The 1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games: Sport, Race, and American Imperialism

The 1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games: Sport, Race, and American Imperialism

The 1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games: Sport, Race, and American Imperialism

The 1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games: Sport, Race, and American Imperialism

Synopsis

One of the more problematic sport spectacles in American history took place at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, which included the third modern Olympic Games. Associated with the Games was a curious event known as Anthropology Days organized by William J. McGee and James Sullivan, at that time the leading figures in American anthropology and sports, respectively. McGee recruited Natives who were participating in the fair's ethnic displays to compete in sports events, with the "scientific" goal of measuring the physical prowess of "savages" as compared with "civilized men." This interdisciplinary collection of essays assesses the ideas about race, imperialism, and Western civilization manifested in the 1904 World's Fair and Olympic Games and shows how they are still relevant.
A turning point in both the history of the Olympics and the development of modern anthropology, these games expressed the conflict between the Old World emphasis on culture and New World emphasis on utilitarianism. Marked by Franz Boas's paper at the Scientific Congress, the events in St. Louis witnessed the beginning of the shift in anthropological research from nineteenth-century evolutionary racial models to the cultural relativist paradigm that is now a cornerstone of modern American anthropology. Racist pseudoscience nonetheless reappears to this day in the realm of sports.

Excerpt

Susan Brownell

This volume reunites two strands of history that are usually treated separately: the histories of anthropology and the Olympic Games. It does so by looking back to a time at the start of the twentieth century when the discipline of anthropology, the phenomenon of modern sport, and the performance genre of the modern Olympic Games were just starting to take a definite form. It was a time of “polymorphous performativity” when the distinctions between “education” and “entertainment” were not as institutionalized as they are now — when the lines between museums, zoos, circuses, historical reenactments, sports, Wild West shows, Olympic Games, and world's fairs were not as clear as they are now. in the last decade or so, histories of the Olympic Games, world's fairs, museums, zoos, and circuses have come to constitute minor historical genres. However, this is an artificial separation that it is now possible to make in hindsight, after a century in which the divisions between them became institutionalized and culturally crystallized. It is only possible to understand these histories by examining their earlier shared history, as well as the forces that ultimately drove them apart. and by understanding the forces that drove them apart, we will arrive at a greater understanding of our contemporary times and the great cultural performances that define them. Why do Olympic Games now attract much greater global attention than world's fairs, when a century ago they were only a minor side event? What does this reversal tell us about the times in which we now live?

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