A Giant of Anthropology

Sharon at Early Modern Notes brings us the word that noted anthropologist Clifford Geertz has died at the age of 80.

Geertz was well-known to historians; historians have employed Geertz’s method of “thick” ethnographic description of other cultures to the documents and artifacts of the past. Geertz’s work influenced early American history particularly through Rhys Isaac’s path-breaking (and Pulitzer prize-winning) 1982 book The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790. As the field of early American community studies morphed into microhistory, Geertz’s methods and insights proved very useful to historians reconstructing ordinary lives in the past.

I had to read Geertz’s most famous article “Notes on the Balinese Cock-Fight,” which appeared in the journal Daedalus in 1972. At the time I did not appreciate the article’s significance; only later as I read more deeply in early American history did I realize how much Geertz’s ethnographical method had shaped my own field. (We also studied the limninal spaces of Victor Turner and the South Pacific observations of Sahlins and Obeyesekere that same week; neither anthropologist has made such a deep impact as Geertz.)

There are several links over at Savage Minds.


One thought on “

  1. I too am an adherent of the tenents of microhistory as espoused by Geertz. I am using the Internet to encourage people to share their own stories and history at http://www.storyofmyhome.com. I want to make you aware of the site, as it already has some very interesting anecdotes concerning the Atlanta race riots in teh early part of the 20th century, as well as individual recollections of the development of American communities over the last century.

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