Interwar anthropology from the global periphery: Curt Nimuendajú’s correspondence with Robert Lowie and Claude Lévi-Strauss

Elena Welper


Curt Nimuendajú (1883–1945) was a German ethnographer who became a naturalized citizen of Brazil and spent most of his life doing fieldwork among the country’s indigenous people. He gained the attention of the anthropological world when he began producing his studies on the Gê-speaking peoples of central Brazil. These sparked an ongoing correspondence with Robert Lowie, who secured American funding for Nimuendajú, advised him on research sites and topics, and translated and edited his manuscripts. Nimuendajú also maintained a brief correspondence with Claude Lévi-Strauss when the latter was a rising anthropologist and the former a mature ethnographer. Together the letters illustrate one form taken by the relations between anthropologists located in global centers and peripheries during years between the two world wars. This introduction contextualizes Nimuendajú’s correspondence with both scholars by tracing relevant aspects of his life, his involvement with Brazilian indigenous people, and his impact on lowland South American anthropology.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/710063