Academic journal article African Studies Review

In Memoriam: Ivan Karp

Academic journal article African Studies Review

In Memoriam: Ivan Karp

Article excerpt

August 27, 1943-September 17, 2011

Ivan Karp died shordy after retiring from his professorship in the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and the Institute of African Studies at Emory University. He had no intention of ending his scholarly activities. Instead, he looked forward to more research, teaching, and projects advancing studies in eastern and southern Africa, both by himself and by younger scholars from these areas. Many eulogies and detailed biographical accounts of Ivan have been published on the Internet (see, e.g., Kurin 2011). But these sources do not discuss Ivan's work, and his long and many-faceted career in anthropology. This is my aim here.

Ivan's thinking in social science was deeply rooted in sociology, history, and philosophy as well as in anthropology. Some of these interests may have derived from his early undergraduate and graduate education at the Universities of Vermont and Rochester, but Ivan's doctoral education at the University of Virginia, working with teacher and mentor Edward H. Winter, certainly provided strong grounding in classic works in British and French anthropology and sociology and in die study of kinship. Before he went to Virginia, Ed Winter had been my teacher and mentor at the University of Illinois, and he changed my life, just as he later changed Ivan's. When Ivan and I heard of one another and read each others' work, we had to meet. When we did meet in Indiana, we became so absorbed in our conversation that I missed my plane out of the local airport. We were close friends ever after.

Ivan edited two long and impressive series of publications, one for Indiana University Press tided African Systems of Thought (34 volumes) and, with William Merrill, a more general Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry (57 volumes). Few anthropologists have so generously devoted so much time and effort to advancing the work of others. The range, influence, and originality of these many works are tributes to Ivan's imagination and deep commitment to social studies. Ivan also edited or co-edited seven influential volumes of collected essays representing many scholars' thoughts on three broad and previously neglected topics which Ivan was largely responsible for calling to the attention of other scholars, especially Africanists. First, he promoted the study of African systems of thought and, more recently, the comparative study of the philosophical issues embedded in these systems, both in an African and a global context. Second, this engagement with beliefs and ideas led Ivan to promote die study of the social person and how notions of personhood and die enactment of beliefs, as well as other social goals, are bound up with the exertion of power. Third, Ivan promoted the anthropological and historical study of museums and museology, a relatively new field examining how (or if) such institutions serve the societies that are the focus of their interest and how they must change in order to ensure such support. To support these interests Ivan, sometimes alone and sometimes with others, organized important seminars and conferences of scholars concerned with African thought and societies. He also led several groundbreaking conferences on museum studies and practices. The editorial introductions to the volumes that grew out of these conferences, some written by Ivan alone and some with other scholars, constitute important surveys of the current issues and findings in these new areas. Ivan's ethnographic and analytical essays in these volumes are models of how more narrowly focused papers can illuminate such issues. In these ways Ivan was a leader who introduced and developed new directions in anthropological, philosophical, and museum studies. Few, if any, other American Africanists have played such an important role in encouraging attention to so many new directions and topics for anthropological research. The impact of these conferences and publications continues to be felt today. …

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