Ivan Karp (1943-2011) was a curator of African Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from 1984 to 1993. He was also a professor at Emory University from 1993 to 2011. He conducted fieldwork among the Iteso (Teso) of Kenya and made significant contributions to the areas of African systems of thought, social theory, museum studies, and public scholarship. His collection contains his research on the Iteso of Kenya; his work at Emory University and the Smithsonian Institution; his reviews of manuscripts and books; recommendations that he wrote for his colleagues and students; his published articles and papers presented at conferences; and his project files on various topics including museum studies, African philosophy, public scholarship, agency and personhood, and the history of social anthropology.
Scope and Contents:
This collection contains the professional papers of Ivan Karp, documenting his work as an anthropologist, professor, and museum curator. The materials include his research on the Iteso of Kenya; his work at Emory University and the Smithsonian Institution; his reviews of manuscripts and books; recommendations that he wrote for his colleagues and students; his published articles and papers presented at conferences; and his project files on various topics including museum studies, African philosophy, public scholarship, agency and personhood, and the history of social anthropology.
Karp's Iteso research files span from the late 1960s to the 1990s. These materials consist of his field notes, in both paper and digital form; household surveys; photographs; sound recordings; maps; grant proposals; bibliographic research; correspondence; notes and drafts of his dissertation; and his other writings. A great deal of the field materials was collected by his field assistants, particularly Steven Omuse. Some field materials were also collected by Karp's first wife, Patricia.
His Smithsonian files are electronic and contain little documentation regarding his administrative work. There are, however, some materials relating to the planning of exhibits at NMNH and a proposal to establish a program focusing on the African continent and the African Diaspora. There is also a memo with Karp's response to questions from a House Subcommittee regarding the National African American Museum and complaints about the NMNH Africa Hall. Other associated materials include his research and papers on museums and exhibits. While there are no files pertaining to the first two museum conferences he organized, a folder titled "Bellagio" contains documentation for the conference and associated workshops on museums and globalization that he organized while at Emory.
Karp's files from Emory are also in digital form and more substantive than his Smithsonian materials. They document his work on the different committees he chaired and programs he directed and founded, including the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship. His Emory files also include his comments on students' dissertations, papers, and proposals.
The digital files also document Karp's other areas of interests, particularly African philosophy; concepts of identity, personhood, and agency; and the relationships between international development and personhood. His work on African philosophy largely consists of files from a number of collaborative projects with Kenyan philosopher Dismas Masolo, including the 1993 conference in Nairobi they organized and the associated volume they edited, African Philosophy as Cultural Inquiry (2000). There are a few files of research on the Luo people. His research on development and personhood focuses on Africa, particularly on Kenya, and includes his papers, notes, and reference sources, which also exist in paper form. There are also files of obituaries and memorials of Karp from numerous publications and events.
Other materials in Karp's collection include his doctorate diploma, his Master's thesis, family photos, and a wedding album from his first marriage.
This collection is organized into 6 series: 1) Iteso Research; 2) Development Discourse; 3) Personal; 4) Photographs; 5) Sound Recordings; 6) Born Digital Files.
Biographical / Historical:
Ivan Karp (1943-2011) was a curator of African Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from 1984 to 1993. He conducted fieldwork among the Iteso (Teso) of Kenya and made significant contributions to the areas of African systems of thought, museum studies, and public scholarship.
Karp was born on August 27, 1943 in Stamford, Connecticut. He attended the University of Vermont as an undergraduate, majoring in Sociology and Anthropology (1961-1965), and pursued graduate studies in Social Anthroplogy at the University of Rochester (1967-1969). Karp received his M.A. (1969) and Ph.D. (1974) from University of Virginia. As a doctoral student he conducted research among the Iteso from 1969 to 1971. His dissertation, titled Fields of Change Among the Iteso of Kenya, was published in 1978. Karp continued his research on the Iteso into the 1990s and published various papers including "Beer Drinking and Social Experience in African Society" (1980) and "Laughter at Marriage: Subversion in Performance" (1987).
Before his employment at the Smithsonian, Karp held a teaching appointment at Colgate University from 1972 to 1975 and was a professor at Indiana University from 1976 to 1984. At Indiana University, he coedited with Charles S. Bird Explorations in African Systems of Thought (1980), the first of a 34-volume series published under his editorship.
He left Indiana University in 1984 to become the Curator of African Ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History. While at the Smithsonian, he served as Chair of the Ethnology Division and established with William Merrill the Smithsonian Series in Ethnographic Inquiry. It was also during this period that Karp began to critically examine museum practice, concepts of identity and agency, and systems of representation in relation to museum exhibits. He and Steven Lavine organized two major conferences on museums and co-edited the resulting conference proceedings: Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display (1991) and Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture (1992).
In 1993, Karp left the Smithsonian to direct the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts (1993-1996) at Emory University. He also served as director of the university's Institute of African Studies (1996-1999) and the Emory Center for International Studies (1996-1999). In addition, he cofounded and codirected with Corinne Kratz, his second wife, the Center for the Study of Public Scholarship (CSPS) from 1994 to 2009 and the Grant Writing Program from 1992 to 2011. Through the CSPS, he and Kratz also established and codirected the Institutions of Public Culture program, a collaboration with South African colleagues that brought together scholars of public culture from universities, museums, NGOs, political and arts organizations and related institutions (2000-2008). Karp also continued to facilitate discussions on museums, working with Kratz and his colleagues at the Rockefeller Foundation to organize a series of international workshops and a conference in 2002 on museums and globalization. He coedited Museum Frictions: Public Cultures/Global Transformations (2006), a collection of papers presented at the conference.
Karp retired from teaching at Emory University in May 2011 but planned to continue working with the Laney Graduate School's Grant Writing Program until full retirement in August 2013. Not long after finishing his last graduate seminar, Ivan Karp died at the age of 68 on September 17, 2011 in New Mexico.
1943 -- Born on August 27 in Stamford, Connecticut.
1961-1965 -- Undergraduate studies at University of Vermont with major in Sociology and Anthropology.
1965-1967 -- Graduate studies in Social Anthropology at the University of Rochester.
1969 -- Earns M.A. from University of Virginia. Begins conducting fieldwork among the Southern Iteso in Busia District, Kenya.
1972-1975 -- Instructor and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Colgate University.
1974 -- Earns Ph.D. from University of Virginia.
1976-1984 -- Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University.
1984-1993 -- Curator of African Ethnology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Insitution.
1987 -- Organizes conference on "The Poetics and Politics of Exhibiting Other Cultures."
1988 -- Organizes conference on "Museums and their Communities."
1993-1996 -- Director of Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, Emory University.
1994-2009 -- Director of Center for the Study of Public Scholarship, Emory University.
1996-1999 -- Director of Emory Center for International Studies, Emory University. Director of Institute of African Studies, Emory University
2000-2008 -- Director of Institutions of Public Culture program through CSPS.
2002 -- Organizes conference on " Museums and Global Public Spheres" held in Italy at Bellagio Conference Center of the Rockefeller Foundation.
2009 -- Moves to Santa Fe, NM where he had bought a home in 2003.
2011 -- Retires from teaching at Emory University. Dies on September 17 at the age of 68.
Artifacts collected by Ivan Karp can be found in the National Museum of Natural History's Department of Anthropology Collections (Accession #390893 and 416181). Indiana University Archives of Traditional Music holds some of Karp's original Iteso sound recordings.
Four DVDs and a videotape were separated from the collection and transferred to the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA.2014.12) One of the recordings is an interview with Karp that Robert Lavenda and Emily Schultz conducted in 1989 to accompany their introductory anthropology textbook, Cultural Anthropology: A Perspective on the Human Condition. The rest of the recordings are of Karp giving presentations.
This collection was donated to the National Anthropological Archives by Corinne Kratz in 2014.
Recommendations that Karp wrote for his colleagues and students are restricted until 2061.
Access to the Ivan Karp papers requires an appointment.