Quote: Ashley-Montagu and his zingers

Ashley Montagu is a unique character from the history of anthropology. I ran across an essay of his yesterday, which I found entertaining for its many zingers. It’s entitled, “A cursory examination of the relations between physical and social anthropology”, and while it has a four-field (well, two-field) tenor, it’s far from complementary of his contemporaries Ashley-Montagu:1940.

As for the effects of social anthropology upon physical anthropology, I am not aware that there have ever been any; yet, as we shall see, not only have physical anthropologists a great deal to learn from the findings of social anthropologists, but we shall also see that unless they make certain of these findings part of their methodological procedures, much of their labor is likely to prove abortive. The same may be said of social anthropologists in relation to the findings of physical anthropology. Each division in its many branches has been so intent upon pegging out its claims that the peggers seem almost to have lost sight of one mother for the number of the pegs. In a science such as anthropology, which covers so wide and so complex a range of phenomena, this is not altogether surprising; but the pioneering stage is over and it is time that the peggers began to take some cognisance of the larger purposes of their activities.

I already tweeted that first line (my emphasis). What a classic!

On craniometrics:

In the past physical anthropologists have been content merely to philander upon the outskirts of these subjects, their chief occupation, being the production of a sort of calculated confusion with calipers wrought upon unoffending crania. The measurement of long series of crania has now been proceeding for more than 100 years as the main pastime of numerous workers, but with the exception of the work done within relatively recent years, it would be difficult to conceive of any work more useless or more barren of results than this.

The final paragraph of the essay expresses an early version of Ashley-Montagu’s later concern with race and social justice:

The world would be immensely the poorer for the dissolution of all cultural differences between peoples. There is one belief, however, which is an essential article of faith and practise of many peoples, expressed in the notion: We are the best, all others are our inferiors; they must be kept in their proper place. I deem it among the most important tasks of the anthropologist to make available the evidence which may eventually prove to all mankind whether any people has, or has ever had, any justification for such a belief other than an hypertrophied sense of its own importance and the wishful mythology they have devised to support them in this belief. Only when the combined labors of physical and social anthropologists have laid bare the true meaning and value of such beliefs will anthropology have justified its claim to be called the science of man.