy (Ginzburg 1980; Levi 1988; Muir and Ruggiero 1991); and “Altagsgeschichte”—the “history of everyday life”—in Germany (Lüdtke 1995; Medick and Sabean 1984; Sabean 1984, 1990).

Rather than tracking these tendencies in a “whiggish” manner as necessarily, increasingly opening out to anthropology, it might be more useful to ask questions of their possibilities and problems: that is, the ways these tendencies principally extended the terms of the dominant disciplinary coupling of history and nation under regimes of modernity; and at the same time, how these departures were also unable to break with such lasting bonds, to escape their long shadows, readily, easily (Dube 2017, 128–130). The productive ambiguities of these traditions have been followed by an even wider opening of new cultural histories, which is evident from accounts that think through prior tensions while asking and addressing newer questions (Eley 2005; Sabean 1998; Schmitt 1998; Scott 1996; Sewell 2005).14

Critical Concurrences

I turn now to the shared renovations and mutual entailments of anthropology and history over the past four decades. Such makeovers have been severally influenced by the shifting political contexts of the last four decades; the “linguistic” and “cultural”—alongside the “ontological” and “affective”—turns in the human sciences; key crossovers with anti- and postfoundational understandings; and acute interchanges with postcolonial perspectives and subaltern studies.15 In these terrains, archival readings and critical fieldwork have at once supported and probed each other, querying too the fetish of the field and the purity of the archive in order to rethink the disciplines of anthropology and history. Such tendencies have been severally influenced by imaginative interrogations of abiding antinomies of modern disciplines; of lasting legacies of historical progress; and of persistent projections of a reified Europe and palpable West as modernity, history, and destiny for the world at large (Dube 2017). All told, more useful than segregating the disciplines is to track their entangled energies in the conjoint elaborations of specific themes, particular questions, across key endeavors announcing the contemporary confluence of historical anthropology, ethnographic history, and cultural history.

Subalterns and Margins

In these terrains, the newer emphases of historical anthropological accounts, alongside the influence of critical histories of subordinate groups, including subaltern studies, led to astute explorations in non-Western arenas of the identities and endeavors, consciousness and practices, and meanings and persuasions of subaltern peoples and marginal communities and their configurations and transformations. Far from their depiction in those persistent portraits of “the people without history” (Wolf 1982)—insinuating anachronistic customs, compulsive consensus, and “never-never” traditions (Cohn 1980, 199)—such subjects have appeared as active participants in wider processes of identity and history, colonialism and empire, nation and nationalism, state and citizen, and modernity and globalization. Here are to be found players and protagonists that imbue such procedures with distinct perceptions and practices, temporalities and spatialities, terms and textures. On the one hand the constitutive location of subaltern formations within wide-ranging processes of power and meaning included as well their own internal divisions as expressed in terms of property, gender, law, and office. On the other hand the layered negotiations and various contestations, especially in religious-ritual political idioms, issued by subordinate groups toward dominant projects—of empire and nation, state and capital, war and violence—reveal acute intersections between authority, action, and alterity. Unsurprisingly, these twin emphases have been often unraveled together in accounts sustained by the interplay between anthropology and history (Amin 1995; Comaroff 1985; Dube 1998; Guha 1983; Gutiérrez 1991; Hardiman 1987; Ileto 1979; Kaplan 1995; Kelly 1991; Lan 1985; Mallon 2005; Mayaram 1997; Pandian 2009; Price 1983; Rao 2009; Rosaldo 1980; Sider 1986; Skaria 1999; Stoler 1985; Subramanian 2009; Taussig 1980, 1985; see also Das 1995; Kasturi 2002).

History and Pasts

Unsurprisingly, the critical rethinking of history-writing and historical consciousness—including representations of the past and contentions of temporality—has come to lie at the core of newer scholarship. There has been emphasis on the sociospatial plurality of cultural pasts, the manner in which history and temporality are distinctly apprehended and severally enacted by particular social groups (Amin 1995; Banerjee-Dube 2007; Cohen and Atieno Odhiambo 1989; Dube 1998; Florida 1995; Hill 1988; Price 1983, 1990; Rappaport 1994; Rosaldo 1980; Skaria 1999; White 2000). Such multiple enactments and constructions of history have featured not only local voices (Hastrup 1992; Shyrock 1997) but nonverbal expressions of dance and music (McCall 2000) as well as nonhuman figurations of spirits and mediums (Lambek 2002, 2016), dreams and artifacts (Stewart 2017). These emphases have been equally accompanied by a recognition of the place of power in the production of the past (Cohen 1994; Trouillot 1995): the uses of history and their contending validities, which include the constitutive politics of historiography as bound to the very nature of the academic-historical archive (Amin 2016; Chakrabarty 2000, 2015; Guha 1983, 1997; Klein 1999; Pandey 2001; Schmitt 2012; Thapar 2002, 2005; see also Hartman 1997, 2007; Malkki 1995; Scott 2005).

Taken together, at least three critical yet convergent emphases have come to the fore: to begin with, diverse admissions that forms of historical consciousness vary in their degree of symbolic elaboration, their ability to pervade multiple contexts, and their capacity to capture people’s imaginations, between and across sociospatial groupings; moreover, salient suggestions that history does not only refer to events and processes out there, but that it exists as a negotiated resource at the core of shifting, temporal-spatial configurations of historical worlds and subject formations; and, finally, urgent reminders not only of the coupling of modern historiography with national imaginaries but also of the haunting presence of a reified West in widespread beliefs in historical progress (Dube 2017).

It follows that historical representation has been found as being made up of overlaying yet contending protocols of meaning and power, time and space, the oral and the written, the genealogical and the national, and dominance and difference (Amin 1995; Banerjee-Dube 2007; Chaturvedi 2007; Dube 1998; Gold and Gujar 2002; Herzfeld 1991; Mayaram 1997; Price 1998; Shyrock 1997; Skaria 1999; Thurner 2011). Alongside such emphases, bids to articulate the past have combined the desire to prudently probe and narrate social terrains with the impulse to critically articulate and affirm them (Amin 2016; Chakrabarty 2015; Clendinnen 1999; Cohen 1994; Dening 1991, 1996; Dube 2004a; Pandey 2006; Redfield 2000; Scott 2005; Trouillot 1995; see Nandy 1995). As I shall soon show, such dispositions have found discrete configurations in recent scholarship on subjects of “heritage,” turning on archaeology, ethnography, and history.

Colony and Empire

Based upon the interplay between anthropology, history, and related critical perspectives, there is another set of crucial explorations: studies that center on colonial cultures of rule (see Comaroff and Comaroff 1991, 1992, 1997; Pels 1997; Stoler 2002, 2008; Stoler and Cooper 1997; Thomas 1994, 1997; among others). At stake are challenges to overarching representations of colony and empire.16 Exploring the practices, representations, and boundaries of settler peoples, imperial agents, and evangelizing missionaries, such scholarship has not only revealed the crucial dividing lines between different colonial agents and diverse imperial agendas but also underscored that such conflicting interests and contending visions could often drive a single colonial project (Comaroff 1989; Dube 2004a, 2010; Sivaramakrishan 1999; Stoler 1989, 2002; Thomas 1994; Wolfe 1999).

Moreover, there have been close analyses of the relationship between the metropolis and the colony, the mutual shaping of European processes and colonial pasts: from the ways the impulses of empire and their reworking in the colonies brought about changes at the heart of Western history (Cohn 1996; Gikandi 1996; Mehta 1999; Mignolo 1995; Said 1995; Stoler 1995a; van der Veer 2001; see also Burton 1998; Chatterjee 2001; Collingham 2011) through to the ways there were conjunctions and contradictions between bids to discipline subject groups at home and efforts to civilize subject populations in the colonies (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992, 265–295; Davin 1978; Keane 2007).

Third, there have been imaginative analyses of colonial processes—as shaping the margins and the metropolis—that turned on: space, time, language, the body, and the law (Arnold 1993; Fabian 1986; Goswami 2004; Merry 2001; Mignolo 1995; Mitchell 1988; Rabasa 2011; Vaughan 1991; see also Hamann 2020); imperial travel, exhibitory orders, museum collections, colonial representations, and material exchanges (Bennett 1995, 2004; Coombes 1994; Fabian 2000; Grewal 1996; Henare 2009; Mackenzie 2010; Pratt 1992; Rabasa 2000; Rafael 1988; Scott 1994; Thomas 1991; Wolfe 1999); “culture,” consumption, art, and literature (Guha-Thakurta 2005; Mathur 2007; Pinney 1997, 2004; Tarlo 1996); and gender, sexuality, race, and desire (Gutiérrez 1991; Manderson and Jolly 1997; Mani 1998; Sinha 1995, 2006; Stoler 2002).

Fourth, several significant studies in this recent genre suggest the importance of tracking the interplay between historical representation, political economy, and state formation (Bhattacharya 2019; Birla 2009; Cooper 1996; Coronil 1997), quite as the newer nuanced understandings of culture and power have emerged bound to powerful reminders that gender and sexuality sutured and structured formations of empire (McClintock 1995).

Finally, there have been incisive explorations of the colonial experience in the making of the modern world, especially considering the linkages between Enlightenment and empire and race and reason (Agnani 2013; Baucom 2005; Berman 2004; Dubois 2004, 2006; Fischer 2004; Gregory 2007; see also Muthu 2003; Scott 2005) as well as formidable rethinking of the past and the present of the disciplines in view of their linkages with colony and empire alongside their connections with gender and nation (Chakrabarty 2000; Mohanty 2003).

Nations and Nationalisms

It follows that understandings of the tensions and textures of empire have been accompanied by analyses of the contentions and characteristics of the nation.17 There have been prescient challenges to pervasive projections of nation, nation-state, and nationalism as expressing primordial patterns and innate designs, which turn upon each other, spatially and temporally. Nations and nationalisms, although among the most consequential institutions and imaginings of recent times, have appeared as social artifacts and historical processes, variously displaying attributes of what Benedict Anderson (1983) famously called “imagined communities.” On the one hand astute studies of the processual construction of nationalisms of have tracked their fabrications and fantasies (Alonso 1994; Herzfeld 1987; Mayaram 1997; Ohnuki-Tierney 2002; Pandey 2001; Tarlo 1996; van der Veer 1994; see also Kelly 1991; Shyrock 1997), entailing not only pedagogy and performance of the nation (Bhabha 1990, 291–322) but also scandals of the state and citizen (Saldaña-Portillo 2016; Sunder Rajan 2003). On the other hand there has been keen recognition that such patterns and procedures of power are not merely ideological errors but critical facts of social worlds that bear densely, even violently, ontological attributes (Alonso 1994; Amin 1995; Butalia 1998; Herzfeld 1997; Kelly and Kaplan 2001; Malkki 1995; Pandey 2006; Pinney 2004; van der Veer 2001). Taken together, the pedagogies, performances, and practices of nation and state have been shown as inhering in their everyday identifications and quotidian configurations, even as nationalisms and nation-states stand revealed as unraveling striking varieties of disciplinary power, spatial-temporal imaginaries, cultural cartographies, and racial ethnic-cleansing techniques (Hansen and Stepputat 2001; Herzfeld 1987, 1991; Malkki 1995; Middleton 2015; Ohnuki-Tierney 2002; Rufer 2010; Tarlo 2003).

Clearly, the figuration of nationalisms and nations as dominant projects does not occlude their formative distinctions. As part of wider fields of counter-colonial politics (Kelly 1991), subaltern endeavors accessed and exceeded, straddled and subverted the practices and premises of middle-class nationalism, often expressing a supplementary politics of the nation (Dube 2004b, 16–20; consider also Dubois 2004; Ileto 1979). At the same time, middle-class anticolonial nationalisms articulated their own differences by translating and transforming European democratic and republican traditions, Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment principles, in order to sieve the images and ideas of the sovereign nation and the citizen subject through forceful filters of the subjugated homeland and the colonized subject (Chatterjee 1993; see also Dubois 2006). Such difference and distinction further mark the presence of gender and sexuality as shaping elemental aspects of authority and alterity at the heart of nations and nationalisms—in their dominant and subaltern avatars (Menon and Bhasin 1998; Roy 2005; Sarkar 2001; Sinha 2006). And so, too, reaching beyond the selfsame, spatial-temporal identifications of the nation-state as settled verities—while thinking through “methodological nationalism”—alterities and identities of state and nation appear as bearing intimacies and contentions with transnational imperatives and global transactions (Axel 2001; Goswami 2004).

Makeovers of Modernity

It should be evident that the makeovers of historical and anthropological enquiries have implicitly and explicitly emphasized the requirements of rethinking modernity and the modern, their processes and persuasions. In place of exclusive images, analytical abstractions, and formalist frames that attend these notions, the divergent articulations of modernity and contending expressions of the modern have emerged as attributes of crisscrossing yet particular histories and cultures, identities and differences, times and spaces (Bear 2007; Comaroff and Comaroff 1997, 2009; Coronil 1997; Donham 1999; Dube 2004a, 2011; Dubois 2004, 2006; Gilroy 1993; Meyer and Pels 2003; Pandian 2009; Poole 1997; Rappaport 2005; Redfield 2000; Trouillot 2010; van der Veer 2001; Voekel 2002; see also Mbembe 2001; Saler 2012; Scott 2005; Taussig 1997, 2004). At the same time, exactly such diversity, its vernacular and plural character, arrive as already influenced by likenesses of an imaginary yet tangible Western modernity (Chakrabarty 2000, 2002; Coronil 1996, 1997; Dube 2009, 2019; Dube and Banerjee-Dube 2019; Ferguson 1999; Fischer 2004; Harootunian 2002; Mitchell 2000; Overmeyer-Velázquez 2006; Rao 2009; Saldaña-Portillo 2003; Seth 2007; Weidman 2006). Rather than invocations of “alternative” or “early” or “multiple” modernities (e.g., Daedalus, 1998, 2000), at stake are explorations of modernity and its subjects—human and nonhuman—as simultaneously shaping and shaped by contradictory and contended processes of meaning and power: hetero-temporal-spatial procedures that are incessantly articulated but also out-of-joint with themselves (Dube 2017).

Coda

In the 21st century, salient strands of sociocultural anthropology appear to have gradually, principally pulled away from histories and archives—often avowing instead ethics, philosophy, and immediacies of dissonance and dominance in contemporary worlds—even as distinct critical histories and imaginative ethnographies are meaningfully articulating cultures, politics, and economies in the common production of the present and the past. Of the different tendencies to be found in these terrains, against the grain of the methodological disavowal of history and along the grain of its expressive articulations, at least three warrant mention. Each of these inclinations straddles questions of subalterns and margins, histories and pasts, colony and empire, nations and nationalisms, and state and modernity.

The first of these trends involves the critical study of “heritage”—including its emergence, sponsored by UNESCO, in the last part of the 20th century—understood as at once “a hegemonic, highly institutionalized project of commemoration that is productive of collective identities . . . and the counter-memories it oppresses” and engenders (De Cesari 2010, 625, emphasis added). On the one hand at stake is the existence of compound heritage discourses-practices that reveal “the past [as] contested, conflictual, and multiply constituted” (Meskell 2012, 1). To be found here also are endeavors that variously query the liberal ethos of inheritance, as well as objectifications of the modern state, and register thereby “the cracks, contingencies, and omissions of contemporary heritage regimes” (Geismar 2015, 80). On the other hand to be seen as well are the commitments of international, national, and “local” heritage regimes themselves to rather more circumscribed, singular notions of the past, often turning on the concept-entity of the nation-state, accompanied by bids to suppress multiple constituencies or narratives that draw together “negative,” “absent,” and “difficult” heritage (Macdonald 2009; Meskell 2002) as well as “counterheritage” (Byrne 2014) and “subversive archaisms” (Herzfeld 2019). Such deep entanglements register the productions of pasts by state and subaltern—and by NGO, neoliberal, and supranational governance—amid the uneasy interplay between expressions of empire and imperatives of nation, claims of cosmopolitanism and demands of nationalism, and the confounded, even combustible, labors of archeology and anthropology—all enacted under contemporary regimes of heritage and history (Geismar 2015; Herzfeld 2016; Kaltmeier and Rufer 2017; Meskell 2009, 2018; Olwig 1999; Winter 2014).

The second tendency centers on a shift announcing that earlier historical anthropologies and cultural histories of Christianity (Austin-Broos 1997; Comaroff and Comaroff 1986, 1991, 1997; Hefner 1993; Landau 1995; Larson 1997; Makdisi 1997, 2008; Meyer 1999; Peel 1995; Peterson 1999; Scott 1994; see also Mignolo 1995), their colonial aspects and vernacular attributes, can be revisited in salient ways. They can be read and rendered, imaginatively and critically, in terms of an anthropology of Christianity, indeed of anthropologies of the secular, including especially those of an archival imagination (Cannell 2006, 2010; Curley 2018; Engelke 2007; Keane 2007; Mosse 2012; Robbins 2004; see also Asad 1993, 2003).

The final set of inclinations consists of studies that have variously explored formations of slavery and race in the production of modern worlds, critical discussions that bear wide implications. Here, race and slavery—alongside “reason” and “freedom”—emerge as lying at the core of colony and nation, mercantilism and modernity, and industrialism and the Enlightenment, as defining their mutual makeovers and crossovers, their constitutive tensions and contentions (Beckert 2014; Betancor 2017; Blackburn 2011; Dubois 2004, 2006; Gerbener 2018; Guasco 2014; Scott 2005).

And so, at the end, we return to where we began. On the one hand the dichotomy between the primitive and the civilized that defined the beginnings of history and anthropology as modern, institutionalized enquiries has been left behind by salient strands of critical knowledge. On the other hand in newer and older avatars, the antinomy and its implications, especially unraveled as hierarchies of otherness, continue to haunt, surreptitiously and otherwise, our worlds at large, a point that hardly bears emphasis in the ruins we inhabit.

Closing Queries

What might be considered as the tasks ahead? First, rather more than the demarcation of specialized fields such as “historical anthropology” or “ethnographic history”—and, for that matter, “history of anthropology” or “anthropology of history”—to explore together history and anthropology suggests the importance of staying with and thinking through their presumptions and productivities, complicities and segregations, as disciplines of modernity. Moreover, this means registering the acute limits of readily splitting apart the knowing subject from its object of enquiry, in order instead to consider them conjointly, often uneasily, by tracking their mutual illuminations and interrogations of each other, the ways in which these knowledges/practices come together and fall apart. Furthermore, I am speaking not only of the future genealogies of modern disciplines—including, say, of the humanities and the social sciences in China or Russia, West Asia or Eastern Europe—that are of course important issues. My reference is equally to ethnographic, historical, and other accounts of emergent worlds—made and unmade by precarities and pandemics, the nonhuman and the Anthropocene—in which analytical optics and their entities of knowing come to inhabit mutual frames and common fields, holding up mutual mirrors, the one to the other.18 Finally, all of this means eschewing pervasive performances in academic arenas of the novelty of the author’s analyses—moves that foreground the “contemporary arrogance” that celebrates the “uniqueness” of our own knowledges and times (Trouillot 2010, 46)—in order, rather, to be vigilant regarding the burdens of the past. It is in these ways that we can better respond to the probing, quotidian questions that are said to have punctuated Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s seminars: “Where are we? What time is it?”

Further Reading

  • Axel, B. K., ed. 2002. From the Margins: Historical Anthropology and Its Futures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Cohn, B. 1987. An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Comaroff, J., and J. Comaroff. 1992. Ethnography and the Historical Imagination. Boulder, CO: Westview.
  • Dube, S., ed. 2007. Historical Anthropology. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Dube, S. 2017. Subjects of Modernity: Time-Space, Disciplines, Margins. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
  • Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1961. Anthropology and History. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
  • Fabian, J. 1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Iggers, G. 1995. “Historicism: The History and Meaning of the Term.” Journal of the History of Ideas 56: 129–152.
  • Kelly, J., and M. Kaplan. 1990. “History, Structure, and Ritual.” Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 119–150.
  • Lüdtke, A., ed. 1995. The History of Everyday Life: Reconstructing Historical Experiences and Ways of Life. Translated by W. Templer. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Muir, E., and G. Ruggiero, eds. 1991. Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe. Translated by E. Branch. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Munn, N. 1992. “The Cultural Anthropology of Time: A Critical Essay.” Annual Review of Anthropology 21: 93–123.
  • Naepels, M. 2010. “Introduction: Anthropology and History: Through the Disciplinary Looking Glass.” Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 65 (4): 873–884.
  • Palmié, S., and S. Charles, eds. 2019. The Varieties of Historical Experience. London: Routledge.
  • Reddy, W. 1999. “Emotional Liberty: Politics and History in the Anthropology of Emotions.” Cultural Anthropology 14: 256–288.
  • Sabean, D. W. 1990. Property, Production and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700–1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sahlins, M. 1993. “Goodbye to Tristes Tropes: Ethnography in the Context of Modern World History.” Journal of Modern History 65: 1–25.
  • Stocking, G., Jr. 1987. Victorian Anthropology. New York: Free Press.
  • Stocking, G., Jr. 1992. The Ethnographer’s Magic and Other Essays in the History of Anthropology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Stoler, A. L., and F. Cooper. 1997. “Between Metropole and Colony: Rethinking a Research Agenda.” In Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World, edited by F. Cooper and A. L. Stoler, 1–56. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Thomas, N. 1994. Colonialism’s Culture: Anthropology, Travel and Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Thompson, E. P. 1993. Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture. New York: New Press.
  • Trouillot, M.‑R. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Viazzo, P. P. 2003. Introducción a la antropología histórica. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and Instituto Italiano de Cultura.
  • Wolfe, P. 1997. “History and Imperialism: A Century of Theory, from Marx to Postcolonialism.” American Historical Review 102: 380–420.

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Notes

  • 1. A few clarifications are in order at the outset. In speaking of anthropology, my reference is to the sociocultural branch of the discipline, which draws in of course ethnography and ethnology. This means further that I do not attend to issues of archeology, despite their connections with questions explored in the article, whether in the work of, say, a scholar such as Moses Finley or in the articulations, explored ahead, of critical heritage studies. Alongside, I bracket specific considerations also of 20th-century philosophers of history, from R. G. Collingwood through to Hayden White, including the influence of the former on “interpretivist” anthropology, especially via the work of E. E. Evans-Pritchard, and of the latter on strands of history and ethnography. On another note, it might be argued that lineaments of scholarship in vast polities such as China and Russia were intrinsically different from the intellectual formations that this article discusses: but it is my submission that the institutionalization of history, ethnology/anthropology, and folklore as modern enquiries in these distinct empires and nations might be better understood as emerging from conversations and contentions with salient tendencies elsewhere. Furthermore, the article cites almost exclusively works and translations in the English language: on the interplay of anthropology and history, references to scholarship in French are to be found in Naepels (2010) and Viazzo (2003), the latter discussing also works in other European languages. Finally, concerning the questions addressed here, including the references that shore up the discussion, my bid is toward a critically indicative, inclusive endeavor—instead of a more narrowly exclusive, exhaustive exercise.

  • 2. Here are to be found discussions that project a step-by-step opening of social-cultural history toward anthropology and that further portray exceptional anthropological ancestors as heeding the call of the past till the two disciplines inevitably, inexorably embrace each other, from the 1970s onward. While present in publications, such dispositions are even more dispersed in the classroom and the seminar, pedagogies cast in terms of “schools,” “masters,” and their “greatest hits,” with especial importance accorded to programmatic statements and ensuing debates (Cohn 1980, 1981; Evans-Pritchard 1961; Schapera 1962; Thomas 1963; Thompson 1972, 1977). At stake are assumptions, exactly uncovered by Brian Axel (2002b, 13), concerning history and anthropology as “whole and complete in themselves,” as principally awaiting a “dialogue” between their already given methodologies. Against the grain of such orientations, this article attempts to think through and open up the terms, textures, and transformations of anthropology and history—their common grounds, constitutive conceits, formative presumptions, disciplinary dissensions, mutual makeovers, and substantive contributions—including in conversation with other studies of the interplay between these disciplines (e.g., “Anthropology and Time”, Annales2010; Axel 2002a; Coello de la Rosa and Mateo Dieste 2020; Faubion 1993; Hastrup 1992; Kelly and Kaplan 1990; Krech 1991; Murphy et al. 2011; Naepels 2010; Palmié and Stewart 2016; Palmié and Stewart 2019; Pels 1997; Pooley 2018; Reddy 1999; Viazzo 2003. Dube [2007b] considers the interplay between anthropology and history in South Asia as part of a larger story).

  • 3. While the constitutive attributes of the dichotomy have been often registered for the anthropological discipline (e.g., Stocking 1987, 1992, 1995; Trouillot 1991), I am extending the reach of the argument to modern, institutionalized, disciplinary history. It bears emphasis that, even more than the other parts of the article, this section is based on wide reading but cites only those indicative references that would be useful to readers.

  • 4. This is not to deny prior formations of the modernity of the Renaissance and of the empires of southern Europe in the New World (Dube and Banerjee-Dube 2019; Mignolo 1995). But a discussion of their presence in anthropology and history as modern enquiries is outside the scope of this article.

  • 5. Stocking’s (1987) astute account of the crystallization of “civilization” and “culture” in Western Europe across the first half of the 19th century is monumental, synthetic scholarship. (See also Stocking 1992, 1995.)

  • 6. While this article cannot do justice to this issue, I will throughout attempt to point toward such surpluses of significance and their escape from prior schemas and a priori readings.

  • 7. Let me confess to not being able to consider here questions such as those of the persistence of “polygenism” and of “degenerationism,” especially as bound to biblical anthropology.

  • 8. Considering such questions, it is important to keep in mind , the larger reshaping of Boasian anthropology and on the other the widening breach between British and US anthropology, such that while both emphasized synchrony they bore different evaluations of culture (Dube 2007a, 52–53, n. 33, 36; Stocking 1992, 118–150, 353–357; 1995, 233–441).

  • 9. This discussion of the institutionalization of historiography and historicism brings together a score and more writings. Here let me only orient the reader to works by Iggers (1995, 2012), Kelley (1998, 244–272), Stocking (1987, 20–25), and Zammito (2002).

  • 10. Returning to pathways that have been opened up yet mainly forgotten within disciplinary practice, it is worth contrasting the historicist tradition under discussion with the historical narratives of the 19th-century French scholar Jules Michelet. Here, Michelet´s actual procedures of research and writing can be read as recasting “hermeneutic” and “scientific” methods in order to foreground the salient but repressed “subject of history.” This also intimated the requirements of historical writing to live up to its threefold contract—“scientific, political, and literary”—with modern political democratic constituencies (Rancière 1994, 2004).

  • 11. Social-scientific history of this kind, focusing on economy and society and concerned with structures and dynamics of the past, often of the long run, gradually became salient to the profession for most of the 20th century. In this article, I do not account for the varied articulations and distinct tendencies of such historiography: in its search for underlying patterns and processes these tendencies could principally bracket the meanings and actions of historical subjects, which I see as crucial to the intersections and remaking of anthropology and history.

  • 12. On the one hand should we not ask if the formative “structural histories” crafted by the Annales school deprived Western “history of its human subject, its links to a generally political and specifically democratic agenda, and its characteristic mode of representing its subject’s manner of being in the world, namely, narrative” (White 1994, xi)? On the other hand did not Fernand Braudel’s influential writings render vast parts of the Mediterranean world as islands floating outside the currents of civilization and history, further casting as ahistorical the sphere of everyday material culture as compared to the historical dynamism of early modern mercantilism (Braudel 1973; Medick 1995, 42–44)?

  • 13. Concerning these three tendencies, only the later writings of Mintz (1985) and Wolf (1982)—alongside those of Roseberry (1989)—generally find mention in discussions of anthropology and history.

  • 14. In this context, it is crucial to consider also traditions of scholarship as represented by “oral history” (Vansina 1985) as well as the ethnographic history of the “Melbourne School” (Clendinnen 1987, 1999; Dening 1991, 1995, 1996).

  • 15. The way much of this came together in the last quarter of the 20th century becomes clear from the following: the urgent political-theoretical intervention of Said (1978; see also Grosrichard 1998) not only had a ripple effect on postcolonial perspectives as unraveling the presence of the colony in the making of modernity and on subaltern studies as interrogating the modern nation-state, but came to define critical sensibilities that variously articulated the scholarship on the cusp of history and anthropology discussed ahead.

  • 16. It bears mention that the emphases of these “revisionist” writings have not necessarily been in accord with dominant tendencies within subaltern studies and postcolonial perspectives, which can project colonial power as a dystopian totality (Guha 1997; see also Guha 2004) or/and trace a formative ambivalence as fracturing and splitting colonial cultural discourse (Bhabha 1994). At the same time, the wider interest in questions of colonial representations and writings was equally evident in tendencies such as “new historicism” (Greenblatt 1991).

  • 17. Such scholarship on the nation from the 1980s rested upon key conjunctions between historical anthropologies, subaltern studies, critical histories, postcolonial perspectives, and influential writings such as those by Anderson (1983) and Corrigan and Sayer (1985).

  • 18. For distinct expressions of the shapes that such procedures might take see, for instance, Jobson (2020), Li (2020), and Mazzarella (2017, also 2009).