Date of this Version
Journeys West traces journeys made during seven months of fieldwork in 1935 and 1936 by Julian Steward, a young anthropologist, and his wife, Jane. Virginia Kerns identifies the scores of Native elders whom they met throughout the Western desert, men and women previously known in print only by initials and thus largely invisible as primary sources of Steward’s classic ethnography. Besides humanizing Steward’s cultural informants—revealing them as distinct individuals and also as first-generation survivors of an ecological crisis caused by American settlement of their lands—Kerns shows how the elders worked with Steward. Each helped to construct an ethnographic portrait of life in a particular place in the high desert of the Great Basin. The elders’ memories of how they and their ancestors had lived by hunting and gathering—a sustainable way of life that endured for generations—richly illustrated what Steward termed cultural adaptation. It later became a key concept in anthropology and remains relevant today in an age of global environmental crisis. Based on meticulous research, this book draws on an impressive array of evidence—from interviews and observations to census data, correspondence, and the field journals of the Stewards. Journeys West illuminates not only the elders who were Steward’s guides but also the practice of ethnographic fieldwork: a research method that is both a journey and a distinctive way of looking, listening, and learning.