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History of the RAI: 1871 to 1918

From Tuesday 08 December 2015
To Wednesday 09 December 2015
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History of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Workshop in preparation for Volume 2: 1871 to 1918

8th & 9th December 2015

Royal Anthropological Institute, 50 Fitzroy Street, London, W1T 5BT

The event is free, but places must be booked. To book tickets please go to

8th December 2015


10.30        TEA AND COFFEE

11.00        Dr David Shankland, Director, Royal Anthropological Institute

Welcome to the Royal Anthropological Institute

11.10        Sarah Walpole, Royal Anthropological Institute Archivist

General overview of the period at the Royal Anthropological Institute

This paper will be dealing with the context within which the subject of the other papers takes place. It will be a view ‘behind the scenes’ at the Institute, covering such matters as the locations where the Institute was residing, the admittance of female members, the general running of affairs, and the effects of the War.

11.50        Joan Leopold

Edward B. Tylor and the Anthropological Institute 1879-1889

This paper will discuss how E. B Tylor (1832-1917) began to take a leadership and administrative role within the Anthropological Institute by becoming President for the first time from 1879-81. It will then go on to examine some of his papers for the AnthropologicaI Institute, and their relation to his roles in the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the University of Oxford, and his widening orientation towards American, Australasian and statistical anthropology.

12.30        Roy Ellen and Angela Muthana, University of Kent

The great eolith debate and the Royal Anthropological Institute

From the 1880s onwards, The Anthropological Institute played a key role in arguments surrounding eoliths, both as a venue for significant events and through the pages of its journals. Eoliths, stone objects claimed to be man-made and regarded by ‘eolithophiles’ as the precursors of handaxes, had become an issue almost as soon as the first chipped flints had been accepted as artefactual by Boucher de Perthes, John Evans, Hugh Falconer and others in the mid-nineteenth century. The ensuing debate (which drew in many luminaries of the age, such as Edward Tylor, Alfred Russel Wallace and Joseph Prestwich) in many ways exemplified the changing relationship between amateurs and professionals in the affairs of the Institute, and between the different branches of evolutionist anthropology. The debate addressed questions of scientific method and the use of ethnographic analogies; it also contributed to the splits between the branches, and the eventual supremacy of the professionals by the eve of the Second World War.

1.10        LUNCH

2.00        Alison Petch, Collections Database Officer, Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford

Learned behaviour: Pitt-Rivers and the Anthropological Institute

Museums and anthropology in the UK have often had an uneasy relationship. The focus of this paper is on anthropology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period in which museums and anthropology were much more integrated than they are today. Many anthropologists of this period thought that collections in museums were key tools for ethnographic research, which allowed greater insight into past cultures. Many curators in charge of ethnographic collections were leading lights in the Anthropological Institute and its forebears. Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers was a professional soldier for most of his life, but he is much better known today for his anthropological and archaeological interests and collections. The Pitt Rivers Museum was established in 1884 when he agreed to donate his first collection to the University of Oxford. His interest in material culture was fostered by his membership of the relevant learned societies. Through his membership, regular attendance at meetings, friendship with other leading lights, and contributions to learned journals he gained a great deal. He also contributed a great deal to each of the societies: serving on the various committees and councils, as an ordinary committee member, by holding various offices including Presidentships, and by writing many papers. Through the close examination of his attachment to the Anthropological Institute we not only gain insight into his own personal development within the discipline, but also identify his contribution to the overall advance of the discipline. In addition the paper explores the legacy of this relationship on the ethnographic museum he founded in Oxford.

2.40    Dan Hicks, MCIfA, FSA Associate Professor in Archaeology, University of Oxford, Curator, Pitt Rivers Museum

Augustus Lane Fox, the Anthropological Institute, and the Archaeology of the Present, 1869-1882

As Clive Gamble and Theodora Moutsiou (2008) have demonstrated, the year 1859 began a ‘time revolution’ in archaeology — emerging through the simultaneous recording of Acheulian handaxes among the Somme gravels and the publication of Darwin’s On The Origin Of Species. These developments are usually understood as part of a more gradual, long-term process of the study of the archaeological past. This paper explores an alternative dimension of this episode in the pre-disciplinary history of archaeology through a close reading of the published works of Augustus Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers in the Journal of the Ethnological Society of London and the Journal of the Anthropological Institute between 1869 and 1882. The paper draws a distinction between standard accounts of the archaeological work of Pitt-Rivers (1880-1900) on the one hand, and the potential for exploring the lesser known published work of Augustus Lane Fox, as he was known before he inherited the Pitt-Rivers fortune (in the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s) on the other. Working through his accounts in the two journals of stone tools, megalithic monuments, museum classification, modes of navigation, archaeological excavations in Norfolk and Sussex, anthropometrics, and the state’s role in heritage protection, the paper re-evaluates Lane Fox’s approach to museums, landscapes and material culture, explores his conception of archaeology’s relationships with time and anthropology, and his understanding of archaeology not as a form of history or prehistory, but as a science for understanding the present.

3.20        David Shankland, Director, Royal Anthropological Institute

Marett, Boas and the founding of the International Congress of Anthropology 1900-1914

The International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences is today enjoying something of a revival, having held a large Congress at Manchester, and having planned another to take place in Brazil in 2018. It was founded by the RAI in 1934, under the auspices of our President John Linton Myres. This story will be told more fully in our next conference. However, we may note at this juncture that the idea of such a congress was mooted even earlier, triggered by Boas' writing to the Institute before the Great War on the occasional of the Americanists coming to the UK. Marett was at that time appointed secretary to an international committee whose work was proceeding most satisfactorily until, just as the first programme was about to be announced, the shadow of the Great War overtook events. Nevertheless, the deliberations of the committee shed light on the intellectual aspirations of the leading figures of the time, and on the Institute's potential role as a co-ordinator of such initiatives.

4.00        TEA

4.30        Prof. Lynette Russell, Director, Monash Indigenous Centre [paper to be read by another]

Anthropology, Empire and Antipodean Conundrums: the RAI and Australia 1871-1920

From the first moments of contact, the Antipodes presented the natural sciences with all manner of conundrums. From egg-laying mammals to trees that were more blue than green, Australia was a land of oddities. Antipodean Indigenous cultures were similarly a source of the odd and wondrous. Here were customs that challenged prevailing models of development and social evolution and prompted rewriting of understandings of human culture, diversity and complexity. This paper argues that Australian cultures were central to the development of the discipline of anthropology, with the RAI playing a crucial role in centralising and systematising this information. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1872-1900) published significant Australian materials, as did its successor Man, on subjects as diverse as totemism, classificatory systems and the terminology of marriage and kinship. The role played by Australian materials within the history of the RAI has yet to be comprehensively studied, even though several early presidents worked in, visited or were keenly interested in the native cultures of Australia. The complex relationship between anthropology and Empire cannot be underestimated, however the oft repeated comment that it functioned as a handmaiden of colonialism is probably overly simplistic and in need of interrogation. The paper will consider the symbiotic relationship between anthropology, the RAI and the colonial project via the engagement with Australia and Aboriginal cultures.

5.10        Ciaran Walsh, Researcher, Maynooth University (Anthropology PhD Programme) and Abarta Audio Guides, partners in the Irish Research Council's Employment based Postgraduate Research Programme 2015

Defining Fieldwork: Haddon and the RAI in Ireland, 1891 – 1900.

This paper will deal with the Irish Ethnographic Survey and the impact it had on the development of anthropology in the UK in the 1890s. I will explore the changing definition of fieldwork as it was represented in Notes and Queries between 1892 and 1899 in particular. I will draw on correspondence between Haddon and key members of the RAI - Dr J. G. Garson and Daniel J. Cunningham in particular - to show how different ideas about fieldwork emerged. I will also examine the role played by Francis Galton and Edward Brabrook at an institutional level. I will argue that the difference between Haddon’s quest for a “scientific” anthropology and Cunningham’s "sociological" approach prefigured the split between physical and social anthropology that emerged in the 1890s and which was fundamental to the sixth edition of Notes and Queries, the 'modern' edition published by the RAI in 1949.

9th December 2015


10.00        TEA AND COFFEE

10.30        Dr Jocelyne Dudding, Manager, Photographic Collections, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge

The Lasting Impression of a Photographer: Alfred Cort Haddon and Anthropological Photography

Alfred Haddon will be  forever known for his pioneering fieldwork in the Torres Strait, and for his position as the first lecturer in Anthropology in Britain. In both of these capacities, Haddon utilised photography as a scientific methodology, which, combined with his subsequent accessioning, labelling and displaying of his photographs at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, he used to present anthropological concepts such as race, occupation, and ceremonies.  Yet Haddon also realised that photographs have the ability to lead multiple lives, and as such he recognised the social importance of the photographs to the people he worked with. This paper examines his innovative and parallel approach to photography, and his lasting influence on many of Britain’s anthropologists and related societies.

11.10        Amanda Reyes, PhD Student, University of California, Santa Cruz

The Royal Anthropological Institute Anthropometric Committee

Active between the years 1875 and 1883, the Anthropometric Committee and its subcommittee determined three racial types in residence in the British Isles, and collected representative photographs of each type from local studio photographers. The photographs selected for the albums were chosen, largely by James Park Harrison, based on the subjects' adherence to composite images of skulls made from illustrations in Joseph Barnard Davis and John Thurnam’s 1865 text Crania Britannica: Delineations and Descriptions of the Skulls of the Aboriginal and Early Inhabitants of the British Islands. The use of the composite photograph to determine the typical characteristics of a racial group was pioneered by committee member Francis Galton, who referred, in a paper given in 1879 to the Royal Society, to composites as ‘much more than averages; they are rather the equivalents of those large statistical tables whose totals, divided by the number of cases and entered on the bottom line, are the averages’ This paper examines the way the Anthropometric Committee’s photographic albums train viewers to understand visualized representations of statistical data, especially binomial distributions.

11.50        Paul Basu, University College London

N. W. Thomas, the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Colonial Experiment with Anthropology in West Africa, 1900 to 1918

This contribution explores the career of the much-maligned anthropologist Northcote Whitridge Thomas (1868-1936). Thomas was the first government anthropologist to be appointed by the Colonial Office and conducted a series of anthropological surveys in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915. This was an era in which there was a strong lobby among British anthropologists, which argued for the value of anthropological research in the context of colonial administration, and leading figures in the (Royal) Anthropological Institute led deputations to government to argue the case for an Imperial Bureau of Anthropology. It was also a period, however, when the value of anthropological knowledge was contested and uncertain; indeed Malinowski would characterize the era as one of amateurism and antiquarianism. Thomas’s anthropological surveys were not regarded as a success, and to some in colonial administration, he represented a stereotype of eccentric academicism. In fact Thomas was highly qualified and an active member of the anthropological circles of his day. He had close contact with the (Royal) Anthropological Institute, and served on the Councils of both the RAI and the Folklore Society. As well as re-evaluating Thomas’s career, I examine the role of the RAI in promoting anthropology as a practical science of value to colonial governance at a crucial period of experimentation and transition. My starting point will be a meeting held at the RAI’s office in 1910 in the presence of representatives from the Colonial Office, chaired by Sir Herbert Hope Risley, then President of the Institute and erstwhile Director of the Ethnographic Survey of India, and including Read, Haddon, Rivers, Marett and Ray, who quizzed Thomas and evaluated the material he had gathered in his first survey in order to recommend whether or not the enterprise should be continued.

12.30        Rev. Philip D. Noble

String Figures and the RAI 1878-1918

The paper discusses the origins of the comparative study of string figures of the world and the influential role that the RAI and its members played in it. Perhaps the most often quoted article in string figure bibliography is a small article published in Man in 1902. Written by W. H. R. Rivers and A. C. Haddon and entitled “A method of recording String figures and Tricks”, it had the stated aim of ‘inducing field workers to pay attention to the subject and to record the method of making the figures.’ The article was to serve the purpose well for the next two generations. While early ethnological observations were carried out by enthusiastic botanists, zoologists and explorers of all sorts, few had recorded the actual process of construction. E.B. Taylor in 1879 was one of the first to suggest that there might be value in a comparative scientific study of string figures, but it was during the expeditions to the Torres Straits in 1888 and 1898 that Haddon laid the ground work for the general method of recording that was to be used with only a few variations for the next 70 years. A short introduction to several early collectors and collections will be given along with a practical demonstration of many of the games they collected. Though Haddon and other early researchers largely viewed string figures as part of a culture to be preserved, they were not unaware of their joyous aspects and influences they exerted in local communities.

1.10         LUNCH

2.00         Rebekah Sheppard, PhD Candidate, University of East Anglia

Emil Torday and the Royal Anthropological Institute

Emil Torday was an active member of the Institute and a key player in the history of anthropology in Britain. Nevertheless, he has to a large extent been written out of this history, with the origins of definable anthropology being associated with Malinowski (something that is symptomatic of the broader history of the Institute, from what I can gather). Torday collaborated and published important anthropological texts with T.A. Joyce at the British Museum based upon his fieldwork in the (former) Belgian Congo. They collaborated on a number of journal articles for MAN. I have already done considerable work on this "history of anthropology" aspect, and would now like to go into more detail about the RAI's role in this.

2.40        Prof. Chris Fuller, London School of Economics

Herbert Risley, William Crooke and Denzil Ibbetson: Anthropology and the Indian Civil Service, 1871-1918

Herbert Risley, William Crooke and Denzil Ibbetson, who were all members of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), were the most important figures in the development of official anthropology in British India after the decennial censuses started in 1871-2.  Risley and Crooke were fellows of the (Royal) Anthropological Institute, though Ibbetson was not.  This paper examines the anthropological work, both ethnographic and theoretical, of the three men, and their efforts to promote anthropological enquiry in India. It looks at how they collected ethnographic information, evaluates its quality, and asks how colonial officials could actually collect data, given that informants were all subject to autocratic authority. The paper also discusses the three men’s political and administrative work as ICS officers, and its relationship with their anthropological work, especially in the cases of Risley and Ibbetson who both rose to high office in the government. Through a mainly biographical approach, the paper’s main objective is to examine how the anthropology of Britain’s most important imperial possession was developed by professional civil servants who were never regarded, either by themselves or their peers in Britain, as mere amateurs and fact-gatherers.

3.20        TEA

3.40        Jacob Troublefield, M.A. Graduate Student, Texas State University

Small Bodies and Grand Theories: Locating the African Pygmy within Anthropological Thought between 1896 and 1908

In June 1905, six African pygmies arrived in London to take part in a series of performances both in the capital and in provincial areas of Great Britain. Before their arrival, the Royal Anthropological Institute had already established a committee to study the pygmies. The committee’s findings were to be compiled within a report that would be published in the RAI’s journal. The report, however, was never published. The birth of a stillborn child to the youngest female of the troupe and the subsequent dissection of the child by Sir Arthur Keith delayed the report’s publication indefinitely. The arrival of the six pygmies in 1905 represented the pinnacle of popular and scientific curiosity towards African pygmies within Great Britain – a fascination that stretched back to Henry Morton Stanley’s encounter with pygmies in the Ituri forest in 1888. What did anthropologists make of African pygmies before 1905? And what was the anthropological consensus on them? Did this change after 1905? Moreover, what role did the RAI and its members play within the dialogue that created the scholarly consensus on pygmies? This paper seeks to locate the African pygmy within anthropological thought between 1896 and 1908, while simultaneously exploring the role played by the RAI and its various members in their attempts to understand and situate the African pygmy within the broader scheme of cultural, social and biological evolution.

4.20        Timothy Maton [paper to be read by another]

Repository as a Colonial Project: The Embodiment of Race in Archival Repository

In my work I explore the way in which RAI members have attached meaning to the aesthetics of material culture. Major institutions I have visited to help me understand how to do this include the British Library, the British Museum, the Royal College of Surgeons’ Hunterian Museum, and the Wellcome Collection. I will seek to provide a description of the aesthetic ideals embodied in these places, and will also draw upon material from the 1910 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s, in particular the entries on the work and views of Thomas Huxley, Alfred Court Haddon, Henry Balfour, Grafton Elliot Smith, Sir William Flower, W. H. R. Rivers, Francis Galton and L. H. R. F. Pitt-Rivers. The paper will focus on the work of these key players, as they attempted to develop aesthetic agendas for these museums.

4.50        David Shankland, Director, Royal Anthropological Institute

Closing discussion

5.30        Royal Anthropological Institute Christmas Party

Location : Royal Anthropological Institute
50 Fitzroy Street
United Kingdom