History, Literature, Anthropology: Contextualizing Human Meaning


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History, Literature, Anthropology: Contextualizing Human Meaning

As culture is “the product of human thought” (217), Cohn advocates “seeing how meanings are contextualized” to better interpret history and produce good scholarship (221). In keeping with this awareness of human thought, Anderson contextualizes “the cultural roots of nationalism” through the evolution of early American literature and print-language (7), relying heavily on the historical development of European literacy in developing a ‘national imagination.’ In doing so, Anderson’s analysis of nationalism reflects Cohn’s maxim, that “anthropology can became [sic] more anthropological in becoming more historical” (216). Through Anderson’s contextualizing of nationalism through historical literary trends, his anthropological scholarship is, by Cohn’s estimation, more true unto itself.

Unearthing origins of national consciousness, Anderson examines the development of national memory through literacy and vernacularisms. Believing nationalism to be a cultural construct of political revolutions, merging social ideologies and a new emphasis on “national print-languages” (Anderson 46), Anderson declares that men challenged the sacredness of existing societies with new conceptions of land and nation through the circulation and spread of shared languages (Anderson 36). Driving a “wedge between cosmology and history” through Enlightenment discoveries, divinely ordained realities lost clout and “cultural artefacts of the eighteenth century” like individual human rights and personal sovereignty, translated from old world to new (Anderson 36). With new “languages-of-power” in fixating systems of speech, nations built self-identity, and men began to see themselves in “profoundly new ways” (Anderson 36).

Cohn reasserts history and anthropology as dovetailing disciplines, whose scholarship exists outside of this time and yet rooted in common reality. Floating in imaginary lands of epistemology and printed research, good scholarship relies on a historian with “fewer sources and stouter boots” (Tawney, qted in Cohn, 221). Historians intrinsically

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question “underlying cultural formations concerned with how people classify and order and symbolize their worlds” (Cohn 215), and though they superficially exhaust “the sources” to earn authority, they must also earn authority through the interpretation and application of anthropology. By interpreting in memory and imagined comradeship, Anderson remakes historical thoughts on nationalism within a dimension of argument that is flowers apart from reality, yet seeks to trace modern day reality to tangible roots.


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