American Association of Physical Anthropologists Name Change

Perhaps everyone got the email regarding the name change for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), or perhaps you’re not a physical anthropologist at all, but it appears that next year’s annual meeting of the association may involve a name change for the organization.


For those who aren’t aware, the name of the titular AAPA has become controversial in recent years. I think people had been complaining for a years that most members of AAPA aren’t actually physical anthropologists, since a number of primatologists, population geneticists, etc are members and don’t study the physical aspects of humans per se. Just in the last couple of years there has been quite the hullabaloo to change it due to a couple of other reasons. Notably these include biological anthropology’s racist origins, as argued by Dr. Johnathan Marks (below) and the fact that despite being founded for American physical anthropologists, there is a huge international attendance.

Ales Hrdlicka, an osteologist, was the first president of the association in 1930. I believe Marks might be referring to any one of Hrdlicka’s many quotes about black people, not to the exception of, “The real problem of the American Negro lies in his brain, and it would seem, therefore, that this organ above all others would have received scientific attention.” The foundation of the journal and the organization was due to very generous benefactors who just so happened to be some of the biggest eugenicists of the 20th century.

The proposed name changes so far include the obvious AABA (American Association of Biological Anthropologists) and the IABA (International Association of Biological Anthropologists). The problem with IABA is that we might be expected to hold our conferences overseas if we become an international organization. A lot less people can get funding for that, but in this case host country scholars get the chance to participate a little more. My assumption is that the host country would alternate back to America every two years, as other professional organizations do. The bigger problem is that a change to either of these names would probably annoy our publisher, Wiley, who puts out both The American Journal of Physical Anthropology and its associated yearbook (first started in 1918).

It seems that the three arguments are relatively straightforward:

  1. Keep the name AAPA
  2. Take baby steps and remove the physical anthropology out of the name
  3. Go international, get rid of physical anthropology, and get it done and over with.

I’m not really sure what the voting or suggestion options are going to be, so all of this is open to speculation. The only people really arguing to keep the name either don’t want to go through the hassle of doing so or think that removing the name of our racist past doesn’t change the fact that our past was racist. Personally, even if the name AAPA is kept for the organization, I see this issue coming up again and again and again in the future, even if we vote on leaving it now. I also don’t see a separate international biological anthropology group being formed anytime soon, but other regional meetings (like ESHE in Europe) are apparently doing quite well for themselves. I think we first ought to see if they don’t mind a newly formed IABA encroaching biannually on their yearly turf (assuming the biannual option is taken). The best course of action is probably to take inspiration from IHOb and just change it to AABA.

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