Royal Anthropological Institute
Third conference on the History of Anthropology and the RAI 1918-1945


13th-14th December 2016 at the Royal Anthropological Institute

The third of our ‘history days’ at the RAI covers the period 1918-1945. A tumultuous period for the discipline, it marked the emergence of functionalist ethnography, anthropology’s division into sub-disciplines, and the decisive establishment of anthropology within the universities. Nevertheless, the RAI was at the heart of these developments in many ways, through its journals, lectures, committees, and growing Fellowship. This period also marked the expansion of our library, the launch of the IUAES and various attempts to seek a role for anthropology as an applied discipline.

Accordingly, we would seek now papers that cover any aspect of anthropology’s history at that time, but particularly as it may be relevant to the RAI’s fellows, project, committees, or publications. Without in any way wishing to restrict possible proposals for papers, possible areas of interest might be:

  • The role of learned societies between the wars, and the emergence of professional anthropologists.
    The RAI and Section H of the British Association of the Advancement of Science between the wars.
  • Text and the dissemination and growth of anthropological knowledge, particularly as is reflected in Man, and the JRAI.
  • The diversification of anthropology, and the creation of distinct sub-disciplines, with their respective intellectual and methodological trajectories.
  • Intellectual flows of knowledge, whether between the continent and the UK, or between the RAI and the countries of Empire, for example, the Indian Research Committee and the works of Sir Richard Temple.
  • Seeking ‘relevance’ and the relationship between anthropology, government and polity, such as the attempt to found a central bureau of anthropology, including the work of anthropologists employed by government, such as C.K. Meek in Africa, or J.H. Hutton in India.
  • Papers concerning leading RAI figures at that time, and their work: for example C.G. Seligman (whether pertaining to his fieldwork, or to his subsequent dream collection project); W.H.R. Rivers (for instance, his explorations of psychology before his untimely death in 1922 whilst he was RAI President); A.C. Haddon; J.L. Myres, or that of younger scholars such as A.B. Deacon (1903-1927) who died during fieldwork on Malekula (and whose papers have been placed on the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register).
  • Women and anthropology: for example, the life and influence of Edith Durham (RAI Vice-President) in the second half of her career, Adela Breton, or Dorothy Garrod.
  • Biological anthropology at the RAI: the blood group projects; the RAI and the question of Race, the efforts of Miriam Tildesley to encourage the standardisation of technique in Physical Anthropology.
  • The RAI’s work with other institutions: for example with museums through figures such as H. Balfour or T.A. Joyce, or with the Eugenics Society, British Psychological Society, or the Folklore Society (with which the RAI shared rooms at various points).
  • The place of archaeology in the RAI: for example through the work of Gertrude Caton-Thompson, and her excavations at Fayum), or the Swanscombe committee, or in influencing V.G. Childe, who was the RAI’s librarian before he took up an academic position.
  • The RAI in war-time – anthropologists at the service of their country 1939-1945.
  • Anthropology and the expansion of the RAI’s collections, whether in photography, film, archives or the library.

Proposals are welcome from those who are at the outset of their researches (for example conducting PhD research), as well as those more senior. The RAI’s archives are at the disposal of Fellows should they wish to conduct research toward the conference.

Proposals for papers should take the form of a title and a brief abstract (no more than 200 words), and be submitted by 1st October 2016 to We hope that papers will last for approximately 30 mins, followed by 10 minutes for questions.

The conference will take place at the RAI’s rooms, 50 Fitzroy Street, London. It is expected that paper-givers make their own travel arrangements, but is no conference fee, and refreshments will be provided. To book your place please go to
Location : Royal Anthropological Institute
50 Fitzroy Street
United Kingdom


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