Highly Accurate Pictures of Anthropologists: A new Tumblr

Highly Accurate Pictures of Anthropologists: A new Tumblr

So I started a Tumblr. It contains highly accurate pictures of anthropologists. I thought maybe it would help people who wanted to see well-sourced, high-quality pictures of anthropologists.

A young Sherry Ortner doing fieldwork. Via Anthropology of This Century

This Tumblr is driven by my long-term interest in curating open access material. The Internet is awash in high-quality material. But it’s also awash in… well, let’s just say that sometimes the signal to noise ration on the Internet is not where I’d want it to be. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to pictures of anthropologists.

As I planned my History of Anthropology course this semester, I wanted to show students pictures of the people they were studying. I wanted them to understand that anthropologists are people, with concrete lives, not abstract bundles of ideas. The meant emphasizing how their historical context affected them — like, you know, World War II — as well as understanding how their lives were shaped by the institutions they found themselves in. As a result, I also showed a lot of pictures of college campuses, so people could understand that going to Columbia meant having a certain amount of cultural capital, for instance. Finally, I wanted them to understand that there are very rarely actual movements like ‘structuralism’ or ‘poststructuralism’ (especially ‘poststructuralism’) or ‘symbolic anthropology’. These are mostly labels created after the fact by teachers to help ease students into the real history of anthropology, which is full of messy, ambivalent, changeable people and their messy, ambivalent, changeable ideas.

So: Pictures of anthropologists. There are many floating around the web, often of high quality. I recognize them because I’m interested in the history of anthropology. But would the average google-user be able to look up Alfred Kroeber in a google image search and say “oh yeah, there he is there”? So sourcing is an issue. And even when it is not, often the pictures are tiny. These problems multiply when you search for more obscure people. Searches for Gladys Reichard can result in images of Malinowski or Benedict. Or searches for ‘Codrington’ which you assume would result in images of Robert Henry Codrington (because obviously that’s what Google should find when you google ‘Codrington’ right?) result in images of Robert Codrington. Or Henry Codrington.

This is not to say that there are not many of well-sourced, high-quality images of anthropologists out there. There are. Libraries and archives have gone to tremendous lengths to digitize their collections. But these collections can be difficult to find. Google doesn’t push them up to the top of its results, and their search interfaces can be hard to use for the uninitiated. And, sadly, often they only have small images on the web, or present pictures in a fake-o interactive form that prevents you from downloading the image in its original beauty. I think they are afraid someone is going to cash in on their pictures of St. Clair Drake teaching a class, or that somehow these images will circulate out of their control — in other words, that someone might come to care about them and use them. Which I thought was the point.

So this Tumblr is dedicated to finding high-quality, well-sourced images of anthropologists. I’m especially interested in documenting the lives of people who are not as well known as they should be, or documenting periods of people’s lives that are not well known. Jack Goody’s time as a POW, for instance. I’m also interested in highlighting great sources of images, archives and website which people may not have heard of before.

At the same time, I’m trying only to post pictures that are in the public record. The goal is not pappazi-like revelations of Paul Rabinow or Jason De Léon doing jello shots. Obscure images in the public domain: yes. Dirty laundry and invasiveness? No. Equally, as an advocate of open access and fair use, I’m pretty cavalier about taking images off the Internet when they are already there for anyone to see, but I avoid drawing from sources where the creators of the photos are highly invested in privacy or monetization. That is their right, of course. So my strategy has been liberal use of photos that are not private or restricted, and to respect the wishes of anyone who wants me to take them down. Not that that has happened, or that I think it ever will happen.

So there you have it: Highly Accurate Pictures of Anthropologists. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know if you have any requests!

4 Replies to “Highly Accurate Pictures of Anthropologists: A new Tumblr”

  1. A very good idea,particularly to include the less well known who are harder to find. Will spread the word.