"Other times other customs: The anthropology of history"

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Marshal Sahlins

Islands of History 1985

"Other times other customs: The anthropology of history"

Sahlins (originally evolutionist and then a structuralist).

He is concerned with structure through time and diachronic unlike L-S. He looks at how system and history relate together.
Main point: 'Different cultural orders have their own modes of historical action, consciousness, and determination – their own historical practice" (p. 34).


historical events are structured by preexisting cultural categories.

  • What people think happened is a part of self identity and sense of self.

  • Structure: "the symbolic relations of cultural order" is an historical object (against the structure and history division). (The structure is not statistical)

  • It is ethnocentric to ignore heroic history with European notions.

  • History in the heroic mode

  • History unfolds as the social extension of the heroic person.

  • What ordinary people do is not systematically decisive in comparison with higher order effects of upper classes.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Silencing the Past

Power and the Production of History (1995)
Main point: how the past (even in its best preserved forms) gets "silenced,"

  • History is the story of what is not silenced

  • Any historical narrative is a particular bundle of silences

  • History is the human narration of that reality as seen by the historian.

Human beings participate in history both as actors and narrators.


res gestae (experienced past)

historia rerum gestratum (the discourse about this past)
"facts of the matter and narrative of those facts

What happened and that which is said to have happened

"The way is which what happened and that which is sadi to have happened are and are not the same may itself be historical" (p4).
Production of history is the are of overlap between the historical process and narratives about that process.

Four crucial moments of silencing

making of fact creation ( sources)

moment of fact assembly (archives)other times the silencing is

process of fact retrieval (narratives)

moment of retrospective significance (the making of history)

Myth, History and Political Identity

Jonathan Friedman 1992

Main points: History and discourse about the making of history is positional, (dependent upon where one is located in social reality, within society, and within global process).

  • Objective history, is produced in a definitive context and is a particular kind of project.

  • The discourse of history as well as of myth is simultaneously a discourse of identity; it consists of attributing a meaningful past to a structured present.

  • History, is very much a mythical construction, in the sense that it is a representation of the past linked to the establishment of an identity in the present.

Marshall Sahlins (1981) mythopraxis (the enacting of myth in reality thus creating historical metaphors of mythical realities).

Friedman's alternative: to mythopraxis history or rather stories of the past are constructed according to categorical schemes that are transferred from other domains.

Myth for us, is a symbol of the static, unchanging structure of otherness in its essence

The construction of history is generated by, and is constitutive of, social identity.

The history of historians is the identity of historians as well.

What are the elements that enter into the Hawaiian construction of Hawaiian history?

  • early contact tradition concerning the relation between the aristocracy and the commoners

  • the formation, following the demographic collapse of the Hawaiian population, of a plantation society that became increasingly multi-ethnic, where dwindling numbers of Hawaiians lived in communities that isolated themselves and took on the characteristics of closed corporate units.

  • after a century and a half of virtual ethnocide in which Hawaiians lost their population and their land, and in which even their way of life (in the sense of their culture) was forbidden.

The history constructed by the Hawaiians in the process of forging an identity consists in the attribution of meaning to the world,

It is conditioned by local, regional, and global social and economic processes.
If history is largely mythical, it is because the politics of identity consists in anchoring the present in a viable past.
Paul Connerton

How societies remember? (1989)

How is the memory of groups conveyed and sustained?

Collective memory: Recollections of a shared past

through co- commemoration and ritual

Recollection and bodies

Commemorative ceremonies

(They are performative and habitual and therefore involve automatism)
“To study the social formation of memory is to study those acts of transfer that make remembering in common possible.” (39)
personal memory

cognitive memory


Olivia Harris

Knowing the past: Plural identities and the antinomies of loss in highland Bolivia (1995)

Main points: There are different ways of knowing the past.
"There are different ways in which knowledges and relationships between them may be conceptualized".
"Concentrated knowledge concerning the past is a function of politico-religious power and authority".
Historical narratives have different purpose for N. Potosi Indians rather than fashioning of collective identity.
"Potentially conflicting narratives coexist with no attempt to create a unified or continuous version".
What is history?

Local knowledge par excellence.

Narratives have to places in localities.

Western historiography takes civilization, nations or people as its subject of the narratives.

"Alternative" histories "working class", "women" etc. identities become dependent on the recovery of the history and tries to create a coherent narrative.

Issue at stake:

Loss and continuity

Mixing, syncretism or creolization.

Politics of interpreting new knowledge

the model of mixing

adopting model of colonization

model in terms of borrowing

co-existence, no integration

self conscious adoption

innovation and creativity

Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World: Perspectives from Indian Historiography

Gyan Prakash (1990)


Orientalism is the study of Near and Far Eastern societies and cultures, generally by Westerners.
Edward Said (Orientalism, 1979)

"the relationship of power and knowledge in scholarly and popular thinking, in particular, regarding Europeans and how they saw the Arab world".

"Body of knowledge produced by texts and institutional practices. "
Its power comes from (Prakash)

autoritative status

its facbrication of the Orient in terms of the founding essences which are resistant to change

subaltern:(noun) a British commissioned army officer below the rank of captain

(adjective) inferior in rank or status

Subaltern Studies: Writings on South Asian History and Society, Edited by Ranajit Guha Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Main point: Showing how Indian historiography adopted and reproduced key assumptions and representations of Orientalism.
Remedy: Foucauldian approaches to power, post-modernist (decentered and heterogenous) study to understand the Indian past.

the spiritual India and the materialistic West, made sense only in the context of each other and the traces of each in the other,

the India of Sanskrit, the Brahmans

texts essentialized and distanced India

  • Europe’s childhood, India was temporally separated from Europe’s present

  • made incapable of achieving “progress”.

The India of the Orientalist’s knowledge emerged as Europe’s other, an essential and distanced entity knowable by the detached and distanced observer of the European Orientalist.

The discursive space for such changes in knowledge was provided by the Orientalist construction of India as an external object knowable through representations.
The Old Orientalist, buried in texts and devoted to learning Sanskrit and Persian, was replaced by the official, the scholar, and the modernizer.
The nationalists transformed the object of knowledge - India - from passive to active, from inert to sovereign, capable of relating to History and Reason.
They accepted the periodization of Indian history into the Hindu, Muslim, and British periods
The task of history was to unleash this subjectivity from colonial control; and historiography was obliged to represent this unleashing.
The nationalists, like the Orientalists, also assumed that India was an undivided entity
India was given an ontological presence prior to and independent of its representations which followed the procedures of Orientalism.
Johannes Fabian,

Time and the other, How anthropology makes its object (1983)
coevalness :having the same time or shared conceptual praxis.
ethnographic present is in a sense out of time and involves distance from events, and is ultimately related to evolution and temporalizing rhetoric.
Synchronic analysis creates false consciousness and the delusion of timelessness. It is only a dimension not a measure.
Shared, intersubjective vs time in the library

time in the field the creation of temporal distances

The “anthropological eye” is essentially a “film experience” of voyeurism.

This leads to an illusionary representation of data in the form of tables and charts.

Temporalization is a means of objectifying culture.
Fabian’s conclusion :explanation within social science is impossible because the analytical instruments are deceptive and limited.

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