An Asian Frontier: American Anthropology and Korea, 1882-1945

An Asian Frontier: American Anthropology and Korea, 1882-1945

An Asian Frontier: American Anthropology and Korea, 1882-1945

An Asian Frontier: American Anthropology and Korea, 1882-1945

Synopsis

In the nineteenth century the predominant focus of American anthropology centered on the native peoples of North America, and most anthropologists would argue that Korea during this period was hardly a cultural area of great anthropological interest. However, this perspective underestimates Korea as a significant object of concern for American anthropology during the period from 1882 to 1945--otherwise a turbulent, transitional period in Korea's history. An Asian Frontier focuses on the dialogue between the American anthropological tradition and Korea, from Korea's first treaty with the United States to the end of World War II, with the goal of rereading anthropology's history and theoretical development through its Pacific frontier.

Drawing on notebooks and personal correspondence as well as the publications of anthropologists of the day, Robert Oppenheim shows how and why Korea became an important object of study--with, for instance, more published about Korea in the pages of American Anthropologist before 1900 than would be seen for decades after. Oppenheim chronicles the actions of American collectors, Korean mediators, and metropolitan curators who first created Korean anthropological exhibitions for the public. He moves on to examine anthropologists--such as Ales Hrdlicka, Walter Hough, Stewart Culin, Frederick Starr, and Frank Hamilton Cushing--who fit Korea into frameworks of evolution, culture, and race even as they engaged questions of imperialism that were raised by Japan's colonization of the country. In tracing the development of American anthropology's understanding of Korea, Oppenheim discloses the legacy present in our ongoing understanding of Korea and of anthropology's past.

Excerpt

Why write a book about the American anthropology of Korea before 1945? For many readers, the importance or even the existence of the topic may not be evident. in narratives of the modern history of the American discipline presented in undergraduate and graduate surveys and in scores of publications, it is a truth universally acknowledged—or if not quite that, something close—that the predominant to nearly exclusive focus of this anthropology in its early decades was on the indigenous peoples of North America. Figures such as Roy Barton and Fay-Cooper Cole, working in the new U.S. colony of the Philippines in the 1900s and 1910s, as well as Margaret Mead, who did research in Samoa in the 1920s, are supposed to have initiated a process of expanding the American tradition’s geographical horizons, to be followed in the 1930s and 1940s, in the case of East Asia, by the likes of John Embree, Ruth Benedict, and Francis L. K. Hsu. Only in the post-1945 era did the American enterprise of studying Asia anthropologically really gain steam, coincident with the rise of the United States to superpower status. Even so, writing within and of this American tradition, Jennifer Robertson could remark as late as 2005 (echoing a 1970 comment by John Bennett) that “it would appear that anthropologists in general do not regard Japan as a geographical ‘prestige zone’ … a cultural area of choice and theoretical cachet.” Until quite recently, a similar statement could probably be made, without significant challenge, about the American anthropology of Korea as well.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.