337 Claudia Cohen Hall
Julia Rodriguez, History Department, University of New Hampshire
No "mere accumulation of material": Land as Evidence in Americanist Anthropology
To late 19th century scholars of comparative civilizations, the term “Americanism” was not merely geographical, but evoked a shared insight that the once isolated continent held something unique and worthy of their focused attention. Though they had many intellectual and methodological disagreements, one thing Americanists – whether they hailed from Europe or America – agreed upon was that land, and the relics found in it, were a vital source of evidence. Objects from around the world, they believed, could provide clues to important questions about human migrations, social customs, religious beliefs, and ultimately even the origins of humanity. For much of the 19th century, Americanists were divided between those whose examined objects in the laboratory or museum, and those who did so in the field. By 1910, the field had taken on greater importance as a site that could confer not just authenticity on artifacts, but also scientific legitimacy, and fieldwork was increasingly seen as necessary to interpret and lend meaning to the objects. Here I explore the significance of place, in particular in Latin America, and its role in knowledge production during Americanist anthropology’s foundational stage in the late 19th century. In particular, I will discuss how an examination of the Americanists’ engagement with objects in place can inform our understanding of changing anthropological methods, evidence, and assumptions over time.