The Mysterious Case of the “Social Core” in Texas Anthropology

When I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin I, like most other anthropologists interested in the “humanistic” side of anthropology, took what they called “Social Core.” This class, formally entitled “Introduction to Graduate Social Anthropology (ANT 392),” was largely seen as a “trial by fire” which served to separate out those who could handle the challenging anthropology curriculum at UT from those who could not. It was a formidable class.

I took this class in 1999 and at the time I was puzzled by the terminology—why “Social Anthropology?” Every other reference to the sub-discipline of anthropology that deals with living cultures used the term “cultural anthropology” (e.g., the freshman-level course was “ANT 302 Cultural Anthropology”). Although the majority of English-speaking countries use the term “cultural anthropology,” scholars in the UK (and some other European scholars influenced by British anthropology) prefer the term “social anthropology” (or even more convolutedly “socio-cultural anthropology”). But how do we explain this British/European reference in the middle of Texas?

I am always interested institutional history, so I was curious…I asked every senior University of Texas professor I could when presented with opportunity, but none had an answer (and few had noticed the disparity). I had always meant to follow up on this by looking trough old UT course catalogs until I came to the origin of the “Social Core.”….but, alas…the rigors of graduate school (& trying to complete my dissertation) kept me from ever following these instincts.

So it is strange that today a simple request at my current job in Arkansas might have lead me to the answer to this almost-forgotten question.

A colleague of mine at the Arkansas Archeological Survey was writing an entry for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas on Sam Dickinson—an avid avocational archeologist in southwest Arkansas in the 1930s (Check out my obituary blog post for him here). She was trying to figure out the name of an anthropologist Dickinson met at UT probably in 1937 or 1938. This man is mentioned in a 2005 oral history interview of Dickinson conducted by SAU Historian James Willis. This anthropologist was supposedly born in France, had a degree from the University of Toulouse, was on the faculty of the University of Mexico and University of Mississippi before going to Texas. She had had no luck tracking this mysterious anthropologist down, so (knowing my interest in Dickenson, my connections to Texas, and my love of institutional history) she asked if I knew anything about this guy….I did not.

I started with Texas archeologists that I knew that Dickenson had interacted with—Like A. T. Jackson.

A. T. (Alvin Thomas) Jackson—the archeologist in charge under J. E. Pearce during the 1920s to 1930s and then under Dr. J. Gilbert McAllister, Director of Research, during the late 1930s for the WPA and University of Texas at Austin. He continued to work in Texas archeology with the university in the 1940s. Jackson is well known for developing field methods and excavation techniques that were new and innovative for the times and allowed for better recovery and documentation of archeological field work. I knew that Dickinson & Jackson corresponded quite a bit….but Jackson has NO connection to France or Mexico (that I am aware of)…so I then thought it might be his predecessors, Pearce or McAllister…Pearce had studied anthropology and archeology at the University of Chicago and the École d’Anthropologie of Paris (not Toulouse…but in the ball park)….but then I hit pay dirt.

I came across this reference in a memorial to McAllister:

 “…Also on the Anthropology staff was George C. Engerrand, a colorful French anthropologist of the old school, a polymath who expected his students to be as intimately versed as he in the manners and customs of the peoples of the world. McAllister was much influenced by Engerrand and even more so by Pearce who, by virtue of a marvelously warm and sincere personality and an evangelical belief in the worth of anthropology, turned the young student into an anthropologist. In McAllister’s words, “Pearce was a phenomenal individual.””–

Which led me to this on-line encyclopedia reference...I knew I found the guy…

ENGERRAND, GEORGE CHARLES MARIUS (1877–1961). George Charles Engerrand, professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, was born on August 11, 1877, near Bordeaux, France, of French-Basque ancestry. He received his early education from private tutors, and at the age of eighteen he enrolled at the University of Bordeaux, where he received a licentiate in geology (1897) and a licentiate in botany (1898). At Bordeaux he was a student of the famed pioneer sociologist Émile Durkheim. In 1898 he went to Brussels, Belgium, where he had been invited to teach by the geographer Élisée Reclus. Between 1898 and 1907 Engerrand held numerous research and teaching positions, some of them concurrently, at several Belgian institutions.

From 1907 until the political revolution in 1917 made it impossible to continue, Engerrand lived in Mexico and was, for most of this period, professor of archeology in the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Historia, y Etnología. He moved to Mississippi, where he taught geology until 1920, then to Austin, Texas, where he became adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Texas. For the next forty-one years, until his retirement in 1961, Engerrand was a member of the UT anthropology department, from which he received a Ph.D. in 1935.

He wrote seventy-five articles and several books. He received many academic honors, including La Croix de Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes, a French decoration given for distinguished teaching and scholarly publication. In 1898 Engerrand married Alice Delsaute, from whom he separated in 1902; two sons were born of this marriage. In 1904 he married Jeanne Richard, and they had one son and two daughters. Engerrand died in Mexico City on September 2, 1961, and was buried in Austin.

AND this guy looks like a good candidate to explain the presence of the “social anthropology” terminology at the University of Texas…He was a direct student of Émile Durkheim… French sociologists like Durkhiem and Marcel Mauss were hugely influential to British “social” anthropology in the 1920s and 1930s—an important period in the expansion of the disciple and (incidentally) the training of Dr. Engerrand). Engerrand would have been exposed to British anthropology though his associations with Durkheim and, thus, may be the source of the mysterious terminology still evident in the University of Texas anthropology curriculum…There may, of course, be another source…but until another random happenstance steers me to another answer…I’m sticking to this one.

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Categories: anthropology, history


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One Comment on “The Mysterious Case of the “Social Core” in Texas Anthropology”

  1. adivasidisum
    November 1, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    You sure this was not due to James Brow?

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