Carl E. Guthe
DURING the early 1920’s, the desirability of offering instruction in anthropology, the need for which had been recognized for a number of years, was made more apparent by the increased interest in the anthropological collections of the University. This led, in 1923, to the offer of a nonresident lectureship in anthropology to Colonel Thomas Callan Hodson, of London, England. As a result of his acceptance, regular courses in the subject were given in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts for the first time during the second semester of the school year 1923-24. Colonel Hodson, who had enjoyed special opportunities for research in comparative religions while serving as a member of the Indian Civil Service for many years, offered three courses. The enrollment in these indicated the interest in the subject and the advisability of making permanent arrangements for instruction in anthropology.
In the years which followed, attempts were made, without success, to find a professor of anthropology and to organize a regular department. It was finally decided to begin modestly by appointing an instructor in the subject and to develop the work gradually, with the active cooperation of the officials of the recently established Museum of Anthropology. Late in the spring of 1928, a Department of Anthropology was created in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and Dean Effinger was authorized to appoint an advisory committee to supervise its activities. The work of this committee led to the appointment, on October 1, 1928, of Julian H. Steward (Cornell ’25, Ph.D. California ’29), then a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of California, as Part-time Lecturer in Anthropology and Part-time Curator in the Museum of Anthropology. Mr. Steward and Carl Eugen Guthe (’14, Ph.D. Harvard ’17), Director of the Museum of Anthropology, jointly offered an introductory course in the subject during the school year 1928-29. Although the course was organized too late to be included in the Announcement for that year, it had an enrollment of seventy-three students.
Having received his doctorate in June, 1929, Steward resigned his position in the Museum of Anthropology in September, 1929, to devote his full time to an instructorship in the College. During the school year 1929-30, a full-year introductory course was given by Steward and Guthe, who held a lectureship in the department. In addition, Dr. Steward taught three one-semester advanced courses, and conducted a seminar in primitive culture each semester. An individual research course enabled qualified students to take advantage of the library and museum facilities.
In the spring of 1930 Steward resigned to accept a position at the University of Utah and was succeeded by Leslie A. White (Columbia ’23, Ph.D. Chicago ’27), formerly of the University of Buffalo, who was appointed to an assistant professorship of anthropology in June, 1930. The courses offered in the next school year were essentially the same as those offered the previous year.
During the ensuing years, the department has grown steadily. All of the courses in anthropology were open only to upperclassmen and graduate students until 1936-37, when the full-year introductory course was opened to sophomores. That same year a survey course was established to meet the needs of upperclassmen and graduate students concentrating in other fields. In the fall of 1930, an assistantship was established in the department, and in June, 1932, White was advanced to the rank of associate professor. In November, 1935, Mischa Titiev (Harvard ’23, Ph.D. ibid. ’35) was appointed as an instructor in the department. Dr. Guthe has continued to teach one or two courses as a part-time lecturer. During this period White gradually assumed full responsibilities as the acting chairman of the department.
In the school year 1930-31, the department offered eighteen semester hours of courses, including the full-year introductory course open only to upperclassmen, and a course in research and special work each semester. In 1937-38, thirty-seven semester hours were offered, including the full-year introductory course now open to sophomores, and two courses each semester in research and special work, one in the department and the other in the Museum of Anthropology. The enrollment increased from 250 in 1930-31 to 553 in 1936-37. Regular summer session courses in anthropology were offered for the first time in the summer of 1937. Extension courses in anthropology have been given for a number of years in Detroit, Saginaw, and Pontiac.
The department is still young, but it is well established, due in no small measure to the cordial welcome it has received from the faculties of its sister departments. As yet, it is not possible to offer a full complement of courses in all the fields of anthropology. The interests and energy of the present small staff lead to an emphasis upon theoretical anthropology of the American Indian. As opportunity offers, it is planned to add courses in ethnography, comparative linguistics, archaeology, technology, and, possibly, physical anthropology. The present offerings allow students to obtain a master’s degree in the subject.
Announcement, Department [College, 1915 — ] of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Univ. Mich., 1920-40.
Catalogue …, Univ. Mich., 1920-23.
Catalogue and Register, Univ. Mich., 1923-27.
General Register Issue, Univ. Mich., 1927-40.
President’s Report, Univ. Mich., 1920-40.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1920-40.
The Department of Anthropology was established in 1929 with Carl E. Guthe and J. H. Steward. They were housed in a room in the Museum of Anthropology reserved for research visitors. This was the departmental office until 1954, when the department moved to the basement of Angell Hall. The office remains there to this day, but departmental members have also had offices in Mason Hall, the Special Projects Building, and the Literature, Science and the Arts Building.
In 1940, Leslie A. White, Misha Titiev, and Carl E. Guthe offered some sixteen courses, with an undergraduate major and an M.A. program. Guthe resigned from the University in 1943, and the following year J. B. Griffin and V. H. Jones were added, though without College titles. During the next five years, following the appointment of L. A. White as Chairman, the staff was enlarged by R. K. Beardsley and F. P. Thieme on full time; from the Museum of Anthropology, by A. C. Spaulding, Kamer Aga-Oglu, and E. F. Greenman; K. Pike from Linguistics, and Horace Miner from Sociology. A Ph.D. program was established in 1948, the second in the Midwest, following the University of Chicago. This expansion was stimulated by the increase in student population following World War II, the growing awareness of the importance of understanding different areas of the world, and by the interest and support of Dean Heyward Keniston. By 1955 the staff had expanded to fifteen, and over 75 courses were available to undergraduate and graduate students. In 1965 there were 24 staff members, and by 1970 the department’s size stabilized at between 30 and 35 members.
Professor Misha Titiev joined the department in 1936 after two years’ activity as director of planning the archeological museum at Williamsburg, Virginia. Professor Titiev’s field of specialization centered on American native cultural anthropology, a focus of interest which developed a strong and lasting association with the Hopi communities in Arizona. His interest extended to the Araucanian Indians in Chile, also to Indian cultures in Peru. Under auspices of a Fulbright fellowship he spent a year at the National University at Canberra, Australia, where he assisted in the establishment of a Department of Anthropology. In 1951 Titiev spent a year as Field Director of the University of Michigan Japanese Center in Okayama, Japan. The direction and conduct of a viable and distinguished Honors degree program in anthropology was in his charge from 1960 until his retirement in 1970.
Student enrollment has risen substantially over the years. In the 1946 fall term there were 10 graduate students and some 640 course enrollments; in the fall term of 1955 there were about 30 graduate students and almost 1,000 course enrollments; in 1964-65 there were 62 graduate students, an average of 1,780 course enrollments and 42 undergraduate majors in anthropology. By 1974-75 there were some 200 graduate students, 130 undergraduate majors and 4,760 course enrollments.
The doctoral program has been highly successful during its almost 30 years. Close to 150 Ph.D.s have been earned in anthropology. Archaeology and ethnology have trained most, followed by physical anthropology with about 15 percent and ethnobotany, a specialized subfield, with four recipients. For the first half of the period most of the theses in archaeology had as their geographical area North America from the Canadian Arctic to Georgia and from the Atlantic coast to the Southwest. They were primarily devoted to the building of cultural sequences and the identification of prehistoric societies. During the second half, archaeological thesis topics tended to be more theoretically oriented, and based on field work in Latin America, Europe, and the Near East. Early theses in ethnology explored various facets of the behavior and beliefs of contemporary American Indian societies. With the greater availability of research funds in the last twenty years, all of the continents as well as the insular Pacific and Caribbean are now listed as areas of field work. Meanwhile thesis orientation has shifted largely towards theoretical problems of anthropological interest. In physical anthropology, theses have been concerned with such problems as dental variation, the presence of strontium in human bone, human mating preferences, sickle cell anemia, and the age of bone. The theses in ethnobotany have dealt with the interaction between native societies and the plant world in Quebec, the Great Lakes and Southwest, and Hawaii.
The Department of Anthropology has had a series of joint appointments in other departments, institutes, and centers; these reflect the interests of the several staff members over the 35-year period. In the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, they include History of Art, Botany, Geology and Mineralogy, Linguistics, Political Science, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, and Zoology. In Sociology this association eventually developed into a concentration program in Social Anthropology under Horace Miner. A concentration program in Anthropology and Zoology is under E. Goldschmidt. Medical School departments of Anatomy and Human Genetics have had several joint appointments or interacting programs with Anthropology. In the School of Music there is a joint program in Ethnomusicology, and in the Highway Safety Research Institute a physical anthropologist has a major appointment. The staff of the Literary College has had a strong role in several centers of area studies established after World War II. Anthropology staff were active in the founding of the Centers for Afroamerican and African Studies, Human Growth and Development, Japanese Studies, and Near East and North African Studies. They have also been connected with the Centers for Chinese Studies, Research on Economic Development, Russian and East European Studies, and South and Southeast Asian Studies.
Leslie A. White was appointed an Assistant Professor in 1930 and was associated with the department until his retirement in 1969. F. P. Thieme served as Chairman for 1957-58, then becoming Provost of the University of Washington, Seattle. J. A. Spuhler was first Acting Chairman for a year and then served as Chairman until 1967 when he resigned to accept an endowed professorship at the University of New Mexico. Spuhler, like Thieme, was a physical anthropologist. W. D. Schorger, a social anthropologist, was Chairman from 1967 to 1970. He had been acting head during 1965-66 and was followed as Chairman by E. R. Wolf who served but one year, and resigned to accept a Distinguished Professorship at City University of New York. R. K. Beardsley was Acting Chairman in 1971-72. He, like Wolf, was a social anthropologist. Beardsley was also Director of the Center for Japanese Studies from 1961-63 and was active in its administrative and fund-raising affairs. Schorger was Director of the Center for Near East and North African Studies from 1961-71 and again since 1974. J. B. Griffin became Chairman in 1972, leaving office in 1975 because of retirement.
Webb Keane, Milford Wolpoff, Kent Flannery, and Joyce Marcus
Long before C.P. Snow introduced the expression “two cultures” to describe the growing chasm between scientific and humanistic fields in the mid-20th century, the discipline of anthropology was spanning the natural and social sciences, as well as reaching into the humanities. This reach is prefigured in the diverse origins of anthropological study, which include the ethnographic reports of explorers and folklorists, the collection of antiquities, the geological sciences of deep time, and the naturalist investigations that gave rise to the theory of evolution. Despite these deep roots, which some would trace back to Herodotus, anthropology as a formal academic discipline is younger than many of the other humanities and sciences. The first two professors of anthropology were both appointed in 1896, Edward Tylor at Oxford and Franz Boas at Columbia. (By 1930, there were still only six Ph.D.-granting departments in the United States). Reflecting the broad definition of the field, both Tylor and Boas had also held earlier positions as museum curators. In these dual capacities, they worked with living and long-vanished societies, with the evidence of fieldwork interactions with other individuals and mute physical remains such as bones and artifacts.
This dual role, which persists among the archaeologists at Michigan, reflects some of the institutional complexity of the discipline. It also makes writing a departmental history difficult. Although the Department of Anthropology at Michigan was not up and running until 1928, courses in anthropology had been taught at Michigan since 1892 or earlier, and the University’s collections included ethnographic material from the very beginning, with items in the Cabinet of Natural History in 1837. The founding of the Museum of Anthropology at Michigan, in 1922, predates that of the Department; as an institution, it has always been independent of the Department, despite the overlap of faculty and shared scholarly interests. This complexity is characteristic of the discipline of anthropology, insofar as it aspires to integrate a wide and diverse range of academic and practical enterprises.
Boas, whose German graduate training was in physics, developed the model of “four field” anthropology. According to this vision of an integrated study of humans in their natural and historical character, anthropology departments would include the subfields of cultural (or social) anthropology, biological (or physical) anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology. Due in part to Boas’s promethean institution-building, variations on the four-field model became common in American departments during the twentieth century, although it is rarely found elsewhere. As each field has become more specialized, and divergent methodological and conceptual principles are seen to conflict (often along the lines of the two cultures described by Snow), the model has been hard to sustain in practice. In the end, many major research departments have ended up specializing in one or the other — Chicago favors cultural and linguistic, for instance, while Penn State leans toward biological and archaeology — or splitting apart, as happened temporarily at Stanford. One distinctive feature of Michigan’s Department has been its ability to maintain strength in all four fields. This commitment is not without critics and practical challenges, but the structural breadth it requires, along with a general sense that theoretical and methodological diversity are valued, has been an important part of the Department’s public profile. It seems to have been so from the start.
The Founding Generation
Unlike many anthropology departments, which began as units within sociology programs, Michigan’s was autonomous from the start. The Anthropology Department began offering courses in the 1928-1929 academic year under the directorship of Carl Guthe. Trained as an archaeologist at Harvard, Guthe had been associate director of the University’s Museum of Anthropology. In a letter to Dean Alfred H. Lloyd, proposing such a program, he made clear his own multi-field image of anthropology. It would encompass “the study of man and his relation to his natural and cultural environments…. The ‘natural environment’ refers to those forces of nature over which man has no control, while the cultural environment refers to those forces which are either controlled or brought into existence through the efforts of man. The problem of determining into which of these two categories a given force should be placed constitutes the fundamental problem of anthropology.”.
Norms governing pronoun use have changed, and the idea that we are dealing with two distinct categories of nature and culture has been challenged, but in broad terms, Guthe’s remarks traced the outlines of debates that would shape the discipline through much of the century.
To help get the program running, Guthe hired Julian Steward, who had just received his degree at the University of California, Berkeley under two of Boas’s students, Alfred Kroeber and Robert Lowie. However, after two years, Steward left for a position at the University of Utah. Guthe, who had persuaded the administration that the social sciences would grow in importance, was able to hire a replacement. In 1930, Leslie White became the second faculty member of the Department. He remained for the rest of his career, some forty years, and was the most famous member of the Department for much of that time. He played a formative, often controversial role in its development (a life-long political radical, he published socialist essays under a pseudonym). Trained at Chicago, a department whose intellectual roots were closer to the English tradition in social anthropology, White was a leading anti-Boasian. In contrast to Boas’s emphasis on historical contingency in culture, and his methodological interest in ethnographic particularity, White developed a general, unified theory of cultural evolution, in which the driving force was technological change. In addition to courses such as The American Indian, he expounded his theoretical arguments in The Mind of Primitive Man and The Evolution of Culture, which drew up to 300 students at a time when the undergraduate population was under 5,000. Some say his local reputation as “the village atheist” was part of his draw for undergraduates. His biographer, William Peace, suggests his unpopular views and strong commitment to academic freedom would also be an enduring source of problems with the University administration and obstacles in his career path.
White ran a one-man department until Mischa Titiev, with a recent degree from Harvard and fieldwork experience among the Hopi in Arizona, was hired in 1936. They remained the only two full-time faculty members until after the Second World War, despite serious differences in personality and politics. (Among other things, Titiev had worked for the Office of Strategic Services during the war, a record White opposed on political grounds, and one that left him again running the program single-handedly).
One result of the global reach of American power during and after the Second World War was the establishment of federally supported area studies centers in universities, along with funding for the study of non-European languages, such as the Title VI grants. Rooted though they were in Cold War geopolitics, these centers were usually only loosely tied to government policy goals, and they became a vital resource for the growth of anthropology. Michigan became a major center for area studies during the post-war decades. The various area studies programs collaborated in the hiring of faculty, and they helped facilitate the funding of graduate student research.
Work with the OSS had led Titiev to develop an interest in Japan. After the war, he helped establish the East Asian Studies Program and welcomed the growing role of federal funding for the social sciences. White resisted this development, seeing dependence on the government as ethically problematic and a threat to scholarly independence. White also recognized that the relationship to area studies would complicate the anthropological vision. To the extent that area studies tend to foster a particularistic interest in a given region for its own sake, it is in tension with the generalizing, comparison-seeking, and sometimes model-building goals of anthropology. Most sociocultural anthropologists contend with this tension. Some opt for one side or the other, while others find the tension itself to be a creative stimulus.
Returning from his service in the OSS, Titiev began pushing the University’s central administration to establish a full Ph.D. program in the Department. He foresaw that the G.I. Bill of Rights would flood institutions of higher education with students and create demand for faculty. By dint of its intellectual breadth and global reach, he argued, anthropology would be in a privileged position to integrate the social sciences. An M.A. degree in the discipline had been in place at Michigan since the 1930s, but it seems that only one Ph.D. was awarded in that period. That degree was granted to the archaeologist, and later Michigan professor, James Griffin by a committee specially convened for the purpose that took into account his graduate studies elsewhere. The Michigan graduate program was finally established in 1948 and awarded its first degree in 1951.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the discipline of anthropology benefited from the explosive growth of the social sciences. U-M was a major participant in the expansion of social sciences of all stripes. The Anthropology Department was distinctive, however, in several respects. First, since ethnographic fieldwork made it a poor fit for programs designed to produce large-scale statistical research, it was the only social science department not to be funded by the Institute for Social Research. Over the long run, this led Anthropology to depend more heavily on classroom enrollments for financial support than the other social sciences. The Department was also marked by its relatively democratic style of governance and, perhaps most importantly at this stage, by its intellectual eclecticism, a style that would wax and wane over the ensuing decades.
These trends in governance and intellectual style were due, in part, to the figure of Leslie White, who served as chair for a quarter century. Although he was in many respects a poor administrator, with prickly relations with deans of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, “it was largely through White’s efforts that Michigan’s anthropology Department became one of the most democratic, diverse, and objective in the country. From undergraduate and graduate students to faculty members, with and without tenure, all had an equal voice in departmental affairs.”
This outcome is all the more striking because White was also a towering figure in the creation of a theoretical paradigm that many anthropologists considered dogmatic. In the period between 1940 and 1960, White played a key role in pushing the discipline away from the collection of ethnographic particulars toward a more generalizing, comparative project. Laying out his case in The Science of Culture (1949), White saw cultural anthropology as a science that he called culturology. He disputed what was then known as the “great man theory of history,” the idea that individuals of unusual inventiveness were responsible for great discoveries and epochal changes. White looked instead to the constellation of cultural forces that produced great individuals. He pointed to the simultaneity of discovery. Several times in human history, when cultural conditions were right, people working independently have come up with the same revolutionary idea or achievement at the same time. Examples include the theory of evolution through natural selection as formulated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace and the independent rediscovery of Mendelian genetics by three separate scientists in 1917. Graduates of the program in the 1950s recall the pervasive feeling of intellectual excitement and a combative stance toward competing departments such as Chicago’s and Columbia’s. Despite his strong theoretical position, however, White resisted the development of a Michigan school of thought, which he believed would inhibit debate and the development of new ideas. In particular, he established a policy against hiring Michigan Ph.D. students unless they had first spent time elsewhere.
In 1952, as the Department began its post-war expansion, the main offices were moved to Angell Hall, introducing a spatial division between the archaeologists and the rest of the faculty that persists to this day. By 1955, the Department had grown from two to fifteen members. This permitted greater specialization within the faculty and the development of a full four-field program, though linguistic anthropology was represented by a single person, Robbins Burling, hired in 1966, and for administrative purposes remained part of the ethnology subfield. The various subfields began to follow distinct scholarly trajectories, but materialist approaches to cultural evolution remained dominant until the late 1960s. The ethnology/sociocultural anthropology sub-discipline by then made up about half the Department, an arrangement that has persisted over time because it reflects the distribution of anthropologists within the profession as a whole.
The 1950s: Materialism and Cultural Evolution
Although Leslie White had not favored the development of a single “Michigan School” of thought, something like it began to appear with the hiring of two graduates of Columbia, Elman Service in 1953 and Marshall Sahlins in 1957. The trend was reinforced by later, intellectually sympathetic hires such as Mervyn Meggitt (arriving from Australian National University in 1965) and Napoleon Chagnon (a graduate of Michigan who served briefly on the faculty). Columbia had turned against its Boasian origins and was heavily influenced by Julian Steward, one of the founding members of Michigan’s department. Like White, Steward saw anthropology as a comparative project that would produce an overarching, unified theory of cultural evolution based on materialist foundations. This approach dominated Michigan anthropology throughout the 1960s, as Service and Sahlins were joined by other Columbia graduates such as Eric Wolf in 1961 and Roy Rappaport in 1965. During this period, White’s The Evolution of Culture (1959), Sahlins’ and Service’s Evolution and Culture (1960), and Service’s Primitive Social Organization (1962) staked out the contours of this approach and became some of the most influential theoretical works in the discipline. Another Columbia product, Conrad Kottak, made his reputation as the author of influential four-field textbooks, for which the evolutionist paradigm served as an organizing principle.
Within this broadly materialist framework, various differences of approach could be developed. Eric Wolf, for example, emphasized political and economic conflict. He insisted that the field move beyond an exclusive concern with so-called primitive societies and examine nation states and their ethnic minorities, viewed within a global context. During his ten years at Michigan, Wolf was known especially for his studies of peasants in Latin America and Europe and the historical transformations wrought by the post-Columbian world system. His focus on historical and comparative approaches led him to collaborate with two Michigan social historians, Charles Tilley and Sylvia Thrupp. This cross-disciplinary orientation to history became a distinctive feature of Michigan anthropology a generation later. (For example, Katherine Verdery named her Collegiate Professorship after Wolf in 1997). Key works by Wolf included Peasants (1966) and Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (1969). Both challenged the stereotype of peasants as backward survivors of a rural past untouched by recent world history, arguing instead that peasants should be understood as part of the nation states in which they lived.
Earning his Ph.D. at the age of 24, Marshall Sahlins, who had been inspired by the classes of Leslie White during his undergraduate years at Michigan, arrived in the Department as the enfant terrible of materialist anthropology. Having made his mark in several works of cultural evolution, with an ecological basis, he eventually took a dramatic turn away from this approach. Influenced by the economic historian Karl Polanyi, Sahlins wrote a series of essays, later collected in Stone Age Economics (1972), arguing for the cultural basis of economic value, reversing the positions espoused by his teachers. In the mid-1960s he attended the seminars of the founder of structuralist anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss. Privileging cognitive processes, structuralism rejected the deterministic tendencies of materialist analysis as it was applied to cultural phenomena. Along with the forms of symbolic analysis being developed in America and Britain, structuralism stood in direct opposition to the ecological and evolutionary work dominant at Michigan. During the 1960s and 1970s, the struggle between materialist and symbolic theories dominated sociocultural anthropology. As Sahlins adapted structuralism to the American style of cultural anthropology, he found himself increasingly at odds with the prevailing materialism of his colleagues. In 1973, he left for a chair at the University of Chicago.
One of the last of the Columbia-trained faculty in this period, Roy Rappaport (hired in 1966) wrote what is perhaps the best-known example of an ethnographic study of a single society based on the principles of materialist analysis, Pigs for the Ancestors (1968). Like Wolf and Sahlins, Rappaport then moved away from strict materialist models. In a career spent entirely at Michigan, until his death in 1997, Rappaport became increasingly drawn to cybernetics, systems theory, and the development of an ambitious theoretical account of the role of religion in human societies. The work culminated in a posthumous monograph, Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (1999). By that point, the divisions between materialist and symbolic analysis in anthropology had broken down, and his work represents one way they could be brought together. Rappaport’s interest in the place of humans in ecological systems would continue to form a basis for connections to colleagues in archaeology, such as Richard Ford and Kent Flannery.
The Vietnam Era
The 1960s had a strong impact on anthropology in general and the Michigan department in particular. Wolf’s Peasant Wars examined popular revolutions in Russia, Mexico, China, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam from the perspective of peasants, whose ways of life had been threatened or destroyed by the actions of world powers, including the United States in Vietnam. The impetus to write this book came not only from Wolf’s prior work on peasants but also from his strong opposition to the Vietnam War. Both Wolf and Marshall Sahlins were early opponents of the war. Both were involved in the first “teach-in” against the war, in 1965, a concept that Sahlins is credited with inventing. Both were also deeply concerned with the ethical implications of American wars for their profession. Anthropology had been roiled with controversy after it was revealed that some ethnographers had collaborated with the CIA in its counter-insurgency campaigns in Thailand. Wolf and his colleague Joseph G. Jorgensen wrote about this in the New York Review of Books in 1970, and they played a central role in a stormy session of the American Anthropological Association that led to new ethical guidelines for anthropologists. Although there is no direct connection to White’s objections to Titiev’s work with the OSS over 25 years earlier, incidents like this reveal fundamental issues in a fieldwork-based enterprise involving large differences in power between observer and observed. The same kind of problem would shake the Department again in the early 2000s.
Wolf and Sahlins saw the war as offering important lessons for anthropological thought, although they drew contrasting conclusions from it. For Wolf, one of the lessons was that societies must not be studied in isolation from their larger context; another was that anthropologists could not stand by as neutral observers. For Sahlins, Vietnamese resistance to the massive force and wealth of the French and Americans demonstrated the power of cultural values over simplistic instrumental rationality, which in his view was a mask for ethnocentrism and self-justification on the part of the powerful. More generally, the influence of the era’s politics can be seen in how the Department defined the discipline. According to the 1975 departmental self-study, “Anthropology has emphasized the wide variation in human behavior since man first appeared and in contemporary societies around the world… It has actively combated racims [sic] and racist doctrines. It can demonstrate that there are very few modes of human behavior that are universal and that most behavior is determined by the culture history and adaptations of a population. It is therefore a force for tolerance and understanding and its concepts are anathema to doctrinaire systems and attitudes whether they be in the United States or China.”
The interest in race was a theme the subfields could say they shared. In this same era, the emergence of feminist anthropology, and the challenge to purely biological explanations of gender difference, would draw some of its thinking from earlier anthropological challenges to racism. One of the most influential founding documents of this turn in anthropology, “The traffic in women: Notes on the ‘political economy’ of sex” (1975), had its start as an undergraduate term paper written for Marshall Sahlins by Gayle Rubin, who was Michigan’s first undergraduate to major in Women’s Studies. Rubin returned to earn her Ph.D. from the Department, and after a long career as a public intellectual and activist, joined the faculty in 2003. This pioneering path in feminist and later LGBTQ studies would become a well-established track in anthropology through the work of people such as Susan Harding and Jennifer Robertson.
Over this period, the Department’s reputation rose continuously: in rankings issued by the American Council on Education, it stood at seventh place in 1957, fourth in 1964, and third in 1969, just behind Berkeley. After that, the Department would never fall out of the top three, sometimes joining Chicago in first place. The National Research Council has consistently ranked Michigan at number one since 1982, a position it shared with Harvard and Chicago in the 2010 NRC study. A departmental self-study in the 1980s pointed out that between 1979 and 1985, Michigan also ranked first in the number of NSF dissertation grants awarded in anthropology, while faculty research funding grew 250 percent from 1973 to 1987. Reaching 24 faculty members in 1965 and 29 by the decade’s end (16 in ethnology, six each in archaeology and biological, and one in linguistics), the Anthropology Department also diversified in its demographic makeup. The discipline had been somewhat more diverse than many at least since the 1920s, when Boas had mentored Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Ruth Bunzel, and the African-American anthropologist-turned-novelist, Zora Neal Hurston. Michigan’s Anthropology Department hired its first woman, Norma Diamond, in 1963, adding Niara Sudarkasa, an African-American woman, in 1969. (Sudarkasa left in 1986 to become president of Lincoln University). In this period the Department began to diversify intellectually as well. Materialists were shifting their interests or leaving the Department (among others, Service went to the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1969, while Wolf took a chair at Lehman College, City University of New York in 1971). Recognizing the shift, the Department’s 1971 self-study stressed the wide range of research interests as well as the number of courses cross-listed with other departments, and the involvement of seven faculty members with area studies centers. In the 1970-71 academic year, there were 7,000 undergraduate elections and 135 graduate students, 31 of them in the field. Ten Ph.D.s were granted that year and 37 M.A.s. By 1974 there were 200 graduate students and 130 undergraduate majors. By 1975, Michigan was awarding anthropology Ph.D.s to men and women in equal numbers. Whereas graduate students were trained entirely as academics, the goal of the undergraduate curriculum was more general, “a form of liberal education in social science with humanistic overtones.” The Department was thriving, but that 1971 self-study also emphasized the threat to internal morale and international reputation posed by the hiring away of senior faculty, the lower salaries of the faculty compared to peer institutions, and the poor funding of graduate students. These themes, to varying degrees, would recur in each successive self-study.
The 1970s saw the arrival of a new generation of faculty. Titiev retired in 1970 and White died in 1975. The generation that succeeded them had largely moved on by the early 1970s. The 1975 self-study, reiterating earlier concerns about the loss of senior faculty, remarked that “no one presently on the ethnology staff has a reputation to match those of Sahlins, White, or Wolf . . . . [W]e are rebuilding, not by hiring personnel with established reputations but by hiring promising people at intermediate and junior levels.” In fact, the general pattern had been, and continued to be, hiring people at early stages of their careers. Among these were Michael Taussig (trained at the London School of Economics) in 1971 and Sherry Ortner (a student of Clifford Geertz at Chicago) in 1977. Taussig moved to NYU in 1987, Ortner stayed until 1994, but both developed significant reputations based on the work they did while at Michigan. Taussig’s The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America (1980), for instance, took an important step in rethinking the relations between political economy and symbolic thought, and Ortner’s essays, such as “On key symbols” (1974), “Theory in anthropology since the sixties” (1984), and “Resistance and the problem of ethnographic refusal” (1995), as well as her many pioneering contributions to feminist anthropology, became influential works in this period. With faculty numbers continuing to grow, the bulk of the Department moved to the LSA Building in 1981, although the archaeologists (and physical anthropologist Loring Brace, in his dual role as a curator) remained in the Museum.
Biological (or physical) anthropology deals with the adaptation, variability, and evolution of human beings and their close relatives, both fossil and living. Because it studies human biology in the context of human culture and behavior, biological anthropology is both a natural and a social science. One of the original subfields of anthropology, biological anthropology played a significant role in anthropology’s development, and it has been prominently represented at Michigan, shaping the Department’s distinctive anthropological perspective from the very beginning.
In the founding generation, Julian Steward practiced a Boasian four-field anthropology that incorporated biological anthropology in his ecological approach to questions of human society, variation, and evolution. After the Second World War, when large-scale funding became available for research and student support, “several academic departments of anthropology began expanding their graduate programs to include physical anthropology. … With the notable exception of Pennsylvania, the physical anthropology programs in these departments were organized by either former students of [Earnest] Hooton [at Harvard] or, as in the case of Michigan, by a student of a Hooton (i.e., Fred Thieme, who earned his doctorate at Columbia in 1950 under [Hooton’s first student] Harry L. Shapiro).” That Michigan was “on the map” by this time is evident in the choice of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists to meet in Ann Arbor in 1957.
Fred Thieme, hired in 1949, was a biocultural anthropologist. He argued that human uniqueness “centers around the biological characteristics which have resulted in the development of culture. … Just as the man’s biology determines the basic nature of his culture, this culture is basic in determining the nature of man’s environment and evolution. From this interrelationship, it is not difficult to see the very important connection between physical and cultural anthropology. And if a broad ecological point of view is used, this interrelationship, seen as a biological-cultural anthropology, can be fruitful in providing an understanding of human evolution.” This broad, integrating theme remains at the core of Michigan biological anthropology and presaged much of what was to follow.
Thieme’s contemporary was James Spuhler, who was at Michigan from 1950 to 1968. Spuhler was jointly appointed to the Departments of Anthropology and Genetics. He was a student of Earnest Hooton and a true “jack of all trades” in biological anthropology; his interests and publications were in biological anthropology and in the collateral areas of biology and culture (especially but not uniquely in language), behavioral genetics, population genetics, as well as creationism. Spuhler was the first of many at Michigan to publish on issues of race; subsequent biological anthropologists (especially Brace, Livingstone, Wolpoff, and Caspari) became known for their contention that human races existed as social constructs and lacked a biological basis. Race is arguably one of the most important issues in anthropology; the anthropological perspective on race is unique in its combination of cultural and biological elements and is a link between all of the subfields of anthropology.
Thieme and Spuhler were the rootstock from which all Michigan biological anthropology grew. They integrated biology and culture, studied the living as well as the preserved, examined evidence from human physiology and osteology in an evolutionary framework embedded in anthropology and genetics, and related it all to the unique theme of human cultural adaptation. They exemplified the broad approach and intellectual connections that came to characterize many biological anthropologists at Michigan and helped define Michigan biological anthropology.
Michigan in the early 1950s was an extraordinarily exciting place for undergraduates in biological anthropology, as the following excerpt from the web site of the late biological anthropologist at Emory, George Armelagos (Michigan B.A. 1958) conveys: “I was soon taking classes in anthropology and doing research with physical anthropologists. Michigan’s most renowned and most controversial anthropologist was Leslie A. White. White was an incredible presence in the classroom and I found him to be an exciting teacher. His physical presence belied this description. He was physically small and dressed very conservatively. (He said that if you had radical ideas, you had to present them in a quiet manner). It is interesting that White who ‘held biology constant’ in his analysis of culture would have such an influence on Jack Kelso and other biological anthropologists who ultimately became proponents of a biocultural approach. There were major forces that were promoting systematic biocultural analysis. … In addition, Marston Bates in Zoology encouraged a biocultural approach to understanding human variation. There were few undergraduate anthropology majors at Michigan. As a sophomore I was taking graduate/undergraduate classes from White and such stellar anthropologists as Elman Service, Marshall Sahlins, James B. Griffin, William Schorger, Albert Spaulding and David Aberle.”
By the 1960s, anthropology at Michigan had grown significantly. By the end of the decade, biological anthropology faculty included James Spuhler, Frank Livingstone (beginning 1959), Marshall T. Newman (for a short time), Ernst Goldschmidt (1962), C. Loring Brace (1967), Stanley Garn (1968), Roberto Frisancho (1968), and soon thereafter Richard G. (Jerry) Snyder (concurrently head of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute until he left in 1985). Milford Wolpoff joined the Anthropology Department in 1971, and Hugh Gilmore (a temporary hire) some five years later. Biological anthropologists in other Michigan departments during the decade of the 1970’s included James Neel and W.J. “Jack” Schull in the Department of Human Genetics; Philip Gingerich (jointly appointed in Anthropology) in the Museum of Paleontology (where he was later joined by a graduate from Anthropology, Gregg Gunnell); David Carlson in the Department of Orthodontics; Melvin Baer in the School of Dentistry; Alphonse Burdi, later joined by Donald Enlow in the Department of Anatomy. Indeed, human genetics and anatomy became significant centers where biological anthropologists worked apart from the Anthropology Department.
This core of faculty in biological anthropology was diverse in interests and perspectives, yet they brought together the key assessment that adaptation was a fundamental organizing principle for understanding humanity, past and present, and was the basis for how biology and culture combined over the course of human evolution. Livingstone developed the pre-eminent example, with the hypothesis that sickle cell mutations were expressed in a culture-biology context; the mutation proved to be advantageous when humans cut down portions of tropical forests to allow agriculture, creating ideal breeding conditions for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Adaptation was also the focus of biological studies of living humans by Garn, Frisancho, Snyder, and Goldschmidt. Garn and Frisancho studied growth in an adaptive context. Garn examined human growth and development in his attempts to understand human biological variation, publishing some 850 papers. Adaptation was basic to the studies of past human evolution, or paleoanthropology, by Wolpoff and Brace. Much of Brace’s work focused on the stages of human evolution, while Wolpoff became known for his approach to hypothesis testing. He used the fossil record to generate important questions about the pattern of human evolution (Wolpoff studied virtually every known human fossil), but he turned to variation in recent humans and primates to test hypotheses about them. Wolpoff is particularly known for originating the Multiregional Evolution hypothesis. Adaptation was fundamental to the growing Michigan perspective, strongly promoted by Livingstone, Brace, and Wolpoff, that human races have no basis in the biology of human populations and are not phylogenetic entities. What had been perceived as biological differences reflecting race were actually differences in adaptation.
By 1980 Michigan was second only to Harvard in the number of Ph.D. theses on topics of biological anthropology (41 compared to 42). The Department significantly influenced the growth and development of biological anthropology across America. Many of the students trained by the cohort hired at the end of the 1970s have become leaders in the sub-discipline, including members of the National Academy of Sciences, presidents of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and numerous department chairs and journal editors.
Richard Wrangham was hired in 1983, replacing Hugh Gilmore. Wrangham left for Harvard University in 1989, but founded a tradition of primate studies at Michigan that has expanded to become a substantial part of the biological anthropology program in the years since. Jean Brainard (1983-1984) and then Lisa Sattenspiel (1984-1987) were temporary additions to the faculty. Kim Hill was hired in 1988 and left for the University of New Mexico in 1992. John Mitani, an expert in chimpanzee behavior and adaptation, was hired in 1990, and Beverly Strassmann joined the Department in 1993, continuing the tradition of studies in human ecology linking human behavior, physiology, and genetics begun by Goldschmidt (retired in 1982) and represented by Brainard and Sattenspiel. Rachel Caspari was hired as a visiting professor in 1994; her research focused on race and human evolution. Early in the 21st century, William Sanders joined the Museum of Paleontology. Following this, the most recent faculty changes in biological anthropology include the retirements of Loring Brace (2008) and Roberto Frisancho (2009). Six distinguished hires assured that biological anthropology at Michigan would remain both current and comprehensive: Laura MacLatchy, who studies primate and early human evolution (in 2004); Jacinta Beehner, who studies behavioral endocrinology, reproductive suppression, behavioral ecology, and sexual selection (2005); Abigail Bigham, whose area of interest is human population genetics and molecular evolution with focus on evidence of natural selection in the human genome, especially in HIV, convergent evolution, and high altitude adaptation (2011); Maureen Devlin, a skeletal biologist studying the effect of environmental factors, such as nutrition, physical activity, and climate, on human bone health (2012); John Kingston, who studies early hominin and hominoid paleoecology (2012); and Andrew Marshall, whose expertise is in primate evolutionary ecology and conservation, population biology, and behavior (2015). Biological anthropologists currently at Michigan but appointed outside the Department of Anthropology include Kathleen Alsup (Department of Anatomy), Philip Gingerich, and William Sanders (both of the Museum of Paleontology).
The program as it exists today reflects the attempts of the faculty to address the human condition and bring the unique insights of an anthropological perspective that is both biological and social. As such, biological anthropology is most effective as part of an integrated anthropology. Humans occupy a unique place in the world that requires explanation: we are civilized and cultured; we possess complex cognitive skills; and we communicate with each other using speech and language; we are each unique yet we share essential attributes that allow life in large, social aggregates. Biological anthropologists investigate these unusual attributes by bridging the gap between our primate ancestors and living humans today. Specifically, we seek answers to three enduring questions about ourselves: How and why do humans vary? How did humans evolve? And what anatomical, physiological, and behavioral adaptations set us apart from the rest of the biological world?
Evolution is the central paradigm that unifies biological anthropology, with the discipline traditionally including four principal areas of investigation: (1) modern human biology and adaptation, including the study of race as it is currently understood and was historically applied to explain human variation; (2) human and primate evolution; (3) genetics and population structure as they inform the understanding of human variation and history; and (4) nonhuman primate behavior and biology. As of 2015, biological anthropology at Michigan has strong faculty representation in each of these areas of research. Bigham, Devlin, and Strassmann conduct research on human genetics, disease, skeletal anatomy, and behavioral ecology, providing robust coverage of topical issues in the study of modern human biology. Kingston, MacLatchy, and Wolpoff perform field and laboratory studies of hominin morphology and biomechanics, paleoecology, and primate and human evolution, relating theory and observation through hypothesis testing and furnishing a comprehensive program of paleoanthropological research. Beehner, Marshall, and Mitani conduct field studies of nonhuman primates, providing essential knowledge of primate biology and behaviors and building comparative frameworks for understanding human origins and adaptation. All of the biological anthropology faculty members maintain field and/or laboratory research programs, which have led to major discoveries.
The biological anthropology faculty also plays a key role in the evolutionary anthropology concentration that developed under the guidance of Frank Livingstone to provide an alternate pathway, apart from biology, for pre-med majors. Evolutionary anthropology is a joint undergraduate concentration, with courses in the Departments of Anthropology; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Geological Sciences; Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology; and Psychology and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment. The concentration combines anthropological and biological perspectives in the study of humans and related species. It is particularly appropriate for students planning to continue in the health sciences and for students interested in “whole organism” biology and ecology. In 2015, many Evolutionary Anthropology concentrators are training for medical school, while others are planning to pursue careers in natural resource management, conservation, animal behavior and other fields. Because evolutionary biology forms its primary theoretical basis, the concentration does not require courses in other sub-disciplines of anthropology.
The Museum of Anthropology already existed in 1922, while the Department of Anthropology was not created until 1928. In order to have archaeology courses taught in the Department of Anthropology, the archaeology curators of the Museum of Anthropology had to be persuaded to offer courses on a part-time basis. Eventually the University settled on the current arrangement: curators spend half of their effort teaching archaeology courses for the Department and half curating the collection of more than three million items in the Museum.
When the Ruthven Museum of Natural History was created in 1928, its fourth floor became the Museum of Anthropology. Carl Guthe was named director of the Museum of Anthropology in 1929 and served until 1944. James B. Griffin took over in 1946 and served for the next 30 years, longer than any other director. Griffin hired Albert C. Spaulding in 1947. Together Griffin, Spaulding, and ethnobotanist Volney H. Jones (a curator since 1940) ran the Museum and offered courses in the Department.
Prior to 1965, the research and teaching done by the Museum’s curators was overwhelmingly oriented toward North American archaeology. In 1965, Griffin decided to “go international” and began collecting dossiers on promising young archaeologists who worked in Latin America, Europe, and the Near East. During the five-year period between 1965 and 1970, Griffin hired Robert Whallon, Jr, who was working in Turkey and Europe; Jeffrey Parsons, who was working in the Basin of Mexico; Kent V. Flannery, who was working in Iran and Mexico; Henry T. Wright, who was working in Iraq; Richard I. Ford (a student of Volney Jones), who was working in the southwest U.S.; and C. Loring Brace, a human osteologist. All arrived as assistant curators/assistant professors eager to interact with each other and with graduate students already in the program. From that point on, the Department would offer archaeology courses covering the whole world. By the early 1970s, Michigan possessed a top-ranked anthropological archaeology program in the nation, a position it still holds in 2015.
When Griffin retired as director of the Museum in 1976, he was succeeded by Ford. Michigan soon hired Edwin N. Wilmsen, an archaeologist who studied both prehistoric and living hunters and gatherers; Joyce Marcus, a Maya archaeologist and epigrapher; Christopher Peebles, an expert on the ancient chiefdoms of the southeast U.S.; and Karl Hutterer, an archaeologist working in the Philippines. When Wilmsen, Peebles, and Hutterer moved on, Michigan added John Speth, who worked in Israel and North America; John O’Shea, whose expertise included both Eastern Europe and the Great Plains of North America; and Carla Sinopoli, who worked in India.
Working in concert with the Department of Anthropology, Michigan’s anthropological archaeologists established a series of core courses for archaeology graduate students. Included were Archaeological Systematics (taught by O’Shea), Hunters and Gatherers (taught by Whallon and Speth), and Chiefdoms and States (taught by Wright). Eventually, the faculty added a course on Analytical Methods (taught by Whallon).
From 1970 to 2000, research conducted by Michigan’s anthropological archaeologists was wide-ranging and highly influential across the sub-discipline as a whole. Ford wound up training more ethnobotanists than anyone else in his field. Brace documented a worldwide reduction in human tooth size that took place after pottery was invented for cooking. Parsons conducted surveys of large-scale settlement patterns in Mexico and Peru. Wright investigated the origins of the state in Iran, Iraq, and Madagascar. O’Shea mastered Great Lakes archaeology and documented the evolution of hierarchical societies in Hungary and Romania. Sinopoli revealed the impact of India’s Vijayanagara Empire and trained students working in Asia. Whallon exposed Stone Age sequences in Turkey, Montenegro, and the Netherlands. Marcus deciphered Maya and Zapotec hieroglyphic writing and excavated a village in Oaxaca and a pre-Inca coastal kingdom in Peru. Speth documented bison hunters in New Mexico and Stone Age hunters in Israel. Flannery recovered the New World’s oldest domestic plants from a cave in Mexico, and worked on Andean and early Near Eastern domestication as well.
By 2011, anthropological archaeology at Michigan had reached a critical point in its history. Ford, Parsons, Brace, and Speth had retired, and the University was in a period of downsizing. To strengthen Michigan’s teaching and research programs, Robin Beck, an expert on the archaeology and ethnohistory of North America, was added to the faculty. In 2013, the Department was authorized to hire two new archaeologists who would represent “new research directions.” One of these new directions was the origins of human culture, a need filled by Brian Stewart. The other was circumpolar archaeology, a need filled by Raven Garvey.
In 2015, the Department remains committed to cover the archaeology of the world and build on its ranking. The anthropological archaeologists at Michigan share a paradigm based on the principles of social evolution and take on big, complex anthropological issues such as the origins of human culture, the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture, the origins of village life and social inequality, and the evolution of states and empires.
Social and Cultural Anthropology in the 1970s: Culture, Meaning, and Diversity
In the 1970s, the incoming junior faculty in the sub-discipline then called ethnology had been trained in a wide range of graduate programs. Many of them were influenced by the symbolic turn in anthropology and by culturally inflected forms of political economy. The range of research topics expanded as well, to include the study of cities, poverty, and colonialism. The Department pursued a strategy of building faculty strength through joint appointments, which in the mid-1970s included collaborations with the Departments of Botany, Linguistics and Sociology, the Center for Human Growth and Development, the Center for Research on Economic Development, the Center for Afro-American and African Studies, the Center for Population Planning, and all the area studies centers. In addition, classes were cross-listed with Zoology, Women’s Studies, and Religion. At the same time, the ethnology subfield retained its public image as largely materialist in orientation, focused on evolutionary aspects of culture.
Perhaps the foremost exponent of new approaches to these problems was Raymond Kelly, a rare case of someone who had been hired into the Department directly from its own graduate program, who produced a series of major studies on the origins of inequality and warfare that stressed the importance of social structure and cosmology over strictly materialist constraints. The study of premodern social forms took a long view of human life, largely relying on the empirical evidence of fieldwork with small-scale societies in regions such as Australia, New Guinea, and sub-Saharan Africa, which were taken as evidence for the character of social existence during the vast period before recorded history. This focus would change dramatically in the 1980s.
Sociocultural anthropology was reshaped in the 1980s by fundamental debates in which the Michigan faculty played an important role. The earlier paradigms had been based on fieldwork which often took place in marginal groups within colonial states. In the wake of decolonization, the need to reflect on that larger context, and the relations between European power and ethnographic knowledge, became pressing. In particular, the assumption that the societies being studied were good proxies for earlier human societies came under severe criticism. Wolf had already led the way toward a more global perspective. In the 1980s, it was no longer expected that anthropologists would specialize in what one critic called “the savage slot,” and fieldworkers would increasingly show up in cities, factories, office buildings, and watching mass media, in the industrialized north as well as elsewhere. At the same time, the politics of race and gender forced further reflections on the social position and epistemological assumptions of ethnographic observation. From Ghana, Maxwell Owusu brought a decentering perspective, as well as hands-on experience as a participant in the writing of a national constitution, and Melvin Williams looked at African-American neighborhoods from an insider’s point of view. The period was one of intensive disciplinary self-scrutiny and self-criticism. An exemplary figure was Ruth Behar, a Junior Fellow of Michigan’s Society of Fellows who joined the faculty in 1989 to become a leading exponent of reflexive anthropology, which focused on the identity and positionality of the ethnographic observer. It was in part to acknowledge shifting definitions of the field of study that the subfield of ethnology eventually renamed itself. Based on the word “ethnos” (nation, people), the term “ethnology” was seen to derive from a view of the world as composed of discrete and bounded peoples who could be sorted out and compared. Around 2002, the sub-discipline formally adopted the name “sociocultural anthropology,” which was meant to evoke a vision of the discipline as concerned with certain dimensions of human life, without presuming that humans are divided into given units such as tribes, culture areas, or races.
The 1980s and 1990s: History, Power and Language
By the 1980s, the conflict between materialist and symbolic approaches was fading, and new efforts to learn from their strengths and shortcomings emerged. For example, Aram Yengoyan, whose teaching marked a generation of students who went on to leadership positions in major departments such as Harvard, Toronto, Emory, Wisconsin, and Australian National University, brought to the Department a philosophically informed interest in systems of cultural meaning and the nature of ethnographic knowledge. Among the most important of the approaches to emerge at this moment was “practice theory,” which drew from symbolic anthropology the emphasis on cultural meaning, and from materialism attention to power relations and the role that economic, technological, and ecological constraints and possibilities play in cultural change systems. One of the most formative expressions of this new synthesis was Ortner’s “Theory in Anthropology since the Sixties” (1984), which has played a major role in shaping anthropological thinking. Her stint as chair (1986-1989) and ongoing influence in the Department helped shape the next generation of hires in light of these ideas. For example, the 1988 self-study asserts that the most important concept in anthropology is culture, which it defines, following Geertz, as “extra-biological systems.”
In earlier American anthropology, the idea of culture had been closely associated with linguistic anthropology. At Michigan, despite the four-field paradigm, linguistic anthropology, which had always been the smallest field in anthropology anywhere, remained a very distant fourth behind the other sub-disciplines. The only member of the Department fully defined as a linguistic anthropologist, Robbins Burling, although a productive researcher and writer, had decided not to train graduate students. Other cultural anthropologists, such as Gary Witherspoon and Aram Yengoyan, were involved in the field, but it was not their primary commitment; similarly, the linguist Kenneth Pike held a joint appointment for a time, but his base was also elsewhere. An attempt to build the unit with the addition of a sociolinguist, Penelope Eckert, in the 1970s, and linguistic anthropologist Bruce Mannheim in the 1980s, foundered in part on conflicting visions between linguists (who, under the influence of Chomsky, had largely turned away from field research) and anthropologists as to what the study of language should consist of.
By the time of the 1989 external review, the study of linguistic anthropology at Michigan was threatened with extinction. A decision was made to rebuild in a serious way, and to do so wholly within the Anthropology Department. This may in part have reflected the growing interest in meaning and symbolism among cultural anthropologists at this time. At any rate, starting with Bruce Mannheim (a specialist in the poetics and historical linguistics of the Andes), a series of hires and cooperative agreements led to the creation of a fully formed sub-disciplinary unit within the Department. Webb Keane arrived from a position at the University of Pennsylvania in 1998, to be based in sociocultural anthropology but with an agreement to collaborate with the linguistic group. Lawrence Hirschfeld, a psychological anthropologist, was also cooperative; he helped establish a program in culture and cognition in collaboration with social psychologists, whose students often had close ties to linguistic anthropology. Alaina Lemon was hired as an addition to the group right out of the Society of Fellows in 1999. The following year, Judith Irvine was brought in from Brandeis at the peak of her career, and Barbra Meek as a new Ph.D. Michael Lempert was added a few years later from a position in linguistics at Georgetown. Soon afterward, a highly successful faculty-student workshop was set up in which the Michigan linguistic anthropologists met with those from the University of Chicago on a regular basis, culminating each spring in a two-day joint graduate student conference. By the end of the decade, Michigan’s linguistic anthropology program was able to compete for graduate students with the leading departments in the country, and it had become an internationally recognized center for semiotically-informed approaches to linguistic practice and, especially, to language ideology.
The turn to culturally-inflected practice theory by the sociocultural anthropologists marked a break from the evolutionary approaches of the earlier period in Michigan’s history. Although both approaches emphasized change, and stressed the importance of culture, they differed in important ways. Where older approaches tended to treat culture as the result of material forces, practice tended to treat it as more of an independent variable. In place of the impersonal forces of evolution, practice theory stressed human agency. The stress on agency also drew questions of power and politics closer to the center of anthropological attention. One consequence was that the relevant temporal depth tended to shrink. Rather that treat ethnographic observation as a window into the deep past of evolutionary time, cultural anthropologists became more interested in the details of recorded history, especially as it could be shown to bear directly on the present, for instance, as a source of inequalities in the post-colonial world. These shifts changed the landscape of four field anthropology departments. Ethnologists such as Roy Rappaport and Ray Kelly had produced models of cultural evolution that archaeologists could use to interpret their empirical materials; their interest in adaptive change kept them in dialogue with physical anthropology. As this shared intellectual project weakened, the four subfields grew apart.
Of course this trend was hardly confined to Michigan. In some departments, the result was acrimonious divorce as single departments split into two or more; elsewhere, certain subfields dominated at the expense of others. In this context, Michigan certainly saw vigorous debates about the relations among the fields. This took particularly visible form in 2000 when a fierce international debate broke out over the ethics and politics of fieldwork, centering on Chagnon’s fieldwork in the Venezuelan rain forest a generation earlier, to which the Department contributed major participants on both sides. But by the second decade of the 2000s, a younger generation seems to be in the process of reinventing the four fields through new forms of collaboration. For example, material culture studies is bringing together archaeologists and cultural anthropologists, research on epigenetics and reproduction has done the same for cultural and biological anthropologists, and a renewed interest in deep time has put members of all four fields in conversation.
By the early 1990s, the sociocultural subfield had developed a new profile, as a center for historically-oriented anthropology, which came increasingly to define its distinctiveness in the discipline at large. Nicholas Dirks, who had been trained in both history and anthropology at Chicago, was brought to the History Department in 1987, but shifted to a joint appointment with both departments in 1990. Ann Stoler and E. Valentine Daniel arrived in 1989 and 1990, respectively; Brinkley Messick came in 1991; and Fernando Coronil was brought in from the Society of Fellows (75 percent in Anthropology, 25 percent in History) in 1991. Starting from a faculty workshop in collaboration with historians such as Sally Humphries, Thomas Trautmann, and Geoff Eley, this cohort developed an interdisciplinary Program in the Comparative Study of Social Transformations (CSST). CSST in turn became the seed for the Joint Doctoral Program in Anthropology and History. The convergence of anthropology and history had been one of the exciting theoretical developments of the 1980s and 1990s. Among the signature works of this turn were Stoler’s Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power (2002), Daniel’s Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an Anthropography of Violence (1996), and Culture/Power/History co-edited by Dirks, Eley, and Ortner (1994). With this development, Michigan became the world’s center for professional training along these lines. The program was directed in turns by Ann Stoler, Fernando Coronil, and David William Cohen (an Africanist trained as an anthropologist-historian whose appointment was fully in History), Paul Johnson (an anthropologically-inclined historian of religion and the African diaspora), and at the time of this writing, Alaina Lemon.
The 2000s: Rebuilding and Eclecticism
The prestige of Michigan anthropology eventually led to a crisis similar to that which occurred when Steward, Wolf, and Sahlins left. The Columbia Anthropology Department had been in trouble for years and was threatened by the administration with closure. Faced with the possible loss of the founding department of an entire discipline, in an ironic historical reversal of the flow between the departments in an earlier era, Columbia tried to hire a large part of Michigan’s Anthropology-History faculty. In 1997, they succeeded in bringing in Dirks as chair (he went on to become vice-president, and in 2013 was appointed chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley), along with Messick and Daniel, joining Taussig and Ortner who had preceded them, but failed in their effort to include Stoler and Hirschkind, who in 2003 they moved to the New School.
Once again, as in 1975, Michigan faced the problem of potentially demoralizing and destabilizing raids on senior faculty. With the assistance of the University administration, the Department was able to react quickly, bringing in two senior scholars widely respected for their historically-oriented ethnographies, Katherine Verdery (the pre-eminent ethnographer of eastern European socialism and post-socialism) and Gillian Feeley-Harnik (an expert on Madagascar and a historian of the discipline), from Johns Hopkins. In addition, the Department sought out a range of opportunities, including numerous joint searches with other departments, to strengthen the faculty. From the 1990s to the present, these hires have extended the range of topics covered within the subdiscipline, which includes media studies (Kelly Askew, Alaina Lemon, Damani Partridge), socialist and post-socialist societies (Verdery, Lemon, Askew, Krisztina Fehervary, Erik Mueggler), corporations and bureaucracies (Stuart Kirsch, Matthew Hull), religion and morality (Keane, Lempert, Mueggler, Elizabeth Roberts, Andrew Shryock), material culture (Elisha Renne, Hull, Fehervary, Keane, Jason De León), violence and suffering (Michael McGovern, De León), race and ethnicity (De León, Partridge, Shryock, Williams), medicine (Renne, Roberts, Holly Peters-Golden, Jennifer Robertson), gender and sexuality (Roberts, Robertson, Gayle Rubin), and law (Jatin Dua). In 2015, the Department has links to all the area studies centers and covers the Arab world and its diaspora (Shryock), Europe (Fehervary, Lemon, Partridge), Africa (Askew, Dua, McGovern, Owusu, Renne), East and Southeast Asia (Keane, McGovern, Mueggler, Robertson), Native North America (Meek), South Asia (Tom Fricke, Hull, Dua, Lempert), and Latin America (De León, Mannheim).
Michigan has been consistently ranked as one of the top anthropology departments in the country for several generations. Self-studies over the years have listed the high positions in professional societies, scientific associations, journal editorships, and the success of the students who were trained here as evidence of the Department’s continued strength. Michigan anthropologists have won more MacArthur “genius” awards than have the faculty of any other anthropology department in the country. Recipients include Richard Wrangham, Ruth Behar, Sherry Ortner, Henry Wright, and Erik Mueggler; Eric Wolf and Shannon Dawdy won MacArthur awards after leaving Michigan. Half of the archaeologists in the Museum are members of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
At the same time, however, self-studies and long-range plans since the 1970s have consistently stressed certain weaknesses relative to Michigan’s major competitors, especially the challenge of providing sufficient funding to graduate students and competitive salaries for faculty.
What light might the history given here shed on the success of the program? If the faculty is queried, no clear consensus emerges. One reason often given is that this is one of the few four-field anthropology departments in which every field is well represented, and where all graduate students receive some serious training in all of them. The sheer size of the Michigan department has certainly been another factor in its success. Its faculty members loom large on the professional landscape, as do the many graduates of the program who now inhabit other major departments.
One factor that seems to have persisted since the 1950s is the relatively non-hierarchical ethos of the Department. It has a history of hiring people early in their careers, respecting them, and encouraging them to develop their own voices. One institutional expression of this ethos has been the Department’s ability to benefit from the Society of Fellows, which has provided it with four faculty members who were eventually tenured. Another factor, at least in recent decades, is the relatively low barrier to interaction across departments at Michigan. The Anthropology Department has benefited from informal cross-fertilization, as in the early days of CSST; from formal institutional ties, as in the joint degree program with the School of Social Work; and from the many affiliations and joint appointments that connect the biological anthropologists and archaeologists to the natural science units.
One might argue as well that the Department’s size and eclecticism have given it a degree of flexibility not found in departments more closely bound to any single school of thought, which sooner or later is likely to fall out of date.
Finally, it may be that the very challenge of sustaining four fields has provided an intellectual stimulus: none of the subfields can become complacent. The presence of very different methods and paradigms, carried out by people who are clearly good at what they do, seems to have fostered an atmosphere of heightened disciplinary self-awareness and mutual respect.