The Unnaming of Kroeber Hall
Language, Memory, and Indigenous California
472 pp., 6 x 9 in, 11 color illus., 71 b&w illus.
- Published: December 12, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A critical examination of the complex legacies of early Californian anthropology and linguistics for twenty-first-century communities.
In January 2021, at a time when many institutions were reevaluating fraught histories, the University of California removed anthropologist and linguist Alfred Kroeber's name from a building on its Berkeley campus. Critics accused Kroeber of racist and dehumanizing practices that harmed Indigenous people; university leaders repudiated his values. In The Unnaming of Kroeber Hall, Andrew Garrett examines Kroeber's work in the early twentieth century and his legacy today, asking how a vigorous opponent of racism and advocate for Indigenous rights in his own era became a symbol of his university's failed relationships with Native communities. Garrett argues that Kroeber's most important work has been overlooked: his collaborations with Indigenous people throughout California to record their languages and stories.
The Unnaming of Kroeber Hall offers new perspectives on the early practice of anthropology and linguistics and on its significance today and in the future. Kroeber's documentation was broader and more collaborative and multifaceted than is usually recognized. As a result, the records Indigenous people created while working with him are relevant throughout California as communities revive languages, names, songs, and stories. Garrett asks readers to consider these legacies, arguing that the University of California chose to reject critical self-examination when it unnamed Kroeber Hall.
“Kroeber and 'salvage anthropology' are a mixed legacy. The presumed inevitability of indigenous disappearance supported the myth of a settler state starting from scratch in an empty land. But while the collecting of traditional knowledge and language data was often based on false assumptions, it did preserve a precious archive of tradition and language that serves today as a resource for cultural renewal. With lucidity and careful scholarship, Andrew Garrett explores this ambiguous history, providing a much-needed alternative to one-size-fits-all visions of decolonization.”
James Clifford, author of Returns: Becoming Indigenous in the Twenty-First Century
“This compelling book offers a fair-minded yet passionate assessment of the controversy over one of early American anthropology's most prominent figures. Garrett recounts how the righteousness of Native American activism and the stale theater of white liberal virtue signaling led to Kroeber Hall's unnaming, no matter that its namesake had believed in the dignity of all peoples much ahead of his time. We learn a great deal along the way about language, culture, and Native California—and the fickleness of memory and judgment in an age of sometimes shallow atonement for this country's deep wrongs.”
Orin Starn, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University, author of Ishi's Brain: In Search of America's Last “Wild” Indian