Edmund Snow Carpenter (1922-2011) was an archaeologist and visual anthropologist who worked extensively with the indigenous peoples of the Canadian Arctic as well as Papua New Guinea. With his colleague and close collaborator Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), he laid the groundwork for modern media theory. Carpenter is also known for his work as an ethnographic filmmaker and as a collector of Paleo-Eskimo art. The Papers of Edmund Carpenter, circa 1938-2011, document the research interests and projects undertaken by Carpenter in the fields of cultural anthropology, ethnographic filmmaking, media theory, archaeology, and indigenous art.
Scope and Contents:
The papers of Edmund Carpenter, 1940-2011, document the research interests and projects undertaken by Carpenter in the fields of cultural anthropology, ethnographic filmmaking, media theory, archaeology, and indigenous art. Specific research projects and interests documented are: his 1950s fieldwork among the Aivilik Inuit in the Canadian Arctic as well as his studies into Inuit concepts of space, time, and geography; his partnership and collaboration with media theorist Marshall McLuhan and his ethnographic studies of Papua New Guinean tribal communities; his early-career archaeological digs at Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) burial mounds in Sugar Run, Pennsylvania, as well as later archaeological interest in Arctic peoples, Siberia, and the Norwegian artifact dubbed the "Norse Penny"; his reflections on the disciplines of anthropology and media studies; his editing and completion of the work of art historian Carl Schuster at the Museum der Kulturen (Museum of Ethnology) in Basel, Switzerland; his editing of The Story of Comock the Eskimo, as told to Robert Flaherty; and his museum exhibitions compiled on the topics of surrealist and tribal art. The collection also documents Carpenter's correspondence with fellow scholars, ethnographers, filmmakers, and colleagues; his published writings; and elements of his personal life, such as obituaries and personal photographs.
Materials in this collection include artifact and burial records; correspondence; drawings and illustrations; essays; interviews and oral histories; inventories and catalogues; manuscripts and drafts, and fragments of drafts; maps; memoranda and meeting minutes; notes, notebooks, and data analysis; obituaries and memorials; photographic prints, slides, and negatives, including personal photographs and portraits; proposals and plans for museum exhibits; reports; resumes and bibliographies; reviews; and sound recordings on CD-Rs and audio cassettes. Additional materials include books and book chapters; journal copies and journal excerpts; magazine, newspaper, and article clippings and excerpts; museum and gallery catalogues, brochures, and guides; pamphlets; and reprints. A portion of the material collected here consist of consolidated research into specific topics, gathered from archival repositories, museums, correspondence, and published works. This material consists of research reprints and archival reference photocopies and photographic prints from various repositories.
Items worthy of special mention in this collection include: annotated draft chapters from Marshall McLuhan's seminal work on media theory, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Series 2); a 1957 letter from e. e. cummings to Carpenter, written in verse (Series 3); an undated thank-you note addressed to "Sadie" from Helen Keller (Series 3); and a transcript of an interview of Carpenter by his former student, Harald Prins (Series 2).
Audiovisual material in this collection is currently undergoing processing.
The collection is organized into the following 7 series:
Series 1. Fieldwork and drafts, 1940-2011 (bulk 1940-1959)
Series 2. Research and project files, 1940-2011
Series 3. Correspondence, circa 1938-2011
Series 4. Publications and lectures, circa 1942-circa 2006
Series 5. Personal, 1942-2011
Series 6. Film and visual material (in-process)
Series 7. Writings by others, 1960-2009, undated
Edmund Snow Carpenter (1922-2011) was an archaeologist and visual anthropologist who worked extensively with the indigenous peoples of the Canadian Arctic and Papua New Guinea. With his colleague and close collaborator Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), he laid the groundwork for modern media theory. Carpenter is also known for his work as an ethnographic filmmaker and as a collector of Paleo-Eskimo art.
Born in 1922 in Rochester, New York, Edmund (nicknamed "Ted") Carpenter served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II before receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950 under Frank Speck for work on Iroquoian prehistoric archaeology. Carpenter began teaching at the University of Toronto in 1948 while simultaneously working as a programmer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). In the 1950s, he undertook fieldwork in the Canadian Arctic among the Aivilik (an Inuit Igloolik subgroup). This fieldwork resulted in several publications in the field of cultural anthropology, including Time/Space Concepts of the Aivilik (1955), Anerca (1959), and Eskimo (1959, republished as Eskimo Realities in 1973).
Also in the 1950s, Carpenter began a working relationship with media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Together, they received a Ford Foundation grant (1953-1955) for an interdisciplinary media research project into the impact of mass communications and mass media on culture change. Carpenter and McLuhan's partnership resulted in the Seminar on Culture and Communication (1953-1959) and the journal series Explorations. In 1957, Carpenter was the founding chair in the interdisciplinary program "Anthropology and Art" at San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge). There, he collaborated with Bess Lomax Hawes and other colleagues in the production of several ethnographic films, including Georgia Sea Island Singers about Gullah (or Geechee) songs and dances. During this period, Carpenter worked with McLuhan on the latter's seminal book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). The article published as "Fashion is Language" in Harper's Bazaar under McLuhan's name (1968) was actually written by Carpenter. It was later published in book form under Carpenter's name, with the title They Became What They Beheld (1970).
In 1969, Carpenter took a research professorship at the University of Papua and New Guinea sponsored by the government of Australia. Alongside photographer Adelaide De Menil (whom he would later marry), he applied many of the ideas about media literacy and culture change to indigenous communities of Papua New Guinea. These activities led to developments in the field of media ecology, as well as the publication of Carpenter's best-known work, Oh, What a Blow the Phantom Gave Me! (1976).
Carpenter taught intermittently at various universities throughout his career, including Fordham University, the University of California-Santa Cruz, Adelphi University, Harvard University's Center for Visual Anthropology, the New School for Social Research, and New York University. He spent eight years associated with the Museum of Ethnology in Basel, Switzerland (1973-1981), editing art historian Carl Schuster's research.
In addition to his teaching and research, Carpenter, with his wife Adelaide De Menil, collected tribal art, eventually amassing the largest private collection of Paleo-Eskimo art in the United States. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Carpenter curated various exhibitions on art and visual culture, including the Menil Collection's Witness to a Surrealist Vision and the Musée du Quai Branly's Upside Down (later reconstructed at the Menil Collection). In later years, Carpenter resumed his archaeological interest in Arctic peoples, researching and collaborating on the Zhokhov Island Mesolithic site in the Russian Arctic with Russian scientists from the Institute for the History of Material Culture and archaeologists from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.
Carpenter died on July 1, 2011 at his home in New York.
Grimes, William. "Edmund Carpenter, Archaeologist and Anthropologist, Dies at 88." The New York Times. 2011 July 7. https://www.nytimes.com
Prins, Harald E. L. and John Bishop. "Edmund Carpenter: Explorations in Media and Anthropology." Visual Anthropology Review 17:2 (Fall-Winter 2001-2002): 110-140.
1922 September 2 -- Born in Rochester, New York
circa 1940-1941 -- Archaeological field work, Sugar Run mounds, Pennsylvania
1942-1946 -- Served in the United States Marine Corps
1948-1957 -- Anthropology Department, University of Toronto
circa 1950 -- Began work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
1950 -- Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania (Anthropology)
1950s -- Fieldwork among the Aivilik Inuit
1953-1959 -- Ran the Seminar on Culture and Communication with Marshall McLuhan
1957-1967 -- "Anthropology and Art" program at San Fernando Valley State College (California State University, Northridge)
1967-1968 -- Schwitzer Chair, Fordham University (with Marshall McLuhan)
1968-1969 -- Carnegie Chair in Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz
1969-1970 -- Research Professor, University of Papua and New Guinea
1973-1981 -- Associated with the Museum of Ethnology in Basel, Switzerland for Carl Schuster papers project
circa 1989-2005 -- Collaboration regarding Zhokov Island archaeological site
2011 July 1 -- Died in East Hampton, New York
Film and video recordings are retained by the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA) as the Edmund Carpenter-Adelaide de Menil Collection (HSFA 2004-04). Once processing is complete, they will be described in the following finding aid in Series 6.
The Edmund Snow Carpenter papers were donated to the National Anthropological Archives in 2017 by Adelaide de Menil on behalf of the Rock Foundation.
The Edmund Snow Carpenter papers are open for research.
Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice. Please contact the archives for information on availability of access copies of audiovisual recordings. Original audiovisual material in the Human Studies Film Archives may not be played.
Digital media in the collection is restricted for preservation reasons.
Access to the Edmund Snow Carpenter papers requires an appointment.