Richard Handler

Richard Handler

My Biography

Dr. Richard Handler is the 2023 recipient of the Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology. This award is presented annually by the Association to its’ members whose careers demonstrate extraordinary achievements that have well served the anthropological profession.

Richard Handler is currently the Director of Graduate Studies a the University of Virginia. As a cultural anthropologist who studies modern western societies, his initial fieldwork was in Quebec (1976-1984) where he studied the Québécois nationalist movement. This has led to an enduring interest in nationalism, ethnicity, and the politics of culture. Upon coming to Virginia in 1986, he pursued the latter topic by looking at history museums. Beginning in 1990, he worked with Eric Gable (Ph.D. Virginia 1990) and Anna Lawson (Ph.D. Virginia 1995) on an ethnographic study of Colonial Williamsburg, which is both an outdoor museum and a mid-sized nonprofit corporation. In addition to examining the invention of history and tradition, our study focuses on corporate culture, class, race and gender.

After studying with George Stocking, he came to focus on the intersection of early-20th-century artistic modernism and the literary bent of Edward Sapir, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead. This led to a broader interest in the history of anthropology—in particular, in anthropologists as critics of modernity, and the relationship of our discipline’s critical discourses to other intellectual trends. He has published essays on Jules Henry, Richrd Hoggart, Dorothy Lee, Erving Goffman, Thorstein Veblen, and Alexis de Tocqueville, as well as a book-length interview with David Schneider, Schneider on Schneider (1995).

Handler’s most recent scholarship concerns U.S. postage stamps—their iconographic content and indexical functioning—in relation to democratic citizenship. In 2023, with Laura Goldblatt, he published The American Stamp: Postal Iconography, Democratic Citizenship, and Consumerism in the United States.