American Indian Life

American Indian Life

American Indian Life

American Indian Life

Synopsis

This classic study, first published in 1922, presents the writings of A.L. Kroeber, Robert H. Lowie, Clark Wissler, Paul Radin, Truman Michelson, and other prominent anthropologists.

Excerpt

by Joan Mark

This is an amazing book, a collection of short fictional stories about American Indian life that are as vivid and convincing today as when they were first published seventy years ago. To us, reading them near the end of the twentieth century, they open a window not only on how indigenous peoples of the Americas lived before the coming of the Europeans but also on American anthropology of the 1920s. Here we catch a glimpse of what that small but significant group of people who called themselves anthropologists were doing and what they considered important as they went about studying American Indians.

Elsie Clews Parsons asked many of her colleagues to contribute to this book, and they could all do so because they were nearly all specialists in the American Indians. That is the first important characteristic of American anthropology in the 1920s. Research was focused almost exclusively on Native Americans. Margaret Mead would soon be the anomaly. Still an undergraduate at Barnard College when this collection was put together, she would, in a few years, insist on going to Samoa for her first field work, saying that she wanted to study a functioning culture and not another dying American Indian group. But nearly everyone else studied American Indians, not only because they were geographically so near, but precisely because they were thought to be dying out, not as individuals but as societies. It was urgent to record as many of the old ways as possible before the last instance or even the last memory of them disappeared completely. The reason it was considered urgent was that cultures represent alternate social arrangements from which we might learn something as well as clusters of irreplaceable historical data. For a culture to die out unrecorded, to become extinct, was analogous to a biological species becoming extinct. In each case it meant an irreparable loss of . . .

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