Two Books Explore the Sins of Anthropologists Past and Present

The Chronicle of Higher Education

In her new book, From Racism to Genocide: Anthropology in the Third Reich, Gretchen E. Schafft, an applied anthropologist(George Washington University) explores how the principles of early-20th-century physical anthropology, were put to work by the Nazis. Several months after the invasion of Poland, Hitler's aides established the Institute for German Work in the East, which employed scholarly anthropologists to complete such tasks as "racial-biological investigation of groups whose value cannot immediately be determined" and "racial-biological investigation of Polish resistance members."

A few years after her discovery at the Smithsonian (75 boxes full of material produced in Poland by the Nazi anthropologists), Ms. Schafft was contacted by a physical anthropologist who wanted to use the Nazis' data to shed light on "patterns of migration and population settlement." She resisted, arguing that the information had been collected through cruel means and for evil purposes, and is in any case highly suspect.

Some related moral dilemmas are chewed over in Biological Anthropology and Ethics: From Repatriation to Genetic Identity (State University of New York Press), a collection edited by Trudy R. Turner, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. >> continue (link updated)

Murray L. Wax: Some Issues and Sources on Ethics in Anthropology (American Anthropological Association, Handbook on Ethical Issues in Anthropology - Chpt 1)
Book review: Worldly Provincialism: German Anthropology in the Age of Empire (American Ethnologist)

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