Margaret Mead’s Network of Influences

As Yung-Hsing Wu continues to explore the various relationships between reading, culture, and institutional efforts to define the relationship between reading and culture (and thus human nature as well), I find myself recalling various moments in the history of anthropology or folklore studies that might be of interest to her.

One such moment was Margaret Mead’s involvement in the National Research Council’s Committee on Food Habits. The NRC had previously funded research into the “national character” of the United States, I believe — someone had, if not the NRC, and I’m not sure if Mead was involved at all. Mead’s involvement in the foodways research is summed up by the [Library of Congress’ online exhibit][loc] as:

> At the request of Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead came to Washington, D.C., early in 1942, to assume the role of Executive Secretary of the National Research Council’s Committee on Food Habits. One aspect of the committee’s work dealt with determining what foods were essential to the cultural habits of people from different national backgrounds. Among other things, ensuring that people had access to the foods most meaningful to them was important to maintaining morale. This document from 1942 summarizes some of the committee’s findings on the value of particular foods to different national groups.

The online exhibit also has digitized and published online a number of documents drawn from the archives of Mead’s papers, the most fascinating of which, to me, was this diagram that Mead both typed and then drew of the influences on her own thinking and work:

Margaret Mead's Network of Influences as traced by her own hand.

Margaret Mead’s Network of Influences as traced by her own hand.

Please check out the exhibit for yourself. The Library of Congress deserves our support, and I would not be surprised if the number of online visitors they receive is one way by which they measure their success.


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