Rolling in Ditches with Shamans: Jaime de Angulo and the Professionalization of American Anthropology


Rolling in Ditches with Shamans charts American anthropology in the 1920s through the life and work of one of the amateur scholars of the time, Jaime de Angulo (1887–1950). Although he earned a medical degree, de Angulo chose to live on an isolated ranch in Big Sur, California, where he participated fully in the lives of the people who were his ethnographic informants. The period of his most extensive research coincides almost perfectly with the professionalization of anthropology, and de Angulo provides a link ...
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Rolling in Ditches with Shamans charts American anthropology in the 1920s through the life and work of one of the amateur scholars of the time, Jaime de Angulo (1887–1950). Although he earned a medical degree, de Angulo chose to live on an isolated ranch in Big Sur, California, where he participated fully in the lives of the people who were his ethnographic informants. The period of his most extensive research coincides almost perfectly with the professionalization of anthropology, and de Angulo provides a link between those who are generally recognized as the most important figures of the day: Franz Boas, Alfred Kroeber, and Edward Sapir.
The fields of salvage ethnography and linguistics, which Boas emphasized, were aimed at recording the culture, language, and myths of the Native groups before they became completely acculturated. In keeping with these dictates, de Angulo recorded data from thirty groups, mostly in California, which otherwise might have been lost. In an unusual move for that time, he also wrote fiction and poetry describing the modern lives of the people he studied, something of little interest to Boas but of great interest today. His most enduring work is Indian Tales, a fictional synthesis of myths learned from various California Indians. De Angulo’s range of interests, originality, and expertise exemplified the curiosity and brilliance of those who pioneered American anthropology at this time.
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Editorial Reviews

The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas

“An examination of the life and work of one of America’s most colorful linguistic anthropologists, seen against the background of the organization and funding of research on American Indian languages in the 1920s and early 1930s.”—The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas

“Wendy Leeds Hurwitz has done an outstanding, even exemplary job. . . . Grounded in reliable historicism (left happily untheorized in the book), the author writes with her won clear voice and draws her own spirited conclusions. The book is well and thoughtfully structured, each of its parts contributing to a soundly argued narrative whole, and it is altogether both authoritative and good reading”—Thomas Buckley, Ethnohistory

— Thomas Buckley

Ethnohistory - Thomas Buckley

“Wendy Leeds Hurwitz has done an outstanding, even exemplary job. . . . Grounded in reliable historicism (left happily untheorized in the book), the author writes with her won clear voice and draws her own spirited conclusions. The book is well and thoughtfully structured, each of its parts contributing to a soundly argued narrative whole, and it is altogether both authoritative and good reading”—Thomas Buckley, Ethnohistory
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz is a professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin–Parkside. She is the author of several books, including Wedding as Text: Communicating Cultural Identities through Ritual, and the editor of Social Approaches to Communication.
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Rolling in Ditches with Shamans

Jaime de Angulo and the Professionalization of American Anthropology
By Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2004 University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.


Sometime between 1900 and 1920 anthropology emerged as an academic discipline in the United States. Each author who studies the period cites a different date; the choice seems in part to depend on which criterion is considered the most significant turning point. (Among those most often mentioned are the systematic planning of research and some aspects of the establishment of an academic environment.) The process was a long and complex one, and the lack of agreement on a specific year can be attributed to this fact. Suffice it to say that by 1920 the majority of the work necessary to establish anthropology as an academic profession had been completed.

Most of the research published concerning the development of anthropology has focused on the events immediately preceding and leading up to the new status rather than those postdating and resulting from it. Yet it is clear that the 1920s can be viewed as a period of transition in the development of American anthropology and as such are well deserving of further study.

One key aspect of the professionalization of anthropology was the development of appropriate training, made available through various academic programs, for those who wished to become anthropologists. The movement away from the "rather random endeavors of amateurs andself-trained men" (Steward 1973:v; see also Darnell 1998:70) and toward a systematic program of research undertaken by those Boas or his students had taught was certainly an important part of what occurred within the discipline between 1900 and 1920. Curtis Hinsley suggests that by the beginning of the twentieth century self-trained amateurs were already "rapidly passing out of acceptance" (1981:264), and it is true that by the 1920s they played a much less significant role than they had previously, owing to the availability of those with more appropriate training. Yet even through the 1920s there were amateurs whose work was accepted by Boas and others of the time as legitimate and appropriate.

Although anthropology could be called a profession by 1920, there were still only a small number of students available to do research. There was a crucial period, one rarely mentioned, from the time that the study of anthropology became available to students to the time that a sufficient group of students was trained and ready for work. This period was the 1920s: a handful of fully trained individuals had academic jobs and were establishing new programs around the country, but the second generation of students had not had time to develop. The exact years are not the issue here, but rather the fact that this hiatus existed at all.

Moreover, the type of research Boas stressed at that time, ethnographic and linguistic salvage, called for a large amount of documentation. For all its positive eventual uses, such as demonstrating the range of types of Native American languages, the contribution of linguistics to ethnological theory (Boas 1911b), and the refutation of evolutionary interpretations (Boas 1896), salvage work had the drawback of requiring a large number of individuals who were immediately available to do the research. Boas wanted the culture and language of all the Native American groups to be studied and recorded for posterity before they disappeared, and he needed researchers if his objectives were to be carried out.

In addition to these negative reasons, a small number of less significant but positive reasons also dictated the use of amateurs. First, they often came supplied with an independent income and so could support at least their own investigations and sometimes those of others as well. Second, they often had more enthusiasm for their own specific interests than anyone else and would as a result work very hard in a narrow field. Third, not being tied to an academic calendar, they were available on short notice and throughout the year. And finally, on occasion they could be given sufficient informal training that their work could be considered at least adequate and sometimes as good as that done by those with more formal training (although they were rarely permitted to be theorists).

This book examines anthropology in the 1920s through the life and work of one of the amateur scholars of the time, Jaime de Angulo. He is not regarded as one of the major figures of his day, yet there are good reasons for considering him an ideal subject. First, the period of his most extensive research, 1920-33, coincides almost perfectly with anthropology's decade of transition. Second, he provides a link between many of those who are generally recognized as the most important anthropologists of the day (Franz Boas, Alfred Kroeber, Edward Sapir, and others) and can be used as a focus for their interactions. Third, he himself personifies the period of transition, being one of the last of the amateurs whose work was accepted as valid. By the 1930s, because of the depression, there was an overabundance of academically trained anthropologists available to do research, and amateurs were viewed less favorably.

I use the term anthropology in the broad sense of "Boasian anthropology," which included not only what have come to be considered the traditional four fields of anthropology (cultural, physical, archaeological, and linguistic) but much of what is today the separate discipline of folklore. Cultural and linguistic anthropology, as well as folklore for its study of tradition and myths, are the important aspects here; the others had no relevance to de Angulo's work.

Anthropology, linguistics, and folklore have separate histories, but in America they all came together under Boas. Thus, in the 1920s they were in large part practiced by the same individuals, primarily because a single subject matter was the focus of all three areas: the study of Native Americans. The salvage ethnography and linguistics that Boas stressed were aimed at recording the culture, language, and myths of the various Native American groups before they became completely acculturated. In the process of their work researchers recognized that there was a substantial overlap between what might otherwise have been considered separate disciplines (and what, in other places and at other times, functioned as separate disciplines).

It is important to make explicit how cultural anthropology, linguistics, and folklore were related to one another through the study of Native Americans. The primary focus was most often ethnography, but good fieldwork required knowledge of the native language. This approach was a matter of principle with Boas and his followers: "The leaders of the first generation of academic anthropologists in the United States (Boas, Kroeber, Lowie, Radin, Sapir) believed in control of the native language as a matter of scholarly standards, if ethnography was to stand comparison with the disciplines studying classical, oriental and contemporary European cultures" (Hymes 1970:252). The impetus for including the study of language as a necessary part of the study of culture did not originate with Boas; at least as early as John Wesley Powell (1877) it was cited as a goal, but for Boas and his immediate followers it was not merely one approach, it was doctrine (Noelke 1974:72). Folklore comes into the equation because one of the basic components of studying language, using the method established by Boas, was the acquisition of a large number of texts, and myths were the variety of text most often collected.

How does de Angulo function as a key to understanding the 1920s in American anthropology? One way to answer this question is through the concepts of social circle and invisible college. A social circle is an amorphous group whose members have direct or indirect ties with many but not all of the other members; there is no formal leadership, and mutual interests are often more important than propinquity or ascribed status (Crane 1972; Kadushin 1966, 1968, 1976). The concept is useful as a way of describing the frequent shifts in group context de Angulo made. During the course of his life he belonged to several significant circles: Berkeley anthropologists led by Alfred Kroeber; Mexican linguists under Manuel Gamio; students of psychology under Carl Jung; the Taos and Big Sur artistic communities of D. H. Lawrence, Robinson Jeffers, and Henry Miller; and poets grouped around Ezra Pound such as Marianne Moore. He was never central to the existence of any of these various groups but active only on the fringes; all would have continued without his participation. Interestingly, these groups had no other common members; only de Angulo served to tie them together.

Although it is primarily de Angulo's contact with the social circles in anthropology that are of concern here, his membership in other groups is not irrelevant, for as George Stocking points out: "In various ways, Boasian anthropology of the 1920s was embedded in this intellectual context. The Greenwich Village of the New York avant-garde and the Southwest of D. H. Lawrence and Mabel Dodge Luhan were both important Boasian milieux; Boasians wrote poetry for the little magazines and articles for the liberal weeklies" (1976:33).

An invisible college is a larger structure than a social circle and can most simply be defined as a "communication network ... that links groups of collaborators" (Crane 1972:35). Boasian anthropology is the invisible college relevant to a consideration of de Angulo. Of the social circles in which de Angulo claimed membership, only those centered on Kroeber and Gamio belonged to this invisible college. Recognition of the existence of an invisible college in anthropology helps account for the various links de Angulo had with the leading researchers of his day. It also helps explain why these links should be viewed not only as several unique relationships to individuals but also as a method of meshing the anthropological tradition at several points simultaneously. Again, as with the social circles he joined, de Angulo was far from ever being a crucial member of Boasian anthropology. Since he was not the leader of any social circle, his membership in this invisible college was as an interested individual rather than as the focus of any particular research tradition.

As an amateur scholar, de Angulo was admitted only to the fringes of academia. He was given a university affiliation only once, when he taught two summer courses at the University of California, Berkeley in 1920. In later years others often assumed he was associated with Berkeley in some way, but Kroeber actively discouraged such incorrect assumptions. And since de Angulo never received formal training in anthropology, he had no certification in the field. The fact that he had an M.D. probably promoted his acceptance as a generally well educated man who would in the normal course of events not be expected to return to graduate school for further advanced training.

At the same time, de Angulo was extremely active within the limited role he was granted in the academic world. Ralph Beals, who entered the University of California, Berkeley's Department of Anthropology in 1922, remembers that "four factors were drilled into us as the mark of the professional: 1. subscription to the professional journals, attendance at professional meetings, and delivering papers when possible; 2. extensive reading in current and past literature; 3. field work; and 4. publication" (1979:6). By these criteria, de Angulo was essentially as much a professional as anyone else at the time. He joined the appropriate societies (the Linguistic Society of America from 1925 to 1932, for example). He went to at least one major international conference (in Hamburg, in 1930). He certainly read extensively in both the current and past literature, including the professional journals (although he did not subscribe to many, if any, of them). He conducted fieldwork with many Native American groups in California, as well as several groups in Mexico. He had a large number of articles accepted for publication in the major journals: American Anthropologist (AA), Language, Journal of American Folklore (JAF), Anthropos, and International Journal of American Linguistics (IJAL). He wrote book reviews for AA, at least some of which were on significant books (such as Malinowski's Myth in Primitive Psychology). In addition to Beals's list, de Angulo engaged in other activities that indicated his role in the profession. For example, his name periodically was included in discussions of what was happening in the field (in the New International Year Book for 1929, for instance, the section on anthropology mentions de Angulo's work on Achumawi, Atsugewi, Kalapuya, and Karok; Spier 1930:39). And whenever he was in New York, he stopped in at the Department of Anthropology at Columbia to visit with Boas and his students there (he knew at least Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Ruth Bunzel).

In addition, de Angulo was an important figure in the informal community surrounding the Berkeley Department of Anthropology, much as well-known anthropologist Paul Radin was and in much the same way: "Paul Radin was around a good deal of the time, usually out of a job ... the thing he liked best, and what he was best at, was just informal conversations with students, and he was wonderful as a person to have around; you met and talked with him and he was full of ideas" (Dillon 1977:56). Since de Angulo was not a professor at Berkeley, he did not have students in the usual sense, but Kroeber used him informally as a resource for those who wanted to learn more about linguistics than Kroeber himself wanted to teach. One of the students he sent to de Angulo was Carl Voegelin, and it was apparently a successful match. Voegelin later said to Nancy Freeland, de Angulo's second wife, that de Angulo "had great potentialities as a teacher, and could inspire a young student as no one else in the field could do." In fact, Voegelin suggested of de Angulo that "with a feeling of security and a skillful stage manager, he could have had a marked success in the role of a member of a university faculty" and that "he thought it had been a great loss to Anthropology, that Kroeber had been too timid to sponsor Jaime" (Freeland to Gui de Angulo part 2, number 8, GDA). Freeland did not agree with these comments, nor did Kroeber. Kroeber specifically commented on de Angulo's inability to function appropriately within a university structure (to Gamio, 18 May 1922, MAF) less than a year after he had given de Angulo a chance to teach anthropology courses at Berkeley. As a result of that experience, Kroeber decided that de Angulo would more appropriately fit into a research position; that would be a way to take advantage of his skills without forcing him into an inappropriate role. (It is worth pointing out that Kroeber did not have a full-time position available in the department for many years, so even if he had wanted to hire de Angulo, he would not have been able to do so.)

De Angulo was proud of his informal students and frequently mentioned them to Boas or Sapir. Comments such as the following appear scattered throughout his letters to them: "There was another man from the anthropological crowd, a young fellow, his name is Strong. Keep your eye on him. There is stuff there" (to Sapir, 7 September 1925, ES, his emphasis). And when he was working with Voegelin, he sent detailed reports of his progress to Boas, who followed de Angulo's advice about a summer project appropriate to Voegelin's current level of skill and interest (Boas to Kroeber, 3 May 1930, FB). Nancy Freeland refers to the large number of Berkeley anthropology students who "served their sejour d'honneur [stay of honor] on the hill [their home in Berkeley]" (to Gui de Angulo, part 2, number 8, GDA).


Excerpted from Rolling in Ditches with Shamans by Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz Copyright © 2004 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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