Chicago: An Anthropological Mecca


I hope you leave this seminar knowing that
Chicago is a place for anthropology. of us who are interested in culture, history,
diversity, and change through time, Chicago should be considered a human epicenter. Personally,
for my own academic development, it has been an honor to come from a city with such broad,
anthropological shoulders. For example, there are more than 40 museums
in Chicago. From the Field Museum which I will detail today, to the famous Art Institute,
to impressive gallery museums like the National Museum of Mexican Art, all of the city’s institutions,
in some way, house, curate and interpret the diversity of humanity found within Chicago,
as well as throughout the world. Also, like other cities in the U.S., especially on the
east coast, anthropology as a discipline was born with museums, their collections, and
collectors. Chicago, and Illinois in general, have many
influential universities and colleges. For example: University of Chicago, Northwestern,
University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul, College of DuPage, Wheaton and North Central
Colleges. Miles west of the Windy City, there is Northern Illinois University (NIU) and
down south you will find the University of Illinois (UofI). While the University of Chicago
has been granting Ph.D.s in anthropology since 1897, all of these institutions have undergraduate
programs in anthropology, with many offering graduate and research programs in an American,
“four-fielded” approach. There is a long list of outstanding academics
to come out of Chicago. Kathy Reichs or better known as the inspiration for Dr. Temperance
Brenan on the TV show “Bones”, graduated from Northwestern in 1975. Her dedicated and prolific
work has made forensic anthropology more accessible to the public, while providing conclusive
evidence for multiple legal institutions. Still teaching out of the University of Chicago,
Marshall Sahlins’ work has been very influential for those interested in social economics and
“general” and “specific” forms of cultural evolution. Tim Earle, who I understand just
visited UQ from Northwestern, has been a major proponent of using a political economy approach
in archaeological contexts; a similar approach that I am employing for my doctoral research
about pre-contact Easter Island. One prominent link from Chicago directly to
UQ’s School of Social Science is through Professor Jay Hall. He earned his Ph.D. from the University
of Chicago in 1979 and later founded UQ’s archaeology department. Hall’s anthropological
approaches were certainly influenced by Chicagoan theoretical and methodological constructs
of anthropology, archaeology, and material culture studies. Besides having many “Chicago schools” such
as in architecture, sociology and economics, a main “school” of anthropological theory
that developed at the University of Chicago was a Symbolic and Interpretive approach.
Centered upon Clifford Geertz, and influenced by fellow UC scholars such as Victor Turner,
David Schneider, and Northwestern’s Mary Douglas, this school focused on the ideological and
symbolic nature of culture and human behavior.Sometime earlier, while at the University of Illinois,
Julian Steward stressed a more nuanced appreciation for “cultural ecology”, while professing the
importance of multi-linear human evolution. Steward’s neoevolutionary contemporary Leslie
White, graduated from the University of Chicago in 1927. Notable applications pioneered in Chicago
include Willard Libby’s atomic work at the University of Chicago. His research, acknowledged
with a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960, laid the ground work for radiometric dating that
is now so fundamental to archaeological interpretation. The origin of business or industrial anthropology
was rooted in Chicago, with notable research amongst the city’s multicultural corporate
sectors. The field began when Lloyd Warner, who had studied with the Aboriginal Murngin,
participated as one of the scientists conducting research at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works
manufacturing plant. Warner used anthropological theory and qualitative research techniques
to study employee interactions at work. He found that understanding human relations was
crucial to understanding performance in corporate organizations. Academic research and publication have been
a priority in Chicago, with both the University of Chicago Press and the Field Museum’s Fieldiana
Journal printing multiple key manuscripts in anthropology, archaeology, the classics,
art history, and material culture studies. With regard to the formulation of anthropology
as a professional discipline, the very first attempt to organize a national anthropology
society proceeded in 1901 in Chicago with famous anthropologists such as Franz Boas,
Roland Dixon, Fredrick Starr, and even George Dorsey in attendance. This first committee
meeting would eventually turn into the American Anthropological Association in 1902. Until
today, it still remains the largest organization of individuals interested in our discipline. Last, but arguably most important, is the
level of human diversity found throughout Chicagoan time in space. From the first people
that arrived in the area around the terminal Palaeolithic, to the influence of the important
Missisippian chiefdom centered at Cahokia, to later First Nation groups such as the Kickapoo,
Fox, Saux, Illinois, and ¬¬-Potawatomi who had and have inhabited and the Chicagoland
area for centuries. Chicago’s contemporary urban culture is also
a very diverse cosmopolitan, ripe for social inquiry. In fact, UC sociology department
claimed Chicago as “one of the most complete social laboratories in the world.” Currently,
there are 26 ethnic groups in the city, with at least 25,000 members in each group. There
are 132 languages spoken, and 130 foreign –language media outlets. This makes Chicago
one of the most linguistically diverse cities in the world.
As such, I believe that when taken together, these elements place Chicago as an important
center for anthropology. And, I hope by the end of this presentation, I have furthered
this point.

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