The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002 Page: 535
A Laboratory for Anthropology: Science and Romantzcism in the American Southwest,
1846-z93o. By Don D. Fowler. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico
Press, 2000. Pp. xiii+497. Preface, prologue, introduction, epilogue, abbre-
viations, notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-8263-2036-8. $49.95, cloth.)
Don Fowler's A Laboratory for Anthropology: Science and Romantczsm in the Amercan
Southwest, 1846-93o is like the two-headed push-me pull-me of Dr. Doolittle.
One end of the beast consists of an encyclopedic account of anthropologists
and archaeologists at work and at play in the vast outdoor "laboratory," the
American Southwest. Fowler doggedly tells the tale of virtually every great, near-
great, and ingrate scholar who ever studied Southwestern cultures. In these
pages appear the stories of such three-name luminaries as Lewis Henry Morgan,
John Wesley Powell, Frank Hamilton Cushing, Frederick Webb Hodge, Frederic
Ward Putnam, Jesse Walter Fewkes, Elsie Clews Parsons, and Edgar Lee Hewett
(whew!) alongside such two-name luminaries as Washington Matthews, Ruth
Benedict, Ruth Bunzel, and Gladys Reichard. You will also find here the stories
of luminous institutions, from the Smithsonian to the Archaeological Institute of
America to the School of American Research. If the book lavishes attention on
the infighting and empire-building of these pioneer scholars and institutions, it
also pays them homage.
At the other end of the beast is a thesis that contradicts Fowler's monument to
those anthropologists who came before. Fowler contends that the idea of the
Southwest as a "land of enchantment," a land of authentic, primitive peoples liv-
ing authentic, primitive lives, emerged from the observations and writings of the
very anthropologists whose lives he memorializes. That is, anthropology, togeth-
er with public relations pap from railroads, traders, and regional boosters, creat-
ed the idea of the Southwest. The romanticization of the Southwest in turn
helped romanticize anthropology, encouraging wealthy philanthropists to chan-
nel yet more lucre into yet more studies of Southwestern cultures. As a result, no
region on earth has received more anthropological and archaeological attention
than the American Southwest.
Thus the push-me pull-me quality in Fowler's book: On one side, Fowler, him-
self a Southwestern archaeologist, yokes himself to the cart of homage to his sci-
entific forebears, while on the other side, he strives to show that these forebears
invented an artificial and in some ways pernicious image of the Southwest. To
switch metaphors, Fowler praises the feats of his Oz-like progenitors while
pulling away the curtain to show them creating the romantic illusions that sus-
tained their enterprise. One might suggest, indeed, that Fowler's book is little
more than a wandering and gossipy American version of Edward Said's
Orientalzsm, though Fowler's book wanders and gossips precisely because Fowler
appreciates his subjects; Said did not.
Perhaps the ambivalence in Fowler's book reveals the ambivalence of all latter-
day anthropologists as they confront both the arrogance that their predecessors
displayed toward Indian peoples and the "reality" (pun intended) of post-struc-
turalist critiques of social science. Like the Southwest itself, however, there is
some great mystery, some great desideratum, at the core of anthropology that
Here’s what’s next.
This issue can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page .
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/m1/579/ocr/: accessed March 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.