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    The Skull Measuring Business: Some Murderous Little Facts from the Forgotten Spaces of Anthropology in Ireland

    Walsh, Ciaran (2020) The Skull Measuring Business: Some Murderous Little Facts from the Forgotten Spaces of Anthropology in Ireland. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

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    The “skull measuring business” is a phrase that resonates with a particular view of Victorian anthropology as practised in Ireland in the 1890s. It captures the idea of English scientists travelling to the periphery of the United Kingdom to trace the racial origins of the “native” Irish at the height of the home rule crisis. Indeed, Patrick Geddes, the bio-social innovator, coined the phrase to describe a restricted form of Anglo-French anthropology that has become inextricably linked to eugenics, the theoretical precursor of scientific racism. Geddes was warning Alfred Cort Haddon that a radical approach to social organisation represented the future of anthropology. This study attempts to find out how Haddon responded, in view of the fact that he was photographed measuring skulls in the Aran Islands in 1892. It builds upon the discovery in 2013 and 2014 of “lost” documentary and photographic material in Dublin and Cambridge. This triggered a review–an “Irish” reading–of Haddon’s papers, concentrating on mostly uncatalogued material relating to his experimental ethnographical surveys of ethnical islands in the west of Ireland. It became clear that the facts uncovered contradict conventional accounts of the skull measuring business; narratives that are usually structured around evolution, race, and imperialism. Instead, Haddon emerges as an English radical and supporter of home rule. He built a network of folklore collectors that constituted an anti-imperial, Anglo-Irish folklore movement, which was aligned with the nationalist cultural programme of Douglas Hyde. That has been forgotten, overlooked, or misinterpreted. Furthermore, Haddon preferred photography to text and his use of the magic lantern as an instrument of anti-colonial activism represents a singular modernist achievement in anthropology. Ironically, this has remained invisible to many historians of disciplinary anthropology. This thesis attempts to correct this by killing some anthropological tropes and creating space for alternative narratives.

    Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
    Keywords: Skull Measuring Business; Murderous Little Facts; Forgotten Spaces; Anthropology; Ireland;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Anthropology
    Item ID: 16850
    Depositing User: IR eTheses
    Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2023 14:28
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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