Current Anthropology, whose first issue was launched in 1959, is one of the discipline's oldest and most distinguished journals, and has been sponsored since its founding by the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The journal was the first of its kind, championing an interdisciplinary approach alongside a commitment to international dialogue, while fostering a community of international scholars. It became known for its innovative format that combined major research papers with responses solicited from the field. The format, now known as the “CA treatment” was unique in its time and was copied by other journals such as Behavioral and Brain Sciences. While the journal has changed over the years, its original principles are still clearly present and can be traced back to the unique collaboration between the Foundation, led by Paul Fejos,and the anthropologist Sol Tax (University of Chicago).
Fejos and Tax first worked together as organizers of a state of the art conference on Meso-American ethnology in 1949. Tax edited the volumes that resulted from this meeting. During the next decade, as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health in the United States directed their considerable resources towards the funding of large-scale research projects. Fejos explored alternative avenues to expand the reach and impact of the Foundation on the discipline. One shift was to direct funding towards activities that fostered international communication: meetings, with their subsequent publications, would encourage contacts among scholars and permit them to share their knowledge on a worldwide scale. With this in mind, Fejos organized an International Symposium on Anthropology in 1952 whose aim was to take a total inventory of the field and through this help the Foundation to set up new directions for funding. With this in mind, Fejos convened over 80 participants and the final proceedings (some 50 papers and transcripts of lengthy discussions) appeared in 1953 in two edited volumes published by University of Chicago Press: Anthropology Today: An Encyclopedic Inventory, A.L. Kroeber (ed.); and An Appraisal of Anthropology Today, Sol Tax, Loren Eiseley, Irving Rouse, and Carl Voegelin (eds.). With the success of this symposium and its volumes, Fejos decided to condense and update the findings into a volume published by the Foundation in 1955 as “The Yearbook of Anthropology.” Inspired by this output, but frustrated by the logistics of publication, in 1957 Fejos invited Sol Tax to develop a plan that could enable worldwide exchange of ideas to continue, but which would be more immediate and flexible.
From here on Tax initiated the development that would lead to the publication of the first issue of Current Anthropology in 1959. While he had initially thought of publishing updates to the "Anthropology Today" proceedings in a series of books, he was adamant about the need to consult with anthropologists around the world and see what larger consensus might emerge. Intensive discussions began across the globe: Tax traveled to over 30 countries and organized a series of conferences at the Foundation in New York City. He continued to imagine the initiative primarily as a type of yearbook summarizing the current state of research until 1958. This changed after Burg Wartenstein was inaugurated by the Foundation. Its first scholarly event was a symposium dedicated to exploring new ideas for Current Anthropology. Tax, Fejos and twelve invited scholars gathered, and Tax's innovations were consolidated into a proposal that continues to represent the backbone of the journal to this day. Current Anthropology was to be a journal, not a yearbook. It was to address a worldwide community of anthropologists, and its goal would be to represent and unify the “anthropological sciences” by presenting articles across the discipline. Importantly, Tax envisioned a community of scholars rather then a representation of national traditions. The journal's purpose would not be to compete with national or specialist periodicals but, rather, to complement them by conveying knowledge to a broader interdisciplinary audience, including scholars from related social sciences and from the humanities. The journal would be a communication bridge, reliable and fast. Its content would include major reviews of broad scope, often summarizing new research, and all subdisciplines and scholarly traditions would be welcome. The journal also was to include current news, reference materials, conference reports, bibliographical guides and a classified section.
The first issue was mailed in September 1959—an enormous achievement in a short time, and one that proved Tax’s commitment and energy. “It is a journal, yes,” wrote Tax in this issue, “But it is more then that, it is the means by which individual scholars can communicate with each other all over the world.” Along with its wide-ranging content, a newly created network of associates enabled the journal to reach a worldwide community of scholars. Tax began by inviting some 3000 individuals to join as associates. Associates were mailed each issue, and could respond to its content via a tear-reply letter addressed to the editor’s office. In January 1960, Tax received 1,000 replies, validating his sense that anthropologists wanted a dialogue. By 1962, there were almost 2,500 associates, and 1,467 resided outside of North America. Associates contributed to the direction of the journal: they could nominate others, provide suggestions for articles, respond to what was published, and contribute with reviews, conference proceedings and commentaries. Through his duration as editor, Tax wrote regular letters to the associates, and would publish their replies as well. In this way, the journal mimicked some of the functions of a newsletter, and fulfilled the larger goals of communication and networking. Associates were asked to pay an annual fee, equivalent of $2 per individual associate (higher for institutions), and in countries with currency restrictions (such as in Eastern Europe) money was left in the country to be used for CA associated expenses. To encourage payment, The Viking Fund Publications (LINK) also sponsored by the Foundation were added as a bonus to paying subscribers.
Since its inception, the Wenner-Gren Foundation has sponsored Current Anthropology in different ways. Fejos, aware of the need for experimentation and not wanting the journal to be constrained by financial limitations, committed the Foundation to covering the full costs for the first five years of its life, allowing associates to remain in place even when some found the $2 too steep a price in their local currency. The journal was an ongoing experiment in overcoming the national, financial and bureaucratic boundaries that interrupt the free flow of information.
Sol Tax and subsequent editors continued this commitment to an international audience. They reached out to countries behind the iron curtain even during the height of the cold war; many were active in IUAES (International Union of Anthropological and Ethological Sciences) and published its reports for their readers. The journal also continued to operate with a financing plan that allowed for reduced prices for subscribers from developing countries.
After much deliberation, Current Anthropology kept English as its main language. However, submissions were (and still are) accepted in other languages, and all accepted items are fully edited and translated. In its earliest years, the journal offered, on the inside front cover, summaries of its submissions in different languages, including Arabic, French, German, Hindi , Russian and Serbo-Croatian. While more submissions come from North America then elsewhere and debate continues as to how to increase international submissions, Current Anthropology's forum-oriented method has proven fruitful. While the journal no longer relies on a network of associates, it continues an editorial policy that dates back to its early days, when associates were asked to comment on major research articles, and editors solicited responses to articles from the worldwide community.
Under the editorship of Sol Tax, all manuscript editing and preparation for Current Anthropology took place at the University of Chicago, in the basement of Haskell Hall (which also housed the Department of Anthropology). However, by 1971 production and editing were transferred to the University of Chicago Press, where it continues today. Sol Tax retired as editor in 1974 . Since then five editors (listed below) have succeeded him, each one leaving his own imprint, but the relatively long tenure of individual editors has also ensured continuity. Although the intricate system of associates finally was disbanded completely by the 1990s, The rise of the internet has provided an alternative source of communication, however, the journal's traditional reliance on dialogue among scholars remains strong. Today, CA articles can be supplemented by online enhancements and the journal is fully available electronically. Editors remain committed to expanding the global reach of Current Anthropology. The journal, renowned in its field, has remained committed to worldwide representation and scholarly interchange. This emphasis, symbolized by the world map that has been on the cover ever since its founding, continues into the present.
Current Anthropology Editors and their terms of service:
Sol Tax 1959 – 1974
(Click here to read Sol Tax’s reflections on Current Anthropology, published as a Introduction for the journal in 1965)
Cyril Belshaw 1975 – 1984
(Click here to read Cyril Belshaw’s reflections on Current Anthropology in the 50th Anniversary Issue)
Adam Kuper 1985 – 1992
(Click here to read Adam Kuper’s reflections on Current Anthropology in the 50th Anniversary Issue)
Richard G. Fox 1993 – 2001
(Click here to read Richard G. Fox’s reflections on Current Anthropology in the 50th Anniversary Issue)
Ben Orlove 2002 – 2008
(Click here to Ben Orlove’s reflections on Current Anthropology in the 50th Anniversary Issue)
Mark Aldenderfer 2009 – 2018
(Click here to read Mark Alendenderfer’s Introduction to the 50th Anniversary Issue of Current Anthropology)
Barbara Metzger, Copy Editor for Current Anthropology from 1964 to 2007
(Click her to read Barbara Metzger’s reflections on being the Copy Editor of Current Anthropology. She also describes how the network of Associates was organized and the contributions they made to Sol Tax's vision of the journal over time.)
Click Here to read Sydel Silverman's reflections on the origins of Current Anthropology and the role of Sol Tax written for the journal's 50th Anniversery Issue.