July 2014 – In Memoriam: Henrika Kuklick (1942-2013)

By James H. Capshew (Indiana University) and Leila Zenderland (California State University, Fullerton)

Henrika Kuklick (1942-2013)

Henrika Kuklick (1942-2013)

Henrika (Riki) Takiff Kuklick joined the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975, advancing from lecturer to professor, and became a professor emerita a year before her death. A native Philadelphian, she began her Penn career after completing a BA from Brandeis in sociology, an MA from the University of London, and a Yale doctorate, writing her 1974 dissertation on Ghana’s colonial administrators. The department she joined, founded in 1970, was oriented toward integrating intellectual, social, institutional, and cultural history, and took a broad approach to organized knowledge in science, medicine, and technology since the Enlightenment as its domain. As its only member trained in sociology, Riki supplied a new kind of intellectual ballast to a faculty of historians, for her strikingly innovative studies analyzed both scientific discourses and social structures in considering explanations for human behavior. She also created an especially welcoming environment for her graduate students.

Riki’s graduate classes were exercises in historical exegesis and improvisation. Using primary source materials, often social science classics, she would deconstruct standard interpretations and then entertain alternate explanations from students. She was kind without being patronizing when offering suggestions and commentary. Ferociously well informed about the history of the social sciences as well as general academic culture, her approach was relentlessly reflexive, placing topics under discussion into richly textured contexts of historiography and scholarly tradition.

In 1982, under Riki’s supervision, David Van Keuren completed his dissertation on anthropology in Victorian Britain. Thus began a steady stream of Riki’s doctoral students, for she supervised, co-supervised, or served as a reader for dissertations by Richard Gillespie, Lyn Schumaker, Johannes Pols, Lisa Bud-Frierman, Donna Mehos, Elizabeth Hunt, Katherine Janssen, Helen Rozwadowski, Jeremy Vetter, Joy Rohde, Joshua Berson, Matthew Schauer, Jack Pressman, Gale Avrith, James Capshew, David Shearer, Leila Zenderland, Sarah Tracy, Alex Checkovich, Elizabeth Buckley, Maneesha Lal, Geertje Boschma, Alex Pang, and Paul Burnett, among others. Graduate students were confronted with a subtle mind that was fearless in attacking flabby thinking or received wisdom, a brilliant academic who forged a unique approach to research. While her scholarly iconoclasm and quirky demeanor might be off-putting to some, her students knew the warmth and kindness beneath the occasionally prickly exterior. Plain spoken in her encouragement, she met students at their level and urged them towards academic fluency. She set impossibly high standards for her own scholarly production while encouraging students not only to meet professional standards but to exceed them in new and creative ways. Even in her final years when she was ill, she remained close to and supportive of many of the students she had first worked with decades earlier.

Riki’s approach to the history and sociology of science blended a historian’s respect for temporal and geographic specificity with a sociologist’s understanding of the power of institutional practices—particularly within universities, professions, and government agencies. Over the years, the geographic focus of her historical scholarship widened—from Africa to Britain to America to Australia to comparative world history. So too did the subjects she explored, which included processes of professionalization, the sociology of knowledge (examined in a series of volumes co-edited first with Robert Jones and then Elizabeth Long), the intertwined histories of anthropology and imperialism, the emergence of both natural and social “field sciences” (explored in an Osiris volume co-edited with Rob Kohler), and changes in scientific practices from naturalist collecting to field work traditions to the construction of disciplines. Her first book, Imperial Bureaucrat: Colonial Administrative Service in the Gold Coast, 1920-39 (Hoover Colonial Series, 1979), offered a quantitative analysis of the lives of the men who helped Britain understand, organize, and control its empire. In The Savage Within: The Social History of British Anthropology, 1885-1945 (Cambridge, 1991), she switched to qualitative analysis to consider the converse: how studies of exotic cultures reflected and reinforced British ideas about their own society.

In addition, Riki authored many seminal case studies, writing influential essays on diverse subjects that included: how explanations for the Great Zimbabwe Ruins used archaeology to support diverse political stances; how Chicago sociologists not only described but also affected city growth by influencing federal housing policies; the importance of islands to research conducted by both biologists and anthropologists; the effects of public health theories on urban design in colonial Khartoum; the contested meanings attached to “totemism” and the ways such theories could be used to defend or abrogate land rights accorded indigenous Australians; the intersection of anthropological and physiological research in the Torres Straits expedition; and the declining status granted natural history collectors coupled with the rising credibility accorded fieldworkers in the late 19th century. In these deeply researched and richly documented accounts, Riki repeatedly showed how scientific investigations not only explained but also helped shape social behaviors and practices.

Riki was a prodigious reader, writer, and reviewer who corresponded with a vast network of scholars from around the world. She was a generous critic and sounding board for former students and those she met through their work in the history of science, anthropology, sociology, psychology, psychiatry, biology, medicine, linguistics, and many other fields. She was also a much sought-after speaker, particularly when what was desired was an overview of where a field had been and where it was likely headed. One of her last works—to be published posthumously—offered just such an overview of the historiography of anthropology for a volume on the modern social sciences.

Riki was especially proud of her work integrating scholarship from a group of international researchers in her edited collection, A New History of Anthropology (Blackwell, 2008)—a work Australian anthropologist Howard Morphy called “a wonderfully engaging brave collection of essays that interrogates much of the received wisdom.” Subtitles in her introductory essay capture many of her own broad questions: “Remembrance of Things Past”; “Anthropologists in Situ: Policing Boundaries; Restructuring Universities”; “Original Sins”; “’The Past is a Foreign Country’”; “Knowledge for Whom?” and “Academic Structures; Public Responsibilities.” Equally suggestive is the illustration she chose to represent the transformation of anthropology into a powerful and popular field: a paper doll depicting Margaret Mead, reproduced from a contemporary children’s cut-out book.

As a teacher, writer, speaker, and scholar, Henrika Kuklick was broad-minded, sharp-edged, funny, engaging, provocative, and always thoroughly original. Her unique legacy touched not only her daughter Marya but countless friends, relatives, colleagues, and students who loved her, as well as scholars from many fields and many places who learned so much from her.