This book is about how a small group of anthropologists shaped American thought from the late nineteenth century until the mid-1960s. They did so through democratizing the American conception of culture, putting class analysis on the agenda, rehabilitating the American character, studying American values scientifically, and reconciling culture and civilization.
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“This story of American cultural anthropology above all shows the amazing power of intellectual history. Gilkeson tells how a small number of outstanding thinkers used the concept of culture to create a new mindset in the United States by the mid-twentieth century.Young scholars will find here an essential demystifying summary of the wisdom, false starts, and brilliance of two generations whose legacy their immediate successors have attempted to suppress. Readers will return again and again to this narrative to explore the historical impact of a remarkable set of American academic and public intellectuals.” — John Burnham, Ohio State University
“Anthropologists and the Rediscovery of America tells a compelling and wide-ranging story about the impact of the culture concept on the shape of US society. It is a book that every serious student of the history of ideas should read.” —Michael A. Elliott, Emory University
“We are all anthropologists now, and it was the twentieth century that taught Americans to think about themselves as anthropologists did. Gilkeson's elegant treatment of concepts like class, national character, and value explains the stunning transformations of intellectual life and national self-consciousness that accompanied the spread of anthropology's culture concept. The anthropological sensibility undermined American exceptionalism, democratized social analysis, and generated unparalleled challenges for academic and popular cultural interpretation that remain more urgent than ever. This is the story of one of the most consequential revolutions in modern U.S. history.” —Ellen Herman, University of Oregon
“This archive-intensive reinterpretation of eight decades of anthropology in the United States is a refreshing blend of two scholarly traditions, American Studies and history of social science. Gilkeson has scrutinized virtually every public and private document of relevance to this massive topic, about which he writes with rare cogency.” —David A. Hollinger, University of California at Berkeley
“This is a broadly conceived consideration of major issues in American intellectual and cultural life that imaginatively explores themes such as cultural nationalism, the domestication of the concept of culture, the role of outsiders (Jews, émigrés, and alienated natives), the transatlantic dimensions of intellectual exchanges, the shifting roles of public intellectuals, engagement with the issue of class, the emergence of a focus on cultural and personality, and debates over national character.” —Daniel Horowitz, Smith College
"Gilkson's book, deeply researched and full of insights, captures an era when intellectuals, public and otherwise, helped shape the life of the nation." -Bookforum
"Gilkeson’s book is a forceful reminder of just how that process worked among American anthropologists during the interwar period of 1919 to 1941." -Terry A. Barnhart, The Journal of American History
This book examines the intersection of cultural anthropology and American cultural nationalism from 1886, when Franz Boas left Germany for the United States, until 1965, when the National Endowment for the Humanities was established. Five chapters trace the development within academic anthropology of the concepts of culture, social class, national character, value, and civilization, and their dissemination to non-anthropologists. As Americans came to think of culture anthropologically, as a 'complex whole' far broader and more inclusive than Matthew Arnold's 'the best which has been thought and said', so, too, did they come to see American communities as stratified into social classes distinguished by their subcultures; to attribute the making of the American character to socialization rather than birth; to locate the distinctiveness of American culture in its unconscious canons of choice; and to view American culture and civilization in a global perspective.
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