BEROSE is an international encyclopaedia of the history of anthropological and ethnological sciences. With an international scientific committee, eighteen research teams and a constantly expanding network of contributors from all continents, BEROSE is an open access digital humanities project that promotes high-quality open science. Its website can be browsed in English and French. As a scientific publisher (ISSN 2648-2770), BEROSE regularly publishes new encyclopaedic articles in several languages (French, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian) throughout the year; these are peer-reviewed by the directors and the editorial board.

BEROSE is supported by French partners and scientific institutions (Ministry of Culture, UMR8177 IIAC-CNRS-EHESS between 2017-2020, UMR9022 Héritages from 2021 on) and hosted by Huma-Num, a Very Large Research Infrastructure (“Très Grande Infrastructure de Recherche”, TGIR) in the field of digital humanities, thus ensuring the sustainability of its operations and content. In addition to the articles in the encyclopaedia, BEROSE publishes an e-book series, Les Carnets de Bérose (ISSN 2266-1964), which reflects the vitality of research in the history of anthropology; and organizes scientific meetings (BEROSE meetings). These publications and events are announced to subscribers worldwide via a quarterly newsletter (visit the home page to subscribe).

Pluralization of the history of anthropology

As its title suggests, BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology reflects the diversity of the learned traditions concerned. This begets designations as diverse as ethnology or folklore, Völkerkunde and Volkskunde in the Germanic countries, the Italian word demologia or the Greek laography. Many other linguistic and intellectual variations exist within a science of Man that has undergone many transformations and evolutions in time and space, the objects of study of which changed significantly during the 20th century. One of BEROSE’s ambitions is to produce a thorough genealogy of a science which is sensitive, from its beginnings, to different figures of Otherness: first of all, cultures and societies which are supposedly “exotic” or non-European, but also the European peasantry, the men and women of the “people”, minorities of all kinds and the marginal layers of so-called modern societies. The powerful idea of Otherness also includes the alleged “first men” – the legendary “primitive” –, and the “Last Ones”, that is, those world-individuals who were witnesses of a culture in the process of disappearing. The aim is to attend to the very great diversity of moments, discourses and places that favoured the emergence of ethnographic knowledge and the clarification of what was deemed to constitute the uniqueness of each culture. The construction of nation-states, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the consolidation of imperial or colonial powers that further threatened human diversity led to considerable social and cultural reshapings, to new hybrid and syncretic configurations that kept challenging scholarly obsessions with cultural purity, along with aspirations for authenticity and claims to identity. Several time frames clash – and working on the history of anthropology is a good way of reflecting on an anthropology of history and the differentiated cultural memories that are built as a result of these epoch changes and upheavals.

Anthropological discourses on human differences are spread across several fronts, whether the erudite curiosity of antiquarians, the pragmatic endeavours of government or colonial officials, or missionary enterprises combining both a destructive and a salvaging dimension. The debates taking place in literary, artistic and scientific circles also have to be taken into account, often fuelled by the discovery of ’prehistoric’, ’folk’ and ’primitive’ arts. The emerging disciplines of history, philology, comparative mythology, linguistics, psychology, sociology, archaeology, law and religious sciences were also shaken in their epistemological foundations by the consideration of ethnographic materials from around the world. The construction of an encyclopaedic project like BEROSE, by its very nature inexhaustible, follows and mirrors the protean aspect of its subject of study. With its call for renewed ways of writing the history of the discipline, this project is based on the conviction commonly shared by anthropologists that there is no single anthropology but a wide range of scholarly traditions and that their respective histories and challenges are also multiple.

The awareness of these plural histories is also based on the fact that they are written by researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds, with complementary, sometimes divergent and conflicting ambitions and approaches: whether social and cultural anthropologists or indigenous researchers; whether representatives of influential traditions or marginalized ones, along with philosophers, historians of science, historians of art and photography, museum curators, etc.

The pluralization of the history of anthropology claimed by BEROSE makes it possible to highlight the past richness of World Anthropologies, which are often ignored, underestimated or forgotten in hegemonic circles. BEROSE contributes to this necessary pluralization and feminization as a challenge that concerns not only the “history-less anthropologies” – to use Esteban Krotz’s expression about the “Southern anthropologies” that rarely appear in Western handbooks – but also for Western or Northern anthropologies. Indeed, these are sometimes reduced to a monolithic vision of the most famous theoretical currents and to some major figures, thus masking the wealth of national anthropological traditions and the vitality of specializations in cultural, geographical or thematic areas. Without neglecting the so-called “major” traditions, British and French, Germanic and North American, BEROSE puts them into perspective and contextualizes the construction of their respective histories. The aim is to multiply the alternative reference points, whether they come from the “South”, from so-called peripheral countries or whether they act as a counterweight to the West: from Cuba to Vietnam, from Turkey to Benin, from Japan to Ukraine... Eurocentric visions of history as well as radical post-colonial critiques can be challenged by the (re)discovery of older exchanges and flows of knowledge and by the reconstitution of complex scholarly practices and entangled genealogies. These histories can reveal the successive globalizations of anthropology – of anthropologies – in a sense that is never unique, univocal or teleological.

The very variety of historiographical approaches, towards deconstruction or reconstruction, mixing presentism and historicism, is a tribute to the creativity and dynamism of the research carried out within the framework of BEROSE by contributors from various disciplinary fields. With no chronological limits, BEROSE encyclopaedia seeks to identify numerous anthropological projects for the interpretation and comparison of human diversity, including the textual, visual and sound recording of cultural worlds which were considered archaic and therefore threatened with extinction or irreversible transformations. But anthropological knowledge was also a search for the similarities and even for universal aspects, common to all mankind. The explanation of what constitutes the singularity of each group, society or culture has its counterpart in the multiple comparative projects that are scattered across the histories of anthropology. The ideological contextualization of these contrasting undertakings, including those marked by racism or other convictions of radical difference, colonialism and imperial projects, is also one of the objectives of the authors of BEROSE – without forgetting the historicization of the postcolonial transformations of the discipline. Aware that anthropological and ethnographic archives are currently of burning importance, they write both a history of anthropology and an anthropology of history that concern the cultural past as a contemporary construction. Research in this field affects present and future claims for cultural or ethnic identity; it concerns cultural appropriations and aspirations to authenticity, to tradition, to ancestral roots. The histories of anthropology are far from being neutral scientific operations. They are likely to raise controversial issues, within and outside the discipline, and they bring with them a reflection on power, particularly on the articulation of power/knowledge. From humanistic anthropology to Indigenous ethnologies, they often bespeak the commitments of their practitioners. Anthropologists themselves have a very ambivalent relationship with the past of their discipline.

The encyclopaedic form itself is likely to be reinvented in the digital age, allowing the cohabitation and accumulation of different histories and textual genres, from classic encyclopaedic entries to original essays. The vertiginous spatial-temporal variety of BEROSE’s articles finally allows us to question the criteria of what is modern or pre-modern, anachronistic or visionary, colonial or postcolonial. Our goal is to better distinguish and characterize the ramifications of anthropology and its thematic and ideological metamorphoses. The researchers contributing to BEROSE identify unsuspected circulations, continuities and ruptures between various anthropological traditions – and this continues into the historicization of contemporary production. As a collective, interdisciplinary and international programme, BEROSE welcomes contributions that revisit not only the vast universe of anthropological thought with its networks of learned sociability, but also the many ethnographic and historical contexts involved, thus questioning the contemporary cultural value and political significance of Indigenous and local legacies.

A gallery of portraits

The articles in the encyclopaedia concern first of all the many actors in the history of anthropology: amateur or professional ethnographers and their interlocutors in the field; armchair theorists or agents of missionary and colonial endeavours; collectors and museologists; Indigenous intellectuals and anthropologists who claimed a mixed identity; scholars from literary and artistic circles, etc.

The banner of BEROSE’s website presents a gallery of seven portraits that alone reveals the ambition to broaden the historical imagination of the discipline. An inevitably debatable, even provocative choice, where the most obvious and unavoidable protagonists, such as Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski or Marcel Mauss, give way to more unexpected characters. First on the left, the portrait of the draftsman, traveller and ethnographer Gaston Vuillier (1845-1915) is representative in itself of an alternative history of French anthropology, composed of many other figures excluded from the dominant historiographical accounts and whose works intrigue us, whether they concern the local traditions of Merlin the Wizard or the figure of Jesus Christ, the wild bestiary of France or the oral literature of Brittany and other Celtic countries. Then there is the German ethnologist Leo Frobenius (1873-1938), the American anthropologist Cora Dubois (1903-1991), the Australian Aboriginal ethnographer David Unaipon (1872-1967), the French sociologist Robert Hertz (1881-1915), the African-American anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) and the inimitable Scottish anthropologist and folklorist Andrew Lang (1844-1912).

All national anthropological traditions and all currents, be they hegemonic or pushed to the margins, are concerned with this expansion, by the feminization of disciplinary memory, by the recovery of dialogues or tensions between the classical protagonists and the forgotten, sometimes cursed figures. In BEROSE, the foreground is shared; no selection criteria exclude a priori the creation of new entries devoted to “minor” anthropologists who might have difficulty finding their place in a stricter, more conventional encyclopaedia or dictionary published on paper. Whether they are unknown or recognized, BEROSE highlights a myriad of actors. Without neglecting the major anthropologists of the 20th century, from Claude Lévi-Strauss to Sydney Mintz, the encyclopaedia wishes to reserve an important place for the interlocutors of ethnographers in the field and for all kinds of “excluded ancestors”, a category that includes many original characters. Among these are Anglophones such as the New Zealand ethnographer Elsdon Best or the English folklorist Rachel Busk, or figures absent from dominant genealogies or whose importance is only just beginning to be appreciated. That is the case, for example, of 18th century German historian Gerhard Friedrich Müller, the very “inventor” of ethnography as a scholarly activity during Russian expeditions to Siberia; another example is Max Schmidt, the precursor of modern ethnographic methods in South America.

A surprise box

The articles in the encyclopaedia also cover anthropological journals and institutions, as well as a new category created from January 2019: anthropological themes, concepts and traditions. Each biographical or historical article appears in a topical dossier containing complementary articles or digital resources on the same subject, such as PDFs from primary and secondary sources, iconographic documents, links to other platforms, etc. The philosophy of the BEROSE website combines, on the one hand, the simplicity of the structure and navigation and, on the other hand, the richness of the documentary files. Here are two examples:

The article « A Revolutionary Anthropologist Before His Time: Intellectual Biography of Edward Westermarck » (2018), by Andrew Lyons, appears in the topical dossier on the anthropologist of Finnish origin Edward Westermarck (1862-1939), often forgotten, or reduced to the status of Malinowski’s master at the London School of Economics. He combined an evolutionary sensibility of Darwinian influence with bold views on a number of subjects, such as marriage, feminism and sexuality, including homosexuality, making him an unexpected precursor of ethical relativism and the subject of several reappraisals. This topical dossier gives access to more than a dozen monographs, including several on Morocco, resulting from his intensive field work, or his magnum opus, Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, published in 1906-1908.

The article « Biographie de Lydia Cabrera, conteuse, folkloriste et anthropologue "noire et blanche" » (2018), by Carmen Ortiz García, appears in the topical dossier on Lydia Cabrera (1899-1891), a white woman with no anthropological training, but who is recognized as having a singular place among the founders of Afro-Cuban studies thanks to the profound dialogue with her informants. Her books form the basis of a humanist knowledge, inseparable from the experiences of Afro-descendants in Cuba and the Caribbean in general. This topical dossier provides access, among other resources, to the University of Miami Libraries website and in particular to the “Lydia Cabrera Papers”, including digitized resources (manuscripts and field notes, letters, original drawings and photographs, etc.).

The topical dossiers can be consulted either in alphabetical order – which is useful for users who know very precisely what they are looking for – or by “ethnographic context” or “knowledge production centre”. These criteria are useful for users who are not looking for a specific dossier, but who want to know about new figures or institutions through BEROSE, which is one of the attractions of the encyclopaedia. Indeed, BEROSE contains treasures, including many collections that have been fully digitized as part of a partnership with the French National Library (Bibliothèque nationale de France). BEROSE is both a box of surprises and a reference tool, thanks to the promise of unlimited expansion and the assurance that the theoretical debates to come will consolidate the importance of the histories of anthropology archives.

History of BEROSE

The original meaning of the acronym BEROSE is “Base d’Études et de Recherches sur l’Organisation des Savoirs Ethnographiques”, but it refers above all to a paradigm of anthropological knowledge – the paradigm of “the Last Ones”. As explained above, this expression refers to those world-individuals who decide to transmit to strangers the mysteries of their own culture that they think is disappearing. It was coined by Daniel Fabre, inspired by the figure of the Babylonian priest Berossus, a “last one” who wrote the Babyloniaca in the fourth century BCE. (See Claudie Voisenat’s article, « What does BEROSE mean ? Daniel Fabre and the paradigm of the last ones ».)

Created in 2006 by Claudie Voisenat (Ministry of Culture, Héritages), Jean-Christophe Monferran (CNRS, Héritages) and directed from 2008 by Daniel Fabre (EHESS, IIAC-LAHIC), the programme has been directed since November 2016 by Christine Laurière (CNRS, Héritages) and Frederico Delgado Rosa (NOVA University of Lisbon, CRIA). Funded by the ANR (French National Research Agency) between 2008 and 2012, it receives essential support, in terms of financing and human resources, from the Office of Heritage/Department of Piloting Research and Scientific Policy (Ministry of Culture, France) and also from IIAC (UMR 8177, EHESS-CNRS) in 2017-2020 and fom Héritages (UMR9022, CNRS) from 2021 on. Originally focused on the history of French folklore and ethnology, with a European comparative dimension, BEROSE acquired an international encyclopaedic ambition with the redesign of the website by the new management team in June 2017, accentuated by the implementation of English as a browsing language in October 2019.

To contact us: berose.encyclopedie@gmail.com

Christine Laurière and Frederico Delgado Rosa