Edmund "Ted" Snow Carpenter (born 1922 in Rochester, New York) is a noted anthropologist best known for his work on tribal art and visual media.
Meanwhile, Carpenter began teaching anthropology at the University of Toronto in 1948, taking side jobs such as radio programming for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). In 1950, Carpenter started fieldwork among the Aivilik, returning to these Inuit in Nunavut in the famine winter of 1951-52, and again in 1955. When public television took off in Canada with the launching of CBC-TV in 1950, Carpenter began producing and hosting a series of shows.
Moving back and forth between Toronto’s broadcasting studios and Arctic hunting camps, Carpenter became intrigued by theoretical ideas then being developed by Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan. Teaming up with McLuhan, he co-taught a course and together they hatched their core ideas about the agency of modern media in the process of culture change. In 1953, they received a Ford Foundation grant for an interdisciplinary media research project, which funded the Seminar on Culture and Communication (1953-1959) & their co-edited periodical "Explorations." Meanwhile, Carpenter continued his programs on CBC-TV, including a weekly show also titled “Explorations” (which started as a radio program). In his famous article “The New Languages” (1957) Carpenter offers a succinct analysis of modern media based on years of participant observation in different cultures, academic & popular print publishing, & radio and television broadcasting.
In 1957, Carpenter was appointed founding chair of an experimental interdisciplinary program of Anthropology & Art at San Fernando Valley State College (California State University-Northridge), where students were trained in visual media, including filming. With award-winning filmmaker Robert Cannon, he made an innovative documentary about “surrealist” Kuskokwim Eskimo masks. Carpenter also co-authored Georgia Sea Island Singers (1964), a film documenting six traditional African-American songs & dances by Gullahs of St. Simon Island. And with Bess Hawes, he collaborated on Buck Dancer (1965), a short film featuring an African-American musician-dancer from Mississippi. In 1967, however, just when visual anthropology began to take institutional form as an academic enterprise, the program was closed.
During this period, Carpenter collaborated (albeit unacknowledged) on McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1964). The friends rejoined in New York in 1967, sharing the Schweitzer Chair at Fordham University. Carpenter subsequently held the Carnegie Chair in anthropology at the University of California-Santa Cruz (1968-69), & then took a research professorship at the University of Papua & New Guinea. Joined by photographer Adelaide de Menil (who later became his wife), he journeyed to remote mountain areas where indigenous Papua had “no acquaintance” yet with writing, radios, or cameras. They took numerous Polaroid & 35mm photographs, made sound recordings, & shot some 400,000 feet of 16mm film in black and white, as well as color & infrared film.
During the next dozen years, Carpenter taught at various universities, including Adelphi University (circa 1977-1980), Harvard, New School University, & New York University (circa 1980-1981). In addition to numerous other publications, he also completed art historian Carl Schuster’s massive cross-cultural study on traditional art motifs. Most recently, he guest-curated an important Eskimo traditional & prehistoric art exhibit Upside Down: Les Arctiques at the Musée du Quai Branly, the ethnographic art museum in Paris, France (2008).