By: Alfred Kidder, II

Originally Published in 1959

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Alfred Kidder II - Associate Director
Alfred Kidder II – Associate Director

Anthropologists, archaeologists, and their colleagues in such fields as linguistics, folklore, and ethnomusicology like to get together from time to time just as do wholesale grocers, insurance men, and professional people of every description.

As interest in anthropology increases in the United States, the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association grows bigger and bigger. Twenty-five years ago, papers were read at these gatherings at one or two concurrent sessions–now the rule is eight or nine. Such growth is most encouraging, of course, but it means an enormous amount of work by those in charge of local arrangements, especially the program chairman, faced with the task of organizing interesting and timely symposia and scheduling dozens of volunteered papers. The volunteered paper is one that is offered by any member of the organization; many universities pay the expenses of faculty members to professional meetings only if they are going to present papers. Unless these offerings are clearly beyond the range of interest of the group, they cannot properly be rejected, regardless of how dull or picayune they may occasionally be. Thus meetings grow larger, papers are more and more numerous, and one finds it increasingly difficult to find one’s friends in the throng of new faces that each meeting seems to bring. Nevertheless, we must enjoy them or we wouldn’t go to them unless we had to.

The same growth has occurred in international meetings, which occur less frequently and which naturally involve greater expense for most of the participants. The International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, which met at the Museum in September, 1956, was attended by about seven hundred people, representing sixty-three nations. When we consider that this Congress has not in the past had many American members and that very little money for the traveling expenses of foreign delegates was available, this is a very respectable figure. Attendance at the same Congress in Vienna in 1952 was at least a thousand, reflecting lower travel and living costs for Europeans. When the Congress assembles in Paris, in 1960, it would not be surprising to find fifteen hundred members and official delegates present. Many of the latter will have been sent at the expense of their respective governments. The United States, although it has named official delegations through the National Academy of Sciences, does not pay their expenses, and the American delegation will probably be relatively small. Since 1956, however, there seems to have been an increased awareness by foundations and associations of learned societies of the importance of international meetings. As far as anthropology is concerned, we like to think that some of this concern that the United States be well represented may result from the very evident success of the Philadelphia Congress of 1956.

For travel to the Paris Congress, American anthropologists will be able to apply to the American Anthropological Association, the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Social Science Research Council. This will make it possible for the United States to be represented at Paris by a delegation of at least respectable size, and, what is more important, of assured scholarly stature. In contrast to the bare half dozen of us who were at the Vienna Congress in 1952 this is a most heartening development. European anthropologists, including the Soviets, are extremely interested in the lines of theory and method that Americans have been following, and there is really no substitute for face-to-face discussion of such matters, notwithstanding the flow of printed matter that is theoretically readily available to all. The difficulty is that many Europeans do not find our latest writings easily, nor are we always aware of theirs; even if we were all thoroughly “read up” on the aspects of anthropology that interest us, we would still benefit very greatly from opportunities to cross-fertilize our minds.

Preparations for the Paris Congress have already begun. Last September the Permanent Council met in Namur, Belgium, an ideally quiet and charming little city in which to hold unhurried discussions of the kind of program that should be arranged to hear the reports of the French organizing committee. There were representatives of only a dozen or so nations, and almost all of us had at least met each other previously. The agenda was covered efficiently and pleasantly. On the last working day (we spent the last day on a delightful excursion looking at ruins and buildings dating from the Stone Age to a Merovingian castle), the Soviet delegate arrived. He was shown the results of our deliberations and rose to announce that he would insist on no change other than the inclusion of a section on what he called “methodology.” On the assumption that this meant a discussion of technical field methods, several of us were about to object, but it soon became clear that what he wanted was a session on basic concepts and philosophical approaches to anthropology. We should have been a pretty poor lot of anthropologists had we not accepted with equanimity this rather transparent challenge to debate.

As we adjourned, the Soviet delegate, bag in hand, asked the way to the railroad station. “Aren’t you going to stay for the excursion tomorrow?” we asked. “What would be the point?” he replied. We thought we could see a point in spending a day with friendly colleagues, seeing the Citadel of Namur, Roman baths, and a Merovingian castle, but we held our peace as the Soviet delegate set his velour hat squarely on his head and marched off to the station.

Cite This Article

II, Alfred Kidder,. "Editorial." Expedition Magazine 1, no. 2 (January, 1959): -. Accessed February 23, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/editorial-4/

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