Declared Defective


Declared Defective

Native Americans, Eugenics, and the Myth of Nam Hollow

Robert Jarvenpa

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

258 pages
9 photographs, 1 illustration, 3 maps, 2 tables, 8 charts, index


May 2018


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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May 2018


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

May 2018


$60.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Declared Defective is the anthropological history of an outcaste community and a critical reevaluation of The Nam Family, written in 1912 by Arthur Estabrook and Charles Davenport, leaders of the early twentieth-century eugenics movement. Based on their investigations of an obscure rural enclave in upstate New York, the biologists were repulsed by the poverty and behavior of the people in Nam Hollow. They claimed that their alleged indolence, feeble-mindedness, licentiousness, alcoholism, and criminality were biologically inherited.

Declared Defective reveals that Nam Hollow was actually a community of marginalized, mixed-race Native Americans, the Van Guilders, adapting to scarce resources during an era of tumultuous political and economic change. Their Mohican ancestors had lost lands and been displaced from the frontiers of colonial expansion in western Massachusetts in the late eighteenth century. Estabrook and Davenport’s portrait of innate degeneracy was a grotesque mischaracterization based on class prejudice and ignorance of the history and hybridic subculture of the people of Guilder Hollow. By bringing historical experience, agency, and cultural process to the forefront of analysis, Declared Defective illuminates the real lives and struggles of the Mohican Van Guilders. It also exposes the pseudoscientific zealotry and fearmongering of Progressive Era eugenics while exploring the contradictions of race and class in America.

Author Bio

Robert Jarvenpa is professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Anthropology at the State University of New York at Albany and a research associate at the New York State Museum. He is the coauthor of Circumpolar Lives and Livelihood: A Comparative Ethnoarchaeology of Gender and Subsistence (Nebraska, 2006) and author of Northern Passage: Ethnography and Apprenticeship among the Subarctic Dene.


"Declared Defective will be of interest to scholars of Native North America, the Progressive Era, the history of science, and race and ethnicity."—Mikaëla M. Adams, Journal of American Ethnic History

“A well-researched, fast-paced, compact, and gracefully written examination of Progressive Era eugenics and the complex origins, historical development, and significance of a mixed-race, outcast community. Declared Defective is an important contribution to the history of anthropology, science, racial thought, and Native Americans.”—John David Smith, Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

“This powerful story of colonial dispossession, race relations, and rural impoverishment is as relevant as ever in a world where once again many are inclined to naturalize socioeconomic inequality.”—Paul Nadasdy, associate professor of anthropology at Cornell University

Declared Defective will contribute considerably to histories and discussions of race in America, which is normally geared to a conversation around issues of black and white—literally and metaphorically. Connecting the colonial past with the scientific racism of the twentieth century is a unique contribution.”—Brenda Macdougall, chair of Métis research and associate professor of geography, environment, and geomatics at the University of Ottawa  

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Series Editors’ Introduction
Introduction: The Menace in the Hollow
1. Native Americans and Eugenics
2. Border Wars and the Origins of the Van Guilders
3. A “New” Homeland and the Cradle of Guilder Hollow
4. From Pioneers to Outcastes
5. The Eugenicists Arrive
6. Deconstructing the Nam and the Hidden Native Americans
7. Demonizing the Marginalized Poor
Conclusion: The Myth Unravels

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