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Key Note: From Isolated Contrasts to Productive Dialogues: Assessing the legacies of Italian- and German-speaking anthropologies for today and tomorrow

Andre Gingrich, Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences

South Tyrol is an ideal site for scrutinizing and re-assessing the legacies of mutual interaction and avoidance between Italian-and German-speaking anthropologies across their respective histories.  At first, one would think that these two academic traditions had very little to do with each other – Italian research often pursuing a folklorist agenda defined by a priority for nation-building, while German-speaking anthropology ever since 1918 was divided up into versions of Volkskunde and Voelkerkunde.

A closer assessment, however, reveals a number of fascinating intersections. Before 1945, they range from the towering influence of Italian “orientalists” like Ettore Rossi and Giuseppe Tucci upon German-speaking ethnographies of South Arabia and of Tibet; they also included Wilhelm Schmidt’s role as founder and inspiring force for the Vatican’s missionary museum, and they include the grim phase of the SS Ahnenerbe’s “salvage anthropology” after 1938 in South Tyrol itself, carried out by well-known scholars-cum-politicians such as Oswald Menghin.

After the war, new and more enduring interactions took place through Carlo Ginzburg’s absorption of German ethnographic insights into some of his main works in micro-history, by progressive encounters between new generations of Italian- and German-speaking “anthropologists of Europe”, and by leading expatriate Italian experts in linguistic anthropology such as Alessandro Duranti. Since the 1970’s, with the work of new generations of US and UK trained anthropologists, – ranging from Eric Wolf to Sylvia Yanagisako and from David Kertzer to Iaro Stacul – northern Italy and the German-speaking parts of central Europe in fact have become global sites of anthropological expertise and debate.

This presentation will end by outlining how, under these new transnational conditions of the present, we may use the legacies of historical anthropologies in both clusters of research traditions for fusing them with existing potentials towards productive academic dialogues. Perhaps a methodological emphasis, i.e. combining problem-oriented research with refined (qualitative, investigative, self-reflexive) tools of investigations will be quite helpful in this regard.

Relation between History and Anthropology in the Italian Speaking Context:

The Crocodile, the historical time, and Peter Pan, the Anthropologist: A reflection on the relationship between historiography, historicism and anthropology in Italy

Berardino Palumbo, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Messina

In Italy, over the last few decades, the relationship between historiography and anthropology seem to have been inspired by the tale of Peter Pan. On the one hand, historians, with their well-oiled hook (tangible and embodied sign of the past) that have tried to run behind anthropology, imagined as a container in which to try and pick up tools, issues, new methodologies, and always conceived as a child unable to becoming an adult. On the other hand anthropologists, eternal and terrible kids, in their islands out of time, ready to play trickery – exorcisms and witchcraft, lineages, feuds and clientele, body care rituals and – to their adult (and maimed) pursuers. Behind both, the time crocodile, with its embodied memory, that “tic-tac / tic-tac”WHICH remembers the one and the other the common belonging to the world of humans.

In my communication I mean to dissolve this metaphor and then try to show how historiography and anthropology, in Italy, despite chasing each other closely have not ended very often to meets, each prisoner of reciprocal stereotyped images. Above all, I wish to emphasize how such a missed encounter / confrontation has prevented a careful rethinking around key concepts of the international debate between history and anthropology: the very notion of time and those, connected, of agency, incorporation, power and NATION STATE. Finally I would like to point how the avoidance of these TOPICS has contributed to the safeguarding of the intellectual status quo in the Italian cultural scenario, with all its IMPLICIT hierarchies among different disciplines.

Relation between History and Anthropology in the German Speaking Context:

The Federal German Ethnology from 1945 to 1990. Trends, continuities and discontinuities

Dieter Haller, Department of Social Anthropology, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

With a view to the history of Ethnology in the Federal Republic of Germany, my presentation is supposed to investigate both the characteristics of the prefix ‘ethno’ in the term ‘Ethnology’, and the actual core of this subject. Since 1945, the research and subject focus has been changing from a cultural-historic perspective on the material world of the primitive people towards the cultural world of basically all societies. At the beginning of the study period, the artefacts of those classic ‘primitive people’ were the centre of attention. Since the 1980s though, and especially today, the cultures and societies from all over the world have become increasingly important. The cultural representation ethnologists are concerned with is changing. This shift can be – grossly simplified – characterized as a development away from artefacts and myths towards the contemporary way of coping with existence and social affiliation, as well as the constructions of meaning and the emic perspective on the observed. On the first glance, it seems like the recent development of German Ethnology has caught up with the international field of Anthropology mainly shaped by the Anglo-Saxon region – nevertheless, in the course of time there are still various aspects differentiating the German subject partially from the international Anthropology: there is Humboldt’s educational concept and the sensitivity for a historic and long-lasting experience of field researches in the foreign. Likewise, there is the training rooted in tradition of both social and cultural sciences and a sort of scepticism towards theories, as well as the possibility to refer back to the material and finally, the all-embracing romance for the foreign.

Key Study Historical Anthropology Italian Speaking Context:

Bridging the Historical and the Contemporary: the Afterlife of Slavery in West Africa

Alice Bellagamba,   Department of Human Sciences for Education “Riccardo Massa”, University of


For the last fifteen years, I have been studying the legacy of slavery along the Gambia River, a region of West Africa at the crossroad between the Sahel, Europe and the Atlantic world. In the effort of unearthing African experiences of slavery, the slave trade and abolition, I have worked with historians of Africa at a broad editorial project on slave voices. The study of what followed in the wake of abolition will keep me busy for the next five years, as holder of a research project in the field of historical anthropology that links research on West Africa to that on North Africa, the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. All along I have often thought about my trajectory in relation to that of the historian in terms of commonalities, the specificity of my approach and potential cross-fertilization. The object of this contribution is the place of the anthropologist in the field of slavery studies. In that role, I could have been content with documenting the many ways in which African memories of slavery and the slave trade were shaped by contemporary concerns. But I wished to move further and question my own ethnographic evidence as historical source. Lately, I have started to consider how the elderly men and women I met over the years learnt about slavery and its demise, even if were born long after the end of enslavement and of the slave trade. Not only do memories of slavery refer to people and places, which the researcher has to know in order to kindle recollections, but they are rooted in personal life trajectories and social experiences. Their intergenerational transmission should not be taken for granted.

Key Study Historical Anthropology German Speaking Context:

Colonial encounters in the North Moluccas: Indigenous perspectives

Josephus Platenkamp, Institute for Ethnology, Westfälische Wilhems-Universität Münster

The North Moluccas has had the dubious privilege of being among the first Asian regions to draw the attention of the early modern European expansionists. Lured by the prospects of an immediate access to the sources of exotic spices that until then had reached Europe through an Indian, Arab and Ottoman conducted trade only, and seduced by the perspective of fabulous market profits Portuguese and Spanish military merchant ships reached the area in the early 1500s. Then, in the beginning of the 17th Century, the Dutch United East India Company chased both the Iberian merchants and the Jesuit priests from the region in order to establish the militarily enforced trade monopoly that laid the foundation for the Dutch colonial empire in the centuries to come.

During all these years the perception of the North Moluccan societies had been a Euro-centric one. The facts reported reflected the early modern European paradigmatic views of the non-European ‘other’. Largely absent from these reports was an understanding of the ways in which the Moluccan societies themselves conceived of the Europeans appearing in their midst. Yet this question as to this indigenous perception and valuation of ‘the stranger’ must concern social anthropology – a comparative science par excellence – for “one cannot do good history, not even contemporary history, without regard for ideas, actions, and ontologies that are not and never were our own” (Marshall Sahlins).

My contribution analyses the representations that determined the conceptual integration of the Europeans in the indigenous ontologies, assigning a particular meaning and value to their presence. Drawing upon reports on the North and Central Moluccas from the 16th to the 20th Century, as well as on fieldwork data and indigenous mythologies I shall explore the pertinence of certain structural patterns of a ‘longue durée’ governing the category of ‘the stranger’ as a constitutive part of overall socio-cosmological orders.

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