Ciarán Walsh represented Maynooth University and the School of Medicine TCD at a workshop on the history of the Royal Institute of Anthropology of Great Britain and Ireland. The workshop was held in preparation of volume 2 of the history of the Institute, which will deals with the period between 1871 and 1918. It was held over 2 days in the Institute in London.
DEFINING FIELDWORK IN CONTEXT
Fellows of the Institute presented 17 papers on diverse topics. These included David Shankland, Director of the Institute, whose paper on the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences addressed the developing institutional and, in a sense, regulatory role of the institute in an international context. Dr Jocelyne Dudding of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge – with whom Walsh has worked on the Haddon photographs – presented a comprehensive summary of Haddon’s heterodox practice. Also present were Dan Hicks of the Pitt Rivers Museum whose work on “time bombs” in archives and their capacity to disrupt conventional narratives I have used. Alison Petch also presented a paper. Her work on the Ethnographic Survey of the UK is essential to understanding Haddon’s early ethnological experiments in Ireland. Joan Leopold’s work on Tylor and the British Association confirmed that Section H of the Association was, effectively, the operational wing of the Institute. The issue of regulation and expertise was central to Paul Basu’s treatment of the W. N. Thomas “controversy.” Likewise with Prof Chris Fuller’s treatment of Risley and Cooke who, as members of the Indian Civil Service, engaged in fieldwork. Both papers begged the question as to how good practice is defined, by whom, and to what purpose. They also addressed the tension between disciplinary construction of ethnographic fieldwork and colonial administrators’s attitudes to ethnographic data. Finally Jason Troublefield’s paper on the exhibition of six African pygmies in London in 1905 shed an uncomfortable light on role of the human specimen in physical anthropology in the Britain, an issue that jars with contemporary emphasis on the emergence of social anthropology during the same period.
Ciaran Walsh addressed the elusive and contested meaning of fieldwork/ethnography during a crucial decade in the mise-en-scène of “modern” anthropology in his paper Defining Fieldwork. He looked at institutional efforts to discipline and to regulate the collection of data that were used to construct anthropological accounts of so-called savage peoples. This involved “black boxing” Haddon: using primary sources to interrogate his role in the Irish Ethnographic Survey and to ask if, at the end of the day, he was anything other than a craniologist: despite his reputation as a well-loved, heteredox, and innovative anthropologist. The paper drew on evidence from Cambridge, London, and Dublin to explicate differences that arose between Haddon and Cunningham over the definitions of fieldwork during the Irish Ethnographic Survey.
Defining Fieldwork opened with a discussion of Charles R, Browne’s photograph of Tomás Ó Criomhthan – the “white” savage and author of An tOileanch (1934) – that was taken by Charles R. Browne in 1897 during a survey of the Blasket Island and Dún Chaoin in the Southwest of Ireland. It examined how this representation of the essential “islander’ was transformed from folklore – read socio-cultural anthropology – informant to anthropometric specimen in the space of 5 years. This transformation was then used as a basis to pose the following questions:
(a) was the oppression of deductive methodologies – social anthropology – in favour of an inductive praxis based on measurement – physical anthropology – an effect of the institutional definition of fieldwork/ethnography?
(b) if that definition was produced by institutional politics within the Anthropological Institute between 1891 and 1903 (the Royal was added to Anthropological Institute in 1907)?
The paper lead to a lively debate about Haddon and craniometry. The proposition that Haddon was “merely” a craniologist was regarded as too reductive, despite documentary evidence that British Anthropology was dominated by a very limited understanding of physical anthropology.
The debate continues.