HAR is pleased to announce a recent release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article (in English) about the Harvard-Irish Mission.
Byrne, Anne, 2022. “‘Observers of the Minutiae of Social Life’: A History of the Harvard‑Irish Mission (1930‑1936)”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
Led by American academics and endorsed by the Irish government, the Harvard-Irish Mission (1930–1936) to Ireland was composed of three strands, physical anthropology, archaeology and social anthropology. The Mission’s publications and archives remain a significant point of reference to those engaged in understanding social change and the deep transformation of the Irish economy, culture and society across the twentieth century. Continuing to excite public, professional and artistic attention, the Harvard-Irish Mission is the basis of interrogative scholarly work in Irish social anthropology, archaeology, physical anthropology and related academic disciplines such as sociology, history and geography. In Ireland, the professionalization of anthropology, sociology and archaeology are grounded in this history. The scholarly legacy of Family and Community in Ireland (1940) by American anthropologists Conrad Arensberg and Solon Kimball is evident in later writings and publications on community studies and anthropological methods, and it provides a rich theoretical and methodological resource for contemporary scholars of social and political change. This landmark monograph is based on the first modern social anthropological study to take place in Ireland, if not in Europe. Utilizing structural-functionalist theory and innovative field research methods, including qualitative interviews, Arensberg and Kimball’s influential ethnography stimulated debate and influenced anthropological inquiry for generations of Irish, US and European anthropologists. Moreover, artists, film, TV and radio documentary makers frequently revisit the Mission publications and archives to give expression to their engagement with and vision of historical and contemporary issues in rural Ireland. Film and radio productions evoke nostalgic ideas of Irish identity posited on the security of the past, the continuity of land ownership, the tie between, place, family home and farm while showing the fragmentation and disruption of the rural economy by forces of capitalist modernity. Arensberg and Kimball’s understanding of the traditional structure and the interpersonal relationships of the small farm family alerted readers to the forces of modernisation and change. While the family offered “strong resistance to slow assault,” they predicted that change would come from within the family structure itself (1940: 223). In this article resulting from a lifelong dedication to the subject, Byrne provides an essential introduction to the Harvard-Irish Mission with a primary focus on the background, fieldwork, publications, reception and legacy of the social anthropology investigation in Ireland.