Notes and Queries on Anthropology

One of my professors recommended that I take a look an old (though not entirely archaic) field manual. It was called “Notes and Queries on Anthropology: For the use of travellers and residents in uncivilized lands.” He jokingly said that it had advice on how anthropologists in the field can deal with snakes and such. I went to the library to check it out, as I needed it to prepare for my exams. The copy I found was falling apart. Despite some racist drawings of the African American head in the front of the book, I found much of the book quite useful.

The book is divided into multiple sections, each section containing useful questions about society. The questions are intended to help the researcher practice objectivity and make special inquiries. Section No. IV discusses the issue of development and decay. Questions include: “What are the average and the extreme length of life observed or reported? Are old people allowed to reach the natural term of life? or are they killed or allowed to starve”? Some sections are quite comical and blatantly racist. For example, in No. VII on odour, questions include: “Is there any notable peculiarity of odour attached to the persons of the tribe or people described?” The physiognomy section includes: “Does shame excite a blush when the color of the skin allows it to be visible?….when in low spirits, are the corners of the mouth depressed, and the inner corner of the eyebrows raised by that muscle which the French call the “Grief muscle”? Is extreme fear expressed in the same general manner as with Europeans? Do the children when sulky pout or greatly protrude the lips into a tubular form?”

One of the end sections provides recommendations on how to collect and preserve the “native” skull. I found that section extremely disturbing because it refers to part of the head as “fresh” and to keep it even more fresh, it details how to soak it in salt and transmit it in a keg. Gross. I’m glad to be an anthropologist in contemporary times.

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