In 2006, twenty-five teams of cultural anthropologists were deployed by the US military as part of the Human Terrain System (HTS). The backlash against the use of academics and the "militarization of culture" was immediate. The American Anthropology Association published a series of works admonishing HTS participants and, in a related move, lifted an almost century-old censure of Franz Boas's 1919 work, "Scientists as Spies." Boas's once-marginalized argument-that the "scientist who uses his research as a cover for political spying forfeits the right to be classified as a scientist"-was now recast as an accepted professional principle. This paper explores these two interrelated instances of the contestation of culture in geopolitical military strategies. Placing Boas within a larger history of the use of and conflict over the definition of culture during World War I, I argue that anthropologist-spies were only the tip of the iceberg in his time, just as HTS is in ours. The Paris Peace Talks (1917-9), for example, saw social scientists working with the state on a massive scale to literally redraw the world map. This article focuses on one secretive American organization, the Inquiry, which worked closely with military and state apparatuses, gathering ethnographic/cultural data that helped carve out official state positions and war aims. By situating the HTS as part of this larger historical narrative, we see how the "ethnographic" culture concept came to occupy such a dominant (albeit contested) place in thought.

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Keywords Anthropology, Culture, Human Terrain System, The Inquiry, World War I
Persistent URL
Journal Canadian Review of American Studies
Foster, B. (Brian). (2014). "I love working for uncle sam, lets me know just who I am": Culture, the Human Terrain System, and the Inquiry of World War I. Canadian Review of American Studies, 44(2), 345–364. doi:10.3138/cras.2014.S08