Anthropology's Global Histories: The Ethnographic Frontier in German New Guinea, 1870-1935
248pp. October 2008
Anthropology's Global Histories: The Ethnographic Frontier in German New Guinea, 1870-1935
Author: Buschmann, Rainer F.;
Anthropologists and world historians make strange bedfellows. Although the latter frequently employ anthropological methods in their descriptions of cross-cultural exchanges, the former have raised substantial reservations about global approaches to history. Fearing loss of specificity, anthropologists object to the effacing qualities of techniques employed by world historians—this despite the fact that anthropology itself was a global, comparative enterprise in the nineteenth century.

Rainer Buschmann here seeks to recover some of anthropology’s global flavor by viewing its history in Oceania through the notion of the ethnographic frontier—the furthermost limits of the anthropologically known regions of the Pacific. The colony of German New Guinea (1884–1914) presents an ideal example of just such a contact zone. Colonial administrators there were drawn to approaches partially inspired by anthropology. Anthropologists and museum officials exploited this interest by preparing large-scale expeditions to German New Guinea.

Buschmann explores the resulting interactions between German colonial officials, resident ethnographic collectors, and indigenous peoples, arguing that all were instrumental in the formation of anthropological theory. He shows how changes in collecting aims and methods helped shift ethnographic study away from its focus on material artifacts to a broader consideration of indigenous culture. He also shows how ethnological collecting, often a competitive affair, could become politicized and connect to national concerns. Finally, he places the German experience in the broader context of Euro-American anthropology.

Anthropology's Global Histories will interest students and scholars of anthropology, history, world history, and Pacific studies.

5 illus., 3 maps

Perspectives on the Global Past Series
“[This] study is remarkable for its fine detail and broad scope, which makes it possible to view the connection between the personalities and ambitions of competing museum directors in Germany, the imperial activities of merchants and colonial administrators, and the experiences and suffering of indigenous peoples in Oceania. This essential work in the history of anthropology and ethnology in Oceania is a model for world historical studies that invites similar efforts at multiple and various scales.” —Pacific Affairs (84:4, December 2011)

"[This] book succeeds at many levels. It provides important historical data on German New Guinea not otherwise available in English, sheds light on the relationship between global history and the development of anthropology as a discipline, and contributes to the literature on the colonial period in Pacific history. It is highly recommended reading for those having such interests." —Bulletin of the Pacific Circle (23, October 2009)

"An excellent addition to a growing literature that places anthropological knowledge in ever-richer historical contexts." —American Historical Review (June 2009)

Author: Buschmann, Rainer F.;
Rainer F. Buschmann is associate professor of history and founding faculty member at California State University, Channel Island.
Read the introduction (PDF).