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Cold War anthropology

Posted by Joshua Glenn  December 6, 2007 01:03 PM

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During the 1950s and '60s, notes Dustin Wax, a Nevada-based adjunct professor of cultural anthropology, communist and left-leaning anthropologists were blacklisted from academic jobs, even as the CIA and the Department of Defense supported anthropological research to further their own ends.

"In the wake of 9/11 we've seen history repeating itself, mostly as farce," Wax claims in a post today at Savage Minds, the popular anthropological blog (where his handle is "oneman"). He points to what he calls attempts by the neoconservative David Horowitz, founder of the activist group Students for Academic Freedom, not to mention the anti-PC American Council of Trustees and Alumni at "exposing and villainizing 'un-American' anthropologists, at the same time that the military and the CIA are actively pursuing anthropological involvement in their work via PRISP [the Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program] and now HTS [the Human Terrain System program, which seeks to embed anthropologists in the US Military, to aid in the war effort]."

What should anthropologists unhappy about this state of affairs do? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in Wax's forthcoming book, "Anthropology at the Dawn of the Cold War" (Pluto, May 2008), a collection, edited by Wax, of historical essays on "the relationship between the various factors characterizing the Cold War period and the development of anthropology at the time." Sounds good to me!

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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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