Wandering anatomists and itinerant anthropologists: the antipodean sciences of race in Britain between the wars Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • AbstractWhile the British Empire conventionally is recognized as a source of research subjects and objects in anthropology, and a site where anthropological expertise might inform public administration, the settler-colonial affiliations and experiences of many leading physical anthropologists could also directly shape theories of human variation, both physical and cultural. Antipodean anthropologists like Grafton Elliot Smith were pre-adapted to diffusionist models that explained cultural achievement in terms of the migration, contact and mixing of peoples. Trained in comparative methods, these fractious cosmopolitans also favoured a dynamic human biology, often emphasizing the heterogeneity and environmental plasticity of body form and function, and viewing fixed, static racial typologies and hierarchies sceptically. By following leading representatives of empire anatomy and physical anthropology, such as Elliot Smith and Frederic Wood Jones, around the globe, it is possible to recover the colonial entanglements and biases of interwar British anthropology, moving beyond a simple inventory of imperial sources, and crediting human biology and social anthropology not just as colonial sciences but as the sciences of itinerant colonials.

publication date

  • 2015