From Ethnographic Knowledge to Anthropological Intelligence: An Anthropologist in the Office of Strategic Services in Second World War Africa

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History of Anthropology, Anthropological Ethnography, Government Anthropology, Anthropology and the Military, Office of Strategic Services

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This article explores the overlapping modalities and practical purposes of anthropological ethnographic knowledge and political–military intelligence gathering – the commonalities as well as the boundaries between them – through an analysis of the career of the anthropologist Jack Sargent Harris (1912–2008), a secret operative for the United States’ Office of Strategic Services during the Second World War in Nigeria and South Africa. Calling upon archival and oral historical sources, the article relates Harris’s training in Boasian cultural anthropology and as a professional ethnographer of African societies and cultures to the ways he recruited informants, conducted surveillance, related to foreign Allied officials, utilized documentary evidence, and worked to establish authority and credibility in his wartime intelligence reporting. The article argues that political purpose is a central artefact of anthropological ethnography as it is in other ethnographic modalities even if the justifications for these endeavours remain distinct.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

History and Anthropology, v. 29, issue 1, p. 52-82