HAR is pleased to announce the latest release from BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology: an article, in English, on understudied writer and ethnographer Mary Edith Durham.
Delouis, Anne Friederike, 2022. “From Travel Writing to Anthropology and Political Activism: A Biography of Mary Edith Durham, an Early Ethnographer of Southeastern Europe”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.
Mary Edith Durham (1863-1944) deserves recognition as one of the first and most versatile ethnographers of Southeastern Europe. Trained in the visual arts, Durham initially visited Montenegro and adjacent countries with a view to sketching landscapes and picturesque scenes. She soon developed a keen interest in the traditions and practices of various population groups, and published several book-length travelogues. Anne Friederike Delouis proposes that her ethnographic method is best described as ‘itinerant’: rather than staying with a community for a longer time, she travelled from one village to another, thus establishing a basis for comparison and generalization. Her research interests ranged from kinship and religion to oral tradition, medical practices, and intergroup conflict. She took hundreds of photographs, recorded traditional songs,
and collected a vast array of artifacts. Through her collecting activities, Durham came to the attention of established British anthropologists, was invited to join the Royal Anthropological Institute, and eventually served as its first woman vice president.
Durham is still widely regarded as an authority on the society and politics of early twentieth-century Albania. In the field during the Balkan Wars, Durham organised hands-on humanitarian relief, often endangering her safety and health in the process. Largely self-taught as an anthropologist, she refrained from engaging in debates on theory in her adoptive discipline. Conversely, she held strong political views on Southeast European geopolitics and lobbied fiercely for the causes she supported.