[Paleopsych] CHE: Anthropologists, Few in Number, Revisit a 1919 Debate

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Wed Feb 2 22:03:50 UTC 2005

Anthropologists, Few in Number, Revisit a 1919 Debate
The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.1.7


    At a sparsely attended annual convention here last month, members of
    the American Anthropological Association took steps to right an
    85-year-old wrong done to a pioneer in the field and a founder of the
    association. In a unanimous (but nonbinding) vote, scholars voted to
    rescind the organization's 1919 censure of Franz Boas.
    The censure occurred in the aftermath of World War I, when Boas
    angered many of his peers by making sharp-tongued criticisms of
    anthropologists who had covertly served as wartime U.S. spies in Latin
    America. Boas was then a professor at Columbia University and probably
    the country's best-known scholarly anthropologist. He had been among
    the association's founders, in 1902.
    In late 1919, Boas published a letter in The Nation in which he
    announced that he had learned that "a number of men who follow science
    as their profession, men whom I refuse to designate any longer as
    scientists, have prostituted science by using it as a cover for their
    activities as spies." Boas's letter did not name names, but among the
    small circle of American anthropologists it was clear that he was
    referring to an espionage ring organized in 1917 by Sylvanus G.
    Morley, a leading scholar of the Maya who was then affiliated with
    Harvard University's Peabody Museum. The ring's primary task was to
    search for reputed German submarine bases in Mexico and Central
    Two weeks later, the association's governing council voted, 20 to 10,
    to censure Boas, declaring his letter un-American.
    Now the association would like to make posthumous amends. Scholars at
    December's conference approved a resolution that removes the censure
    and affirms that it is "immoral for scientists to use their
    professional identity as cover for governmental spying activities."
    "This is an issue that has to be revived from generation to
    generation," said Leni M. Silverstein, one of the resolution's
    authors, in a telephone interview. Ms. Silverstein, a visiting scholar
    at Northwestern University, pointed out that similar debates arose
    during the Vietnam War and are likely to arise again in relation to
    the conflicts in Iraq and Central Asia.
    Not everyone agrees with the recision. In a letter that will appear in
    a forthcoming issue of Anthropology News, David L. Browman, a
    professor of archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis,
    suggests that Boas acted dishonorably in 1919. Among other things, Mr.
    Browman writes, Boas appears to have manipulated the espionage debate
    in an effort to win money and resources from the National Research
    Council for his department at Columbia.
    The business meeting at the convention lacked a quorum, so the vote to
    renounce the censure was only advisory. It is likely that the
    association's executive board will put the question to the entire
    membership in a mail ballot next year. The resolution is expected to
    win by a comfortable margin.
    Southern Exposure
    The anthropology conference, which had originally been scheduled for
    San Francisco in mid-November, drew only a fraction of its usual
    Less than four weeks before the conference was to have been held, the
    organization voted to relocate and reschedule the meeting because of a
    labor dispute at San Francisco's major hotels.
    The decision was controversial. Some scholars have argued that the
    association should have gone ahead with the San Francisco meeting, and
    others have said that the association could have shown more solidarity
    with the San Francisco hotel workers by completely breaking its
    contract with the Hilton Hotels Corporation. (The move to Atlanta was
    the result of a complex negotiation with Hilton, in which the
    association avoided any financial penalties.)
    Many people at the conference, however, said the move to Atlanta was
    the least bad option under the circumstances.
    More than 6,000 people had been expected to attend the San Francisco
    meeting, but fewer than 800 were on hand in Atlanta. The association's
    president, Elizabeth M. Brumfiel, said that low attendance was
    expected to cost the organization between $385,000 and $500,000.
    In the original San Francisco program, 25 panels had been announced
    for Friday afternoon at 1:45 -- the heart of the conference schedule.
    In Atlanta at that time, only six panels actually took place, with a
    combined audience of fewer than 100 people.
    At the meeting, the association's executive board unanimously approved
    a resolution requiring that, beginning in 2010, all association
    conferences must be held in unionized hotels. That resolution, too,
    will probably be brought to the entire membership in a mail ballot.

More information about the paleopsych mailing list