Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists.
In his book, the author, an anthropology professor, uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and a wide range of materials to explore a contextualized history of anthropology, one that is different from that of the foremost internalist historian of anthropology, George Stocking. David Price's work breaks the silence on many issues in the American trajectory that have changed only slightly since the Cold War, although the Patriot Act might make the McCarthy era look like play by comparison if the government fully exploits the law's provisions.
At the start, the reader is introduced to the FOIA and impediments to its scholarly uses since the 1960s as well as what it is about anthropologists under surveillance, or anthropology in general, that is problematic to a national security state. The reader is introduced to the historical roots of American anticommunism and its relation to foreign-born Americans. During the Cold War, it was the Democrats who unleashed loyalty witch-hunts with the Truman Doctrine. Price's argument is that anthropological ideas of racial and economic equality were perceived as dangerous to the American way of life. He might have said threatening to corporate capitalism.
The weight of the book lies in chapters dealing with specific cases. The Melville Jacobs case introduces us to the university setting in which many of the cases that follow appear. The Richard Morgan case introduces us to the museum environment, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), and the workings of informers. Morgan's case illustrates the destruction of his career as he disappeared to a farm, while also indicating how guilt by association with one's spouse worked. We learn that those accused are generally on their own. Heroics of the American Association of Anthropologists' Ralph Beals, who tried to protect civil and academic rights of anthropologists, were rare.
The public-show trials of Gene Welt-fish and others were meant to smear and intimidate. The Weltfish case, which is inherently moving, connects racial, economic, gender, and anticolonialist issues. The trial of Jack Harris was outrageous. The World Court found Harris to be wrongly fired, while the AAA did not champion his cause even after that finding. Liberal anthropologists were confused with communists--Phileo Nash, Oscar Lewis, Ashley Montague, Cora DuBois, Franz Boas, and Ruth Benedict. Again, the AAA and the American Association of Physical Anthropology did not defend its own. Even today Margaret Mead is both appreciated and feared. (After 9/11 the Margaret Mead exhibit at the Library of Congress was moved from the Madison Building to the Jefferson Building away from easy access for "national security reasons.")
It is difficult to assess the meaning in all this witch-hunting. Price basically concludes that race, gender, and third-world activism is threatening, that our professional associations are not performing primary support functions, that anthropologists turn their backs on colleagues even if they are leading intellectuals in the field, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has forgotten the meaning of the word "citizen," and that anthropology is more in sync with Jeffersonian democracy than with the national security state.
This book is a spellbinder, a creative contribution to the history of anthropology, to understanding post-9/11 reactions, and to recalling threads of repression in American society that are continuous. It is a provocative, seminal contribution to scholarly history.
University of California, Berkeley
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2005|
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