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Corridor Talk to Culture History: Public Anthropology and Its Consequences

Corridor Talk to Culture History: Public Anthropology and Its Consequences

by Regna Darnell, Frederic W. Gleach
Corridor Talk to Culture History: Public Anthropology and Its Consequences

Corridor Talk to Culture History: Public Anthropology and Its Consequences

by Regna Darnell, Frederic W. Gleach


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The Histories of Anthropology Annual series presents diverse perspectives on the discipline’s history within a global context, with a goal of increasing awareness and use of historical approaches in teaching, learning, and doing anthropology. Critical, comparative, analytical, and narrative studies involving all aspects and subfields of anthropology are included.

This ninth volume of the series, Corridor Talk to Culture History showcases geographic diversity by exploring how anthropologists have presented their methods and theories to the public and in general to a variety of audiences. Contributors examine interpretive and methodological diversity within anthropological traditions often viewed from the standpoint of professional consensus, the ways anthropological relations cross disciplinary boundaries, and the contrast between academic authority and public culture, which is traced to the professionalization of anthropology and other social sciences in the nineteenth century. Essays showcase the research and personalities of Alexander Goldenweiser, Robert Lowie, Harlan I. Smith, Fustel de Coulanges, Edmund Leach, Carl Withers, and Margaret Mead, among others.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803286603
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 11/01/2015
Series: Histories of Anthropology Annual
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 232
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Regna Darnell is the Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology and First Nations Studies at the University of Western Ontario. She is the author of Invisible Genealogies: A History of Americanist Anthropology (Nebraska, 2001); coeditor of Franz Boas Papers, Volume 1: Franz Boas as Public Intellectual—Theory, Ethnography, Activism (Nebraska, 2015); and general editor of the multivolume series, the Franz Boas Papers Documentary Edition. Frederic W. Gleach is a senior lecturer of anthropology and the curator of the Anthropology Collections at Cornell University. He is the author of Powhatan’s World and Colonial Virginia: A Conflict of Cultures (Nebraska, 1997).

Regna Darnell is Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology Emerita at the University of Western Ontario. She is coeditor of The Franz Boas Papers, Volume 1: Franz Boas as Public Intellectual—Theory, Ethnography, Activism (Nebraska, 2015). Darnell is the general editor of the multivolume series The Franz Boas Papers: Documentary Edition and co-editor of the Critical Studies in History of Anthropology series. 

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Corridor Talk to Culture History

Public Anthropology and Its Consequences Histories of Anthropology Annual, Volume 9

By Regna Darnell, Frederic W. Gleach


Copyright © 2015 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-8660-3


The Falling-Out between Alexander Goldenweiser and Robert Lowie

Two Personalities, Two Visions of Anthropology

Sergei Kan

Two Young Boasians as Bosom Buddies and Intellectual Companions

Members of the first generation of Boas's students, Robert H. Lowie (1883–1957) and Alexander A. Goldenweiser (1880–1940) had a lot in common, as far as their backgrounds were concerned. Lowie was born in Vienna to a German-speaking Hungarian father and a Viennese Jewish mother. When Robert was ten, his family brought him to New York, where he grew up as a bilingual youngster in a middle-class German-Jewish intellectual milieu. Lowie retained his bilingualism and his Old World (and specifically Viennese-German) cultural tastes and habits for the rest of his life (Radin 1958; Lowie 1959; Murphy 1972; Kan 2013a). Goldenweiser's parents were members of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia, his father being a major figure among the country's progressive Jewish lawyers. Alexander grew up in a secular and cosmopolitan Jewish milieu in which the dominant languages were German, French, and Russian.

He also steeped himself in Russian and foreign literature, maintained a profound interest in the visual arts, and studied piano. In 1900 his father brought him to the United States to be educated, first at Harvard for one year and then at Columbia, where Alexander completed his B.A. in 1902 and M.A. two years later, majoring in anthropology and minoring in psychology. Between 1904 and 1910 he was a graduate student in anthropology, studying mainly with Boas but also taking some courses in sociology (Kan 2009, 2013b). Lowie's Columbia Ph.D. thesis, completed in 1908, dealt with comparative mythology but did incorporate data from his own field research with Plains Indians (Lowie 1908). Goldenweiser, however, relied exclusively on previously published works. Completed in 1910, it was a groundbreaking critique of the existing theories of totemism (Goldenweiser 1910).

Upon graduation both anthropologists remained in New York: Lowie worked under Clark Wissler at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), while Goldenweiser taught undergraduate courses in anthropology at Columbia. From the mid-1900s until the mid-1910s, the two of them were very close, both as colleagues and fellow intellectuals and as intimate friends. What brought them so close together was not only their commitment to the development of a new (anti-evolutionist) American anthropology but also a common interest in much broader questions of social science theory and methodology. Thus both were interested in the work of psychologists such as Wilhelm Wundt, and positivist philosophers such as Ernst Mach, Wilhelm Ostwald, and Karl Pearson (Lowie 1956:1011–1012). In fact, while still a Columbia graduate student, Goldenweiser founded several discussion groups, including the "Pearson Circle" (modeled on study groups formed by students at Russian universities) for the study of the current issues in philosophy, psychology, and social science theory. His fellow anthropology students, Lowie and Radin, as well as a philosophy student, Morris Cohen, were among the most active members of the group; a few years later Elsie Clews Parsons and Pliny E. Goddard joined them (Lowie 1956:1012; Deacon 1997:99–101). Lowie and "Goldie" (or "Shoora," as he was known to his friends) also shared similar literary tastes and political orientation. Both were left-leaning liberals, critical of American nationalism and jingoism rampant during and after World War I. They were also both sympathetic to the women's suffrage movement and other liberal causes and belonged to the Greenwich Village's Liberal Club (1913–1918). Goldenweiser and especially Lowie published numerous articles and book reviews in such left-wing and liberal journals as The Masses, Freeman, Liberal Review, Dial, and New Republic. Fellow Europeans, they also viewed each other as more sophisticated among less cultured American anthropologists of their milieu.

However, the relationship between the two extended beyond the intellectual and political spheres. As Lowie wrote years later in an unpublished manuscript reprinted in the appendix to this paper,

I owe Goldenweiser a great deal. As my senior in anthropology at Columbia, he taught me some of the elementary techniques of scholarship; and he doubtless helped clarify my ideas of Boas' views and of anthropological theories generally. ... He freely lent me books on psychology and philosophy from his rather choice library and by organizing discussion groups ... he gave me a much-coveted chance to mull over philosophical problems then uppermost in my consciousness with a company of serious, youthful, fellow-thinkers. As a boon companion he had few peers; it was a joy to beguile with him at Monquin's, settling the outstanding issues of philosophy, science, art, and politics between us.

Lowie's correspondence with Goldenweiser and especially the numerous letters the former sent to his family show that there was indeed a good reason why years later he characterized his relationship with Shoora during this period as an "ideal friendship" (see Robert Harry Lowie Papers, Bancroft Library, cited here as RHLP). In fact, Robert and his beloved sister Risa (1886–1960) spent a good deal of time with both Goldie and his Russian-Jewish wife, Anna (née Hallow, born in 1876/1877), whom he married in 1907. Risa, who always lived in New York, remained Anna's friend after the Goldenweisers divorced in the early 1920s, while Robert continued corresponding with her until she passed away in the 1950s (RHLP, series 1, box 11).

Shoora, in turn, appreciated Lowie's intellectual companionship and loyal friendship. As he wrote to him in 1906 from Berlin, where he spent almost a year working at the Museum für Völkerkunde, having been sent there by Boas, "[upon my return to New York] I intend to work very hard next winter to see what comes of it. Hope that we shall be able to do a good deal of intellectual work together for 'my stomach is heavy with longing for intellectual companionship' (as the Jungle Book puts it)" (AG to Robert Lowie, August 21, 1906, RHLP). When Goldenweiser's parents visited their son in New York in 1911, they were eager to meet his best friend, Robert, and Alexander Goldenweiser Sr. presented both young men with inscribed copies of his recently published work on criminology (Risa Lowie to Robert Lowie, 1911 [no exact date], RHLP).

A Sudden Falling-Out and Its Causes

However in 1914 a major falling out between the two friends took place. In his March 5, 1956, letter to Leslie White, who at the time was working on an entry on Goldenweiser for the Dictionary of American Biography, Lowie characterized this quarrel as follows: "An estrangement occurred, though never a rupture of relations. In course of time we became friendly enough once more, but the old cordiality had vanished" (Leslie White Papers, Correspondence, cited here as LAWP). So far the only explanation I could find for it is a brief comment in Lowie's unpublished essay mentioned earlier. According to him, the rupture in their relationship was caused by Goldenweiser, who had accused his friend of committing plagiarism behind his back. This odd charge was based on his claim that Robert's article on Morgan's evolutionism, derived from a lecture Lowie had given earlier at the AMNH and later submitted to a sociological journal, had used Goldie's own ideas and hence, in Lowie's words, "had trespassed on his domain and stolen his thunder." What troubled Lowie most was not so much the accusation itself, which, in his words, Goldenweiser "doubtless considered justified," but "his failure to confront a supposedly intimate friend with his grievance" (see Lowie's manuscript below.). As he soon learned, the real reason for Goldie's ire was actually an earlier incident involving Lowie's review of his Ph.D. dissertation, published in the American Anthropologist (Lowie 1911). Even though the review itself was very positive, Goldie had been peeved by its title, "A New Conception of Totemism," which he saw as Lowie's way of claiming that he himself and not Goldenweiser was actually the author of the new interpretation (Lowie 1911:3). Thus in a letter to Sapir, dated November 15, 1911, Goldie wrote, "Did you read Lowie's A New Conception of Totemism? I agree with him only in so far as he agrees with me, [and] I am writing a rejoinder" (Edward Sapir's correspondence, Canadian Museum of Civilization Archives, cited here as ESC).

While all this sounds like a series of misunderstandings, it is quite conceivable that what had really annoyed Goldie was some mild criticism that Lowie's otherwise very laudatory review contained. His annoyance was strong enough to provoke him to quickly publish a response (Goldenweiser 1911). Throughout the 1910s the two men continued to spar over this topic of totemism and exogamy as well as a new one: diffusion and convergence in the development of culture (Lowie 1912; Goldenweiser 1912, 1913, 1918a). The general tone of their polemic remained courteous, with Shoora even thanking Robert for pointing out the similarities between "totemic groups" and religious societies and age groups and for helping clarify his own thinking on convergence (Goldenweiser 1913:270, 1918a:281). However, by the end of the 1910s, their views on totemism had diverged so far that in his 1920 book Primitive Society, Lowie spent as much time summarizing his former friend's contribution to the subject as critiquing his more recent views on it (Lowie 1920:137–145). The latter, in turn, published a review of Lowie's 1917 Culture and Ethnology, which combined some praise with rather harsh criticism of what he called "Dr. Lowie's one-sided and somewhat naïve conception of the relations of culture to psychology on the one hand, and to history on the other" (Goldenweiser 1918b:837).

The break between the two friends must have also had a lot to do with a major difference between their characters and personalities. Goldie had a high opinion of himself as a scholar and was a bit of a prima donna among Boas's early protégés. Boas described his former graduate student as the most theoretically oriented of the younger American anthropologists in several of his letters to colleagues and Columbia administrators. Here is, for example, how he characterized him in a letter to Frederick J. E. Woodbridge, the university's dean of the Faculties of Political Science, Philosophy, and Pure Science:

We have many investigators who are simply accumulators of facts, and who cannot attain the point of view that makes facts really useful for scientific inquiry, that as a balance, those who have theoretical interests are very much needed. Goldenweiser is pre-eminently a man of this type, and the work that he has done in these directions has always proved stimulating and highly useful, even where, according to my taste, it becomes too dialectical in form. [FB to FW, March 20, 1918, 1, Franz Boas Papers, American Philosophical Society]

Lowie was a lot more modest: everyone who knew him emphasized his intellectual honesty and solicitousness. Moreover, a true old-fashioned gentleman, Lowie could never tolerate or even understand Goldenweiser's notorious womanizing, careless attitude towards returning his debts, and other improprieties. Here is what Lowie wrote about his former friend in a letter to Leslie White sixteen years following Goldie's death:

Apart from these escapades [extramarital affairs — SK], G. failed to return books to the [Columbia] University Library and did not pay his bills at the Faculty Club. At one time he was jailed for non-support of his wife and child. He established a reputation of complete irresponsibility. Sapir, while at Ottawa, gave him opportunities for fieldwork and would doubtless have continued to befriend him, but warned him against treating the Indians with liquor. G. once fell in the mood of disregard [for] the warning; the consequence was a letter from a Canadian official, which G. showed me, to the effect that if G. reappeared on the Reservation, he would be instantly apprehended. In an earlier period, while supposedly studying in Berlin, G. neglected lectures, preferring to perfect himself in billiard — playing under the tutelage of a German champion. These are a few facts explaining why one could not whole-heartedly recommend G. for one of the few good jobs then available. [Lowie to White, March 5, 1956, LAWP]

Lowie's unpublished manuscript states that the major break between them occurred in 1914. Although he does not offer any specific details on what happened that year, one could speculate that Goldie's increased estrangement from his wife had contributed further to the breach. According to one of Lowie's letters to White, written in 1956, by this time he had become appalled by Goldie's behavior as a husband. Apparently Goldie's extramarital escapades were well known among his friends and colleagues, with the most notorious one being his rumored tryst with a mistress at the Waldorf while his wife was in the hospital having a baby (Lowie to White, March 5, 1956, LAWP). Since Goldie's daughter Alice was born in September 1914, this might have happened about the time when Lowie began to distance himself from his friend, especially since he and his sister had been close friends of Anna Goldenweiser. Goldie, in turn, with his exaggerated Russian-style flamboyance and carefree attitudes, must have considered Robert, a shy old bachelor, who did not get married until after years of living in California, rather dull and straitlaced.

Differences of opinion on World War I might also have contributed to the estrangement. As a Germanophile Lowie resented the pro-Entente sentiments of most of his colleagues, including Goldenweiser who was (not surprisingly) pro-Russian and anti-German. As Goldie wrote to Sapir from New York in October 1913, "Lowie is altogether absorbed in pro-Germanistic propaganda. We continue to drift apart" (October 13, 1914, ESC).

Additional factors contributed to their gradual estrangement and the lack of genuine warmth they now felt toward each other. To begin with, in 1917 Lowie left New York for California, having been invited by Kroeber to serve as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Three years later he was granted a permanent appointment as a professor there, a position he held until his retirement in 1950. Although the two former friends continued corresponding and occasionally seeing each other at scholarly meetings, the physical distance between them exacerbated the emotional one. As Kroeber wrote to Sapir from Berkeley on November 4, 1917, "Since Lowie is here, I find that we are in closer agreement than I suspected in New York, where [Pliny] Goddard and Goldie used to bait him and egg us on" (Golla 1984:260).

Judging by Risa Lowie's letters to her brother, dated between 1917 and 1922, lacking sensitivity, Goldenweiser seems to have never fully realized how much he had offended his old friend, and perhaps by this time he had become very interested in resuming their relationship. He eagerly asked Risa about her brother's life and teaching in California and complained about Robert rarely writing to him (RHLP, series 1, box 11). The latter, however, did not reciprocate these expressions of care and concern.

One should also keep in mind that while Lowie's move to Berkeley marked the beginning of a distinguished career, which included the editorship of the American Anthropologist, presidency of the AAA, and eventual election to the National Academy of Sciences, Goldenweiser never obtained a permanent academic position. Instead, whether it was Columbia in the 1910s, the New School for Social Research in the 1920s, or Reed College and the University of Oregon in the 1930s, he was always employed as either a lecturer or a visiting professor.

Two Visions of Anthropology

The most important reason, however, for the fact that the two of them continued to drift apart while maintaining a courteous correspondence, seeing each other at scholarly meetings (mainly on the West Coast), and occasionally visiting each other's homes throughout the 1930s (when Goldie resided in Portland) was an increasing chasm between their respective understanding of the scope and the goals of anthropology.10 In his well-known discussion of Boas's students, George Stocking differentiates between the "strict" Boasians and the "rebellious" ones, identifying Lowie (along with Leslie Spier and Melville Herskovitz) as the former and Kroeber, Radin, and Sapir as the latter (1974:17). Although he does not mention Goldenweiser, the latter, in my opinion, was definitely a rebellious one, while Lowie seems to have been the "strictest" of all of them. I would argue that the major differences between Lowie's and Goldenweiser's scholarship reflected the two divergent routes Boasian anthropology took in the 1920s–1940s.


Excerpted from Corridor Talk to Culture History by Regna Darnell, Frederic W. Gleach. Copyright © 2015 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
Editors' Introduction,
1. The Falling-Out between Alexander Goldenweiser and Robert Lowie: Two Personalities, Two Visions of Anthropology Sergei Kan,
2. Forms of Relatedness: Harlan Smith and the Taxonomic Method Dorothee Schreiber,
3. Echoes of the Class Struggle in France: Exoticism, Religion, and Politics in Fustel de Coulanges's The Ancient City Robert Launay,
4. "I Have Not Advanced a Single Theory": Mayan Ruins, Popular Culture, and Academic Authority in 19th-Century America Fernando Armstrong-Fumero,
5. Edmund Leach and the Rise of Cultural Polyvocality: A Case Study from the Ulúa Valley, Honduras Kathryn M. Hudson,
6. Anthropology in Cuba Leif Korsbaek and Marcela Barrios Luna,
7. An Unfinished Ethnography: Carl Withers's Cuban Fieldwork and the Book That Never Was Jorge L. Giovannetti,
8. Reading "The Redbook Columns" Susan R. Trencher,

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