Introduction

This report provides a review of the book, Histories of American Physical Anthropology in the Twentieth Century. The book provides a perfect history on the evolution of anthropology in the United States and the connection between the same and the rest of the world. Although it is does not provide a chronology of events, it highlights the individuals who made physical anthropology what it is today. It highlights the phases, challenges and how anthropologists conquered them successfully. Further, it provides a bridge between the anthropology of the 19th century and that of the 20th century. On top of the aspects that evolved anthropology throughout the 20th century, the book explains the evolution of AAPA, which has been an important body for the evolution of the discipline. The book further highlights the origin of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and shows its significance in the evolution. Further, it provides the transition from the anthropologists of the beginning of the 20th century and those that came towards the end of it. It is a book that any person with interest in anthropology should read and embrace because it also highlights some aspirations of the future of anthropology.

This book comprises of work from different authors. A majority of it was adopted from presentations and contributions made in 2005 in the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA). The meeting marked AAPA’s 75th anniversary. Three of the presenters had vast experience in the field, having been part of the 50th anniversary of AAPA. Although it does not provide a historical chronology of the US physical anthropology, it provides several aspects of the history in the 20th century, providing a continuation of the works carried out by experts in the 19th century. It is generally an important book that any aspiring anthropologists might want to read in order to understand many of the anthropologic aspects that they see today.

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The first chapter sets the pace of the book as it attempts to review the anthropological histories of the 20th century. It provides a transition from the anthropology of the 19th century, which was dominated by the likes of Darwin. It introduces the reader to the new era of anthropology, with key concepts and figures such as Arthur Keith, Raymond Pearl and Aleš Hrdlicˇka. The latter is even lauded for his efforts in founding one of the most important anthropology journals, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, in 1918. It also introduces the reader into the new areas that emerged as areas of anthropologic concern such as growth and development of children, genetics, statistics, and demographics among others. This chapter provides a perfect introduction into the book, showing the transition and forming the base for the rest of the book.

The second chapter goes deeper into the new aspects that were developed in the first chapter. It delves into the aspect of biological – physical – anthropology and the studies of diversity of human beings on racial basis. It delves into the effects of racial differences, with reference to the emergence of the World Wars, which were fanned by superiority characteristics and perceptions. The role of anthropologists was analyzed and connected to the racial differences that emerged during this period. This chapter provides a deep insight into the specificities of the various racial aspects at a time when the world was struggling with racial abuse and profiling.

The third chapter is an insight into the work of Franz Boas (1858–1942). He was respected as one of the most qualified scientists of his time. The chapter describes his work in analysis and understanding of child growth, where he mainly focused on Native Americans in his research. He employed his skills in statistics and biology to develop concrete ideas in his area of study. The role of the environment, genetics and migration were also part of his work. This chapter is well researched and forms an important basis for modern anthropologists in their works. It also creates an important base on how AAPA was organized and grew to be the body it is today.

Chapter four elucidates information on the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, which was founded in 1918. It expresses the roles that it has played in the development of anthropology in the United States and even the rest of the world. It provided a forum where anthropologists could bring together their ideas, and collectively agree on research and findings. Some of the notable ideas that were shared were the refute to Darwin’s theories and the development of other theories through research. It explains the development of the journal from 1918 to date and the difficulties that contributors faced such as the social environment that was already oriented o certain directions, yet research attempted to raise objections to these social beliefs.

Chapter five gives the birth of a new concept in anthropology, known as forensic anthropology. It was started by Ales˘ Hrdlicˇka. During the adoption of this field, anthropology had started to spread wings, and conventions were getting foreign audiences and contributors, mostly from Europe. The chapter also gives the account of the development of anthropology curricula in the United States’ schools, providing guidelines on departments as well as programs. It also discusses the difficulties that the then anthropologists faced due to financial issue. Further, it highlights the main figures of the early 20th century and how the contributed to modern anthropology.

Chapter six developed an understanding on the founding of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 1930. The formation of the association was based on the propensities of earlier regimes in the 19th century where groups started to professionalize their trades. The group was also founded in order to manage research and source for funding, as well as providing concrete basis of physical anthropology. Several meetings were held and Hrdlicˇka spearheaded most of the activities and ideas. The group formation had another unsuccessful primary motive to create an Institute of Physical Anthropology. This chapter is keen to show how the union between anthropologists from all over the world was successfully forged.

Chapter seven describes how anthropologists survived the Second World War. It describes the life Aleš Hrdlicˇka, whose contributions to modern physical anthropology is immense and remains vital. It gives an account of his life and profession, until his death during the World War II. The role of anthropology in the racial profiling and combination of races was also evaluated during this period. Another key figure during the war was Earnest Hooton, especially with his charismatic teaching. However, he was opposed by politicians who felt that his work was inhumane. The chapter acknowledges the work by the two gentlemen and how they both provided anthropology with diversity and recognition by authorities.

Chapter eight follows up the years that followed the Second World War. It provides an insight into the restructuring and strengthening of anthropology as a discipline, both amongst young scholars and other prosperous experts in the field. It showed the efforts that were taken to keep the movement together even after the World War. One of the most notable outcomes of the meetings was the Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, which was one of the main tools that ensured the field remained intact. The sources of funds are discussed as well as the membership of the entire group and the role of most individuals. At this time, young anthropologists had joined in and added enthusiasm.

Chapter nine describes the new generation of physical anthropology. It describes how the new generation of Hooton’s students took over and started to reinvent anthropology. One such student was Sherwood Washburn. The new discoveries of the era called for new definitions and thinking which the new generation was eager to accomplish. During this era, a new look into the theories of the 19th century emerged as more clarifications were needed. The chapter describes how symposiums and forums were convened to research on some of the earlier findings. He came up with New Physical Anthropology, which to date remains a key guideline into anthropological research.

Chapter ten describes the impact of physical anthropology to the entire society. Slavery in the United States was normal during the 20th century and racial discrimination was socially accepted. Anthropology of the time was biased because of the environment it was carried out. The emergence of the First World War, which was instigated by perceived racial differences led to the need to understand races better. The Second World War left the field crippled because most of their findings were socially abrasive and were consequently discarded. The discipline and concepts faced harsh criticisms from people such as Montagu through UNESCO. Civil right groups opposed racial research and anthropologists were nearly crushed out of business. However, their organization and togetherness saved them and their work.

Chapter eleven also expressed the differences that emerged on racial matters within the anthropology experts. These differences saw the change of racial studies as well as how some of the differences were bridged. However, some of these differences have persisted to date.

Chapter twelve describes the 75 meetings that AAPA has convened since its inception. It expresses the importance of these meetings and how the involvement of its members has shaped what people enjoy today as a discipline. It describes some of the topics that have been covered as well as the frequency of papers received. The chapter winds up the entire history of the group since its inception to the present day and extrapolates into the future. Finally, chapter thirteen tries to determine the present state of affairs, evaluating whether there has been any development over the era of AAPA and anthropology in terms of methodology, skills and general descriptions.

The book is a vital piece for any aspiring expert in the anthropology field. It is well written, detailed and has adequate references. It acknowledges both the flaws of the past events, provides the state of current affairs and finally gives a possible future in the discipline of anthropology. These are vital ingredients into sustainability of any discipline. The book explains the organization of AAPA, their publications, as well as the possible ways through which some of the challenges that they have faced in the past can be avoided in future.

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