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Exploring the Dream Factory: Hollywood and American Anthropology at Midcentury

Exploring the Dream Factory
Reported by
Jonathan Beard

Posted May 04, 2006


Sydel Silverman, professor emerita of anthropology at City University of New York, treated her colleagues to a night at the movies on December 12, 2005 , without showing a single film. Instead, she discussed a book-Hortense Powdermaker's Hollywood the Dream Factory: An Anthropologist Looks at the Movie Makers -published in 1951. She used the book, the only full-scale anthropological study of the American movie industry ever written, to talk about both Hollywood films and American anthropology from the 1930s to the 1960s. Silverman's talk was followed by a short reaction from New York University's Faye Ginsburg and then several questions from the audience.

Web Sites

Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society
A profile of Hortense Powdermaker by advanced students at Webster University.

Obituary: Hortense Powdermaker
Includes a list of Powdermaker's publications.

HUAC and Censorship Changes
Summary of the House Un-American Activities Committee, including a description of its effect on Hollywood.


Barth, F., A. Gingrich, R. Parkin & S. Silverman. 2005. One Discipline Four Ways: British, German, French, and American Anthropology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Ginsberg, F. D., L. Abu-Lughod & B. Larkin, Eds. 2002. Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Silverman, S. 2002. The Beast on the Table: Conferencing with Anthropologists. AltaMira Press, Lanham, MD.

Silverman, S., ed. 2003. Totems and Teachers: Key Figures in the History of Anthropology. AltaMira Press, Lanham, MI.

Silverman, S. & N. Parezo, eds. 1992. Preserving the Anthropological Record. Wenner-Gren Foundation, New York.

Wolf, E. R., with S. Silverman. 2001. Pathways of Power: Building an Anthropology of the Modern World. University of California Press, Berkeley.


Sydel Silverman, PhD

City University of New York
Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

Sydel Silverman is professor emerita of anthropology at the City University of New York and president emerita of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. She has written extensively on the history of anthropology as a discipline, including in her books Totems and Teachers: Perspectives on the History of Anthropology and The Beast at the Table: Conferencing with Anthropologists. She has also written on culture and society in Italy in books including Three Bells of Civilization: The Life of an Italian Hill Town and numerous articles.

Faye Ginsburg, PhD

New York University
email | web site

Faye Ginsburg is David B. Kriser Professor of Anthropology at New York University. She also serves as director of the Graduate Program in Culture and Media, director of the Center for Media, Culture & History, and codirector of the Center for Religion and Media. Her research interests include social anthropology, ethnographic film, indigenous media, social movements in the United States, and gender and reproduction. She is coeditor of the collection Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain, and author of the award-winning Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in American Community. She completed her PhD at the City University of New York.

Jonathan Beard

Jonathan Beard is a science journalist, reviewer, translator, and photo researcher.