The History of Biological Anthropology and the Royal Anthropological Institute

A one-day symposium
20 April 2018

First call for papers
Closing date for abstracts: 15 February 2018

The RAI is pleased to announce that it will be holding a one day meeting to explore the history of biological anthropology and the RAI on 20 April 2018.

From its founding, the institute has held a broad view of anthropology, one that includes biological anthropology and ethnography. Throughout its history, amongst its Presidents and Fellows have been many distinguished biological anthropologists including Sir Arthur Keith, Grafton Elliot Smith, Joe Wiener, and Geoffrey Harrison amongst many others. Its medals and prizes too have been awarded to many biological anthropologists.

Nevertheless, there have been periods of different emphasis. In the nineteenth century, there were many projects aimed at surveying and measuring populations, including repeated reiterations of its importance in Notes and Queries, which the institute published jointly with Section H of the BAAS. The photo archives of the RAI contain many examples of this early anthropometry.

In the first half of the 20th Century the Royal Anthropological Institute was at the forefront of developments in biological anthropology as a discipline and central to the application of anthropological science. The huge range of biological anthropology found in the pages of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s journals during this period clearly demonstrate the importance of the institute as a key publication destination at that time. The so-called ‘blood group project’, which eventually became part of the MRC is indicative of this.

This close relationship appeared to have fractured toward the second half of the twentieth century, when socio-cultural questions appear to have come to the fore. The 2014 virtual special issue of the JRAI 'Biological Anthropology: then and now' charts this process and illustrates the declining use of the journal by biological anthropologists. This period also resulted in the separate formation of the Society for the Study of Human Biology, which took up some of the questions that the RAI no longer seemed to follow.

Nevertheless, the RAI today remains committed to a broad view of anthropology, all the more so as hard and fast divisions between the different branches of the subject increasingly appear to be intellectually unnecessary. It is certainly an appropriate moment to reflect upon how these interdivisions have unfolded in the past, and how they might operate in the future.

Papers are now invited, which may cover any theme of the history of biological anthropology, the changing relationship between bio- and social anthropology, and especially aspects of these issues which are connected to the RAI. We welcome equally papers about the institute’s publications, its Presidents, Fellows, or its projects in this sphere from its foundation to the present.

Would those interested please send in a title and indicative abstract (maximum 200 words)when they can, but certainly no later than 15 February 2018. The address for abstracts is:

Please note that refreshments will be provided by the RAI at the symposium, and there is no conference fee. We regret that travel grants are not available.

Convened by Dr David Shankland, Director of the RAI & Dr Simon Underdown, Oxford Brookes University.