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Accepted paper:

Geographic Provinces as a Concept and a Unit for Analysis and Display, A Transatlantic Perspective, 1860-1900


Brooke Penaloza-Patzak (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

Bringing considerations from natural history to bear on the transnational institutionalization of anthropology, this paper explores the development and spread of the geographic provinces concept via, among others, correspondence, museum-based collections training, and object exchanges.

Paper long abstract:

In 1886 Adolf Bastian, first director of the Royal Ethnological Museum in Berlin, published Zur Lehre von den Geographischen Provinzen (on the doctrine of geographic provinces). Therein he argued that geographic provinces, which he defined as comprising the transformative interplay between mental milieu (resulting from, for example historical migration) and physical environment (topographic, climatic, etc.), should serve as the basic unit of anthropological analysis. That same year, Bastian's museum re-opened in a dedicated building. Physically and conceptually freed from the general collections, and therewith the ostensible constraints of natural history, the museum provided favorable conditions for the large-scale realization of geographic provinces as an organizing principle for display. By the early 1890s, geographic provinces had become the customary unit of anthropological analysis and display throughout the German speaking lands and much of continental Europe, and by no later than 1900 had likewise gained traction in the United Kingdom and United States of America. Bringing considerations from the earth sciences and natural history to bear on transnational tensions in the institutionalization of anthropology, this paper explores the early development and spread of the geographic provinces concept via publications, correspondence, museum-based training in and work with ethnographic collections, and object exchanges.

panel AM01
Transatlantic museum mobilities: convergences of objects, people and ideas