Anthony F. C. Wallace, born April 15, 1923, is a Canadian-born American anthropologist and historian best known for his work in community studies and ethnohistory, particularly social changes triggered by technological change. He received a PhD in 1950 from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where he taught from 1951 to 1988.
Wallace’s book The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca (1970) is a classic ethnohistorical study. The book highlights an Iroquois cultural revitalization in the 1800s following acute stress on Iroquois culture. The Iroquois were experiencing social and cultural collapse. The book focuses on Handsome Lake, the Seneca prophet who began preaching to the Iroquois after the Creator spoke to him following a miraculous recovery in the face of death. Handsome Lake had a series of visions in which the Creator gave instructions to the Iroquois to adapt their culture to farming and to practice the values of temperance, peace, land retention, and morality. Wallace traces Handsome Lake’s journey preaching to the Iroquois. The Code of Handsome Lake is still practiced today in Iroquois communities in Canada and the United States. Wallace was interested in how cultures adapted and changed in the wake of immense pressure caused by technological change.
His most important work is Rockdale: The Growth of an American Village in the Early Industrial Revolution (1978), for which he received the Bancroft Prize in 1979. The book links technological changes to the structure of community.
Wallace developed the concept of mazeway in reference to cognitive maps. The idea was elaborated in his writings on religion, social change, and revitalization. Wallace’s book Religion: An Anthropological View (1966) is a classic in the field. He writes that religion is “a set of rituals, rationalized by myth, which mobilizes supernatural powers for the purpose of achieving or preventing transformation of state in man and nature.”
Ethnohistorians have shown how now is a social concept of time and the study of social life is a study of change over time. Here, Wallace offers insight to his view of history:
Everyone in every culture lives in some sort of historical time, though it might not be perceived in the same way an outside observer sees it. It’s an interesting question, “When is Now?” “Now” can be drawn from some point like this hour, this day, this month, this lifetime, or this generation. “Now” can also have occurred centuries ago; things like unfair treaties, the Trail of Tears, and the Black Hawk War, for instance, remain part of the “Now” from which many Native Americans view their place in time today. Human beings respond today to people and events that actually occurred hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
- Swatos, W. H. (Ed.). (2005). Wallace, Anthony F. C. In Encyclopedia of religion and society. Retrieved from http://hirr.hartsem.edu/ency/WallaceAFC.htm
- Wallace, A. F. C. (1998). In “An Interview with Anthony F. C. Wallace,” by Robert S. Grumet. Ethnohistory, 45(1), 127.