Traveling Spirits: The History of Shamans and the Gender of Prehistory


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships


Joint Women's Studies & Dept of Anthropology


The project is an interdisciplinary study of the history of archaeology and the role of gendered colonial narratives in scientific reconstruction of early human societies. Its focus is the native Siberian shaman, both as a figure encountered by travelers and ethnographers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and as a concept adopted by early twentieth-century European archaeologists imagining the spiritual origins of art and religion. The translation between these two moments was selective, reducing the historical diversity of actual recorded practitioners to a projected masculine ideal of artist and priest. The study returns to accounts of male, female, and transgendered shamans in the Russian East, and examines their transformation in twentieth-century discussions of human prehistory.