April 30, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 15

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    Laing Prize to Sahlins

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Marshall Sahlins, the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Anthropology and a world-renowned ethnographer and historian of Polynesia, has received the 1998 Gordon J. Laing Prize awarded by the University of Chicago Press. He also has been awarded the prestigious J.I. Staley Prize for the best book in anthropology.

    The Laing Prize was presented for How "Natives" Think: About Captain Cook, For Example, published in 1996. Sahlins received the award Wednesday at a Quadrangle Club reception.

    Sahlins is the first person to twice receive the Laing Prize, which has been awarded annually since 1963 to the University faculty author, editor or translator of a book published by the Press in the previous three years that brings the Press the greatest distinction. He previously received the Laing Prize in 1977 for Culture and Practical Reason (1976). He has been a member of the University faculty since 1973.

    In How "Natives" Think, Sahlins argues that anthropologists working in the Western tradition are capable of understanding non-Western societies. Some scholars from the developing world contend that Western scholars are too influenced by myths of European imperialism to be able to truly understand non-Western cultures.

    The culmination of Sahlins' ethnohistorical research on Hawaii, How "Natives" Think argues that Hawaiians who killed Captain Cook understood him as a manifestation of their god Lono, and Cook's involvement in associated rituals led to his death. A review of the book in the Washington Post said, "This analytical masterpiece makes a mockery of the wilder excesses of political correctness and what often passes today for revisionist history in scholarly circles. Anyone seriously interested in anthropology and history should read this timely book."

    The Staley Prize also recognizes a book by Sahlins that was published by the Press. The prize was awarded for the two-volume work Anahulu: The Anthropology of History in the Kingdom of Hawaii (1992), which Sahlins co-authored. The prize will be presented at a meeting of the American Anthropological Association.

    Sahlins also recently received the Phoenix Prize from the Social Sciences Division. The award, which honors exceptional scholarship, has been presented only once before, to sociologist James Coleman.