In this frustrating but occasionally valuable book, Marc Flandreau examines the origins of British anthropology in the 1860s. He claims that George W. Stocking Jr. and other scholars who have written on the subject have focused too narrowly on the more respectable anthropologists, those whose work can be connected to the academic discipline as it would later develop. Flandreau promises to look instead at financial speculators and other “shady characters” (xii) who he argues are the true originators of organized anthropology. Much of Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: A Financial History of Victorian Science is devoted to the case of a naval officer, Bedford Pim. Pim floated railway schemes in Nicaragua, and he also wrote on geography and race, becoming an officer in the Anthropological Society of London and a member of its successor body, the Anthropological Institute. As Flandreau demonstrates, Pim would arrange for papers to be read at learned gatherings, and he sent travelers to Central America under the guise of anthropological research. By showing that he knew what he was talking about when it came to the Americas, Pim lent more credibility to his railway schemes. Pim went so far as to use anthropology to underscore the racial and cultural bona fides of the Miskito chief who guaranteed Pim’s land title. In telling this story, Flandreau is able to unmask what he calls “the stock exchange modality,” where “puffing” a form of science (anthropology) located out in the informal empire and puffing imperial securities in London went hand in hand. Flandreau’s other examples of how anthropology and finance came together are less convincing, often presenting little more than guilt by association. He devotes a chapter to the American George Earl Church. But while Church promoted Latin American railways and wrote books on the subject, his connection to British anthropology in this period comes down to two points: the friendship he developed with Clements Robert Markham, the secretary of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS); and that Church became an officer in the RGS in 1872. As far as one can tell from Flandreau’s convoluted narrative, Church did not write his more anthropological works until decades later, so he was not twisting mid-Victorian anthropology to his own nefarious ends. Given the size of the anthropological and geographical societies, it would be surprising if there were no overlap between their membership and the world of business. But Flandreau is after something more profound than overlap. He highlights the case of Henry Hyde Clarke, who criticized the management of the Anthropological Society and, several years later, the Honduras bondholders. By the end of the book Flandreau is spinning intricate webs of supposition that Hyde Clarke was an agent of the Liberal Party, and that around his anthropological and financial activities the fate of British governments turned. As Flandreau admits several times, there is little evidence for this. The book includes too many quarrels with other scholars, and far too much unsupported guesswork about nineteenth-century events. There are howlers, too. No, despite what Flandreau says, Christopher Columbus did not discover that the world is round. No, Charles James Napier did not commission Richard Burton to write a report on brothels in the Scinde. (The idea of such a report is dismissed by historian Dane Kennedy, among others. Although Flandreau cites Kennedy’s book, elsewhere he repeats the claim about Burton.) No, anthropologist Talal Asad’s comments in the edited volume Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (1973) do not whitewash colonial-era anthropology. Asad’s work is more sophisticated and robust than Flandreau suggests. And no, the “gentlemanly capitalism” that historians Peter J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins argue was central to the story of British imperial expansion does not mean what Flandreau thinks it does (Peter J. Cain and Anthony G. Hopkins, “Gentlemanly Capitalism and British Expansion Overseas I: The Old Colonial System, 1688–1850,” Economic History Review 39, no. 4 : 501–525; British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion, 1688–1914 ). What was “gentlemanly” about imperial capitalism was that it was carried out by gentlemen based in London, rather than by the not-so-gentlemanly northern industrialists who were the focus of an older historiographical tradition. Whether the metropolitan gentlemen were involved in banking, law, government, or the military, they were members of the same clubs. They saw eye to eye on using the naval and financial resources of the United Kingdom to promote trade and a good return on the government debt. Yet Flandreau spends several pages arguing that with the term “gentlemanly capitalism” scholars are making the claim that economic imperialism was a gentlemanly and pleasant thing, but that now he has discovered it was not. Flandreau’s examples are too few in number to support his main point: that anthropology was essentially so much puffery designed to float colonial railroad bonds or sell land. (How many of the papers read at the anthropological societies were financially motivated? The book does not address this question.) Flandreau makes some real contributions nonetheless. He has investigated several of the shadier gentlemanly capitalists, and he has demonstrated that financial chicanery could motivate anthropological research. But scholarship would have been better served with a shorter book focusing on Pim and puffery. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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