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Richard Handler

Professor & Director of Graduate Studies (ANTH); Director of Global Development Studies Program

Ph.D. University of Chicago 1979


Sociocultural anthropology; nationalism, ethnicity and multi-culturalism; museum studies; cultural criticism; symbolic anthropology; history of anthropology; anthropology and literature; culture theory; modern societies; contemporary North America.

I am a cultural anthropologist who studies modern western societies. My initial fieldwork was in Quebec (1976-1984) where I studied the Québécois nationalist movement. This has led to an enduring interest in nationalism, ethnicity, and the politics of culture. Upon coming to Virginia in 1986, I pursued the latter topic by looking at history museums. Beginning in 1990, I worked with Eric Gable (Ph.D. Virginia 1990) and Anna Lawson (Ph.D. Virginia 1995) on an ethnographic study of Colonial Williamsburg, which is both an outdoor museum and a mid-sized nonprofit corporation. In addition to examining the invention of history and tradition, our study focuses on corporate culture, class, race and gender.

A different interest is the intersection of anthropology and literature. I have written on Jane Austen's novels, on the literary bent of such noted anthropologists as Ruth Benedict and Edward Sapir, and on the difficulties of writing the ethnography of nationalist movements. Finally, I have had an ongoing interest in the history of American anthropology - in particular, in anthropologists as critics of modernity, and the relationship of our discipline's critical discourse to other intellectual trends.  I am currently writing a series of essays on the great mid-century sociologist and social critic, Erving Goffman.

I am currently directing an interdisciplinary undergraduate program in Global Development Studies, for which I teach several courses.  I am also teaching graduate anthropology courses in the history of theory and in nationalism.

Selected Publications

2009 - Erving Goffman and the Gestural Dynamics of Modern Selfhood. In The Politics of Gesture:  Historical Perspectives (Past and Present supplement). Michael J. Braddick, ed. Pp. 280-300. Oxford Journals.

2006 - Central Sites, Peripheral Visions: Cultural and Institutional Crossings in the History of Anthropology (History of Anthropology, vol. 11) . University of Wisconsin Press.

2005 - Critics Against Culture: Anthropological Observers of Mass Society. University of Wisconsin Press.

2000 - Excluded Ancestors, Inventible Traditions: Essays toward a More Inclusive History of Anthropology. University of Wisconsin Press.

1997 - The New History in an Old Museum: Creating the Past at Colonial Williamsburg. (With Eric Gable). Duke University Press.

1995 - Schneider on Schneider: The Conversion of the Jews and Other Anthropological Stories. (With David M. Schneider). Duke University Press.

1990 - The Fiction of Culture: Jane Austen and the Narration of Social Realities. (With Daniel Segal). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

1988 - Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.