The Bennington Meetings

The Bennington Meetings (1971-1996)

Ken Kensinger The Bennington Meetings

Back in the 1960s and 1970s Robert Carneiro worked on the permanent exhibit of South American Peoples at the American Museum of Natural History. Bob belonged to a group of what was called “South Americanists” – anthropologists in the New York area who met monthly in one another’s homes to discuss work.  The atmosphere of this moveable feast was extremely relaxed; people did not present finished papers but more typically works in progress. Each meeting was dedicated to a single paper with ample time for discussion.

At that time, Robert Murphy, professor at Columbia University, had become increasingly unable to get about on his own. As Murphy’s illness worsened, he spent more and more time at home. The moveable Amazon discussion group had petered out and some of his students decided to revive it in Murphy’s home. In order to pay respects to the extraordinary Robert Murphy, people began to attend from far and wide, some making a trip of a day or more.

One of those who participated in the meetings at Murphy’s house was Ken Kensinger. After Murphy passed away, Ken, who had moved to Bennington from Philadelphia, began to host summer get-togethers of Amazonianists that consisted mostly of the New York group plus others that Ken thought might be interested. The so-called Bennington Meetings became an institution in their own right. The meetings were comfortably set in a living room adjacent to Ken’s apartment. People could sit on deep cushions, eat splendid food, and participate in a scholarly meeting vastly different from the anonymous and graceless ones to which we had become accustomed elsewhere.

The Bennington Meetings were wonderful memories for those who attended them. From those meetings resulted several publications: Working Papers on South American Indians  (seven print issues from 1979-1985), the edited volume Marriage Practices in Lowland South America (1984), and South American Indian Studies (five print issues from 1993-1998), which conform the so called Bennington Papers. When Ken retired from Bennington, the end of those meetings, with their unusual combination of camaraderie and scholarship, was a loss. Some of the participants in those meetings, discussed the conformation of new group to organize meetings and publications, which led to the creation of SALSA (see 2001 SALSA Organizing Meeting).

(Based on a draft by Janet Chernela.)

See also Tipiti (Volume 1, Issue 1, 2003) Special Issue: Politics and Religion in Amazonia, edited by Jeffrey D. Ehrenreich and Javier Ruedas; the papers in this issue are tied directly to the establishment of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America SALSA and the creation of its journal Tipití).