From Odessa to Chicago with a detour to the battlefields of Spain: politics and anthropological vocation in John Murra's life
Marian Viorel Anastasoaie
(New Europe College)
Paper short abstract:
Based on archival research, written and oral testimonies about John Victor Murra (1916-2006), this paper explores the first half of Murra's life including his early political activism in Romania, his participation in the Spanish Civil War and his anthropological training in the U.S.
Paper long abstract:
John Murra's (1916-2006) life trajectory intersected some of the most important events of the 20th century: the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. Born in 1916 into a Russian‑Jewish family in Odessa, he grew up, studied, and became involved in the Communist movement in Romania before his departure for Chicago in 1934. There he studied anthropology, joined the International Brigades and fought in the Spanish Civil War, before returning to the U.S. to continue anthropological training at the University of Chicago. After defending his Ph.D. thesis on the economic organization of the Inca state (1956), he embarked on a long career of research, teaching and intellectual brokerage between Latin American, U.S. and European anthropologists interested in the Andean cultures. Based on archival research in Romania and at the National Anthropological Archives (Washington), written and oral testimonies, this paper explores the first half of Murra's life including his early political activism in Romania, his participation in the Spanish Civil War and his anthropological training. Having lost his Romanian citizenship in 1938 as a result of anti-Semitic legislation, he was stateless until 1950, when he was granted U.S. citizenship after a long legal battle against the U.S. government's refusal to naturalize him on the grounds he had served in the Spanish Republican Army. This paper argues that Murra's biography offers relevant material for understanding how political commitment and anthropological vocation can be mutually beneficial in an anthropologist's self-transformation, in spite of the adverse historical context.
On the move: fieldwork, academy and home in the early anthropologists' careers