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Katherine Dunham

Recovering an Anthropological Legacy, Choreographing Ethnographic Futures

Edited by Elizabeth Chin

Katherine Dunham was an anthropologist. One of the first African Americans to obtain a degree in anthropology, she conducted groundbreaking fieldwork in Jamaica and Haiti in the early 1930s and wrote several books including Journey to Accompong, Island Possessed, and Las Danzas de Haiti. Decades before Margaret Mead was publishing for popular audiences in Redbook, Dunham wrote ethnographically informed essays for Esquire and Mademoiselle under the pseudonym Kaye Dunn. Katherine Dunham was a dancer. The first person to head a black modern dance company, Dunham toured the world, appeared in numerous films in the United States and abroad, and worked globally to promote the vitality and relevance of African diasporic dance and culture. Dunham was a cultural advisor, teacher, Kennedy Center honoree, and political activist.

This book explores Katherine Dunham’s contribution to anthropology and the ongoing relevance of her ideas and methodologies, rejecting the idea that art and academics need to be cleanly separated from each other. Drawing from Dunham’s holistic vision, the contributors began to experiment with how to bring the practice of art back into the discipline of anthropology—and vice versa.

2014. 192 pp., figures, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: A. Lynn Bolles, Elizabeth Chin, Aimee Meredith Cox, Dána-Ain Davis, Anindo Marshall, Ronald Marshall, Kate Ramsey, Rosemarie A. Roberts

Download an Katherine Dunham, excerpt.

Watch videos from the advanced seminar “Katherine Dunham: Recovering an Anthropological Legacy, Choreographing Ethnographic Futures”:

“Dunham’s life is remarkable for its reflexive integration of dance performance and ethnographic practice in service of social justice through multimedia and multisensory expression of black experience in diaspora. But she largely left it to others to draw the implications of her complex praxis of writing, performance, pedagogy, and activism for their own projects—a challenge explicitly accepted by the contributors to this collection.”
—Regna Darnell, University of Western Ontario, Journal of Anthropological Research, Summer 2016


  1. Biographies
    Katherine Dunham, Ronald Marshall, and Anindo Marshall
  2. Research-to-Performance Methodology: Embodying Knowledge and Power from the Field to the Concert Stage
    Rosemarie A. Roberts
  3. Katherine Dunham’s First Journey in Anthropology
    A. Lynn Bolles
  4. Katherine Dunham and the Folklore Performance Movement in Post–US Occupation Haiti
    Kate Ramsey
  5. Notes on Floyd’s Guitar Blues: Katherine Dunham’s Costumes and Musical Production
    Ronald Marshall
  6. Dunham Technique: Anthropological Politics of Dancing through Ethnography
    Elizabeth Chin
  7. Katherine Dunham Made Me…
    Dána-Ain Davis
  8. In the Dunham Way: Sewing (Sowing) the Seams of Dance, Anthropology, and Youth Arts Activism
    Aimee Meredith Cox

There are no working papers for this book at the present time.