The following is a transcript of a Powerpoint presentation given at the 2019 Annual Conference of the Folklore Society. It was devised in response to a call for papers that explored the relationship between “Folklore and the Nation.”
The blog represents the first results of a four year investigation of the “skull measuring business” in Ireland in the 1890s. That project was funded by the Irish Research Council and Shanahan Research Group in association with Maynooth University and the School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin.
The presentation develops ideas that were first presented to the Irish Conference on Folklore and Ethnology in Belfast in November 2018.
This presentation deals with ethnicity, nationalism and folklore, drawing on a forgotten anti-Imperial movement in British folklore. It begins with an anti-colonial speech delivered by Alfred Haddon in Ipswich in 1895. Haddon was aligned with the volkskunde wing of the folklore movement in Ireland and opened his speech by acknowledging nationalist efforts to disengage from political and economic union with Britain. Haddon entered anthropology through folklore, equating the destruction of native customs in subjugated territories with the loss of personal identity, ethnicity, and, ultimately, nationhood. Haddon spoke to Patrick Geddes and Havelock Ellis about reconstituting anthropology as a vehicle for radical anti-colonial activism. They were inspired by the anarchist geography of Kropotkin, the radical ethnology of Reclus, and the “Zeitgeist” of Gomme (FLS). This conference looks like the place to remember an engagement between Irish nationalists, English folklorists and stateless anarchists /ethnologists on the brink of Ireland’s exit from union with Britain.
The photograph above shows Alfred Cort Haddon [on the right], with Charles R.Browne [on the left] measuring Tom Connelly (Ó Conghaile). It was taken in 1892 during an ethnographic survey of the Aran Islands. The survey was undertaken by the Dublin Anthropometric Laboratory, which was established in Trinity College Dublin in 1891.
Francis Galton designed the laboratory and its main operating procedures. The Royal Irish Academy provided operational funding. Daniel J. Cunningham, Professor of Anatomy in TCD, provided the premises. Haddon was responsible for a programme of fieldwork that was undertaken in what he described as “ethnical Islands” in remote parts of the West of Ireland.
This image of Haddon measuring the skulls of Irish peasants encapsulates much of what has been written about his fieldwork in Ireland. The literature is – generally speaking – preoccupied with race bracketed by evolution and colonisation. It represents Haddon’s framing of “the Irish” as the antithesis of the cultural construction of nationality that was promoted by Douglas Hyde, the folklorist who set the agenda for cultural nationalism and republican separatism in the 1890s.
This presentation sets out to disturb this consensus with some awkward, little facts that have been gleaned from Haddon’s papers – mainly his journals of fieldwork in Ireland, his correspondence with Patrick Geddes and Havelock Ellis, and some key anti-imperialist statements written by him between 1891 and 1892.
These “facts” were used to test the relationship between, information, rhetoric and historiography in the context of organised science and the politics of ethnology, anthropology, and folklore in the 1890s.
The question here, is whether these “facts” can sustain an argument that Haddon incorporated anarchist ideas into the agenda of folklore collection in Ireland in the 1890s, an argument that complicates conventional treatments of the historical relationship between ethnicity, folklore, and nationality in the context of Ireland’s exit from the UK.
The presentation concludes with a look at Haddon’s collaboration with Clara Patterson, a zoologists turned folklore collector and photographer. This is used to demonstrate that Haddon the Head-hunter was, in fact, a politically radical and formally innovative folklorist.
3 Home Rule and Brexit
In this presentation I’ll be looking at the role that folklore played in the political and cultural arguments that were generated by home rule; the campaign to take Ireland out of political and economic union with Great Britain, which dominated Anglo-Irish relations in the the 1880s and 1890s.
There are some obvious parallels with Brexit. The Customs Union and a backstop for the Protestant minority in Ireland featured in the first Government of Ireland [home rule] Bill of 1886. That bill was defeated by the Conservatives supported by Unionists.
The difference are far more significant.
Ireland was a colony and the intertwined campaigns for home rule and land reform were confronted with “coercion” legislation and the mobilisation of imperial forces. Cultural forces were also mobilised in a debate about the compatibility of the Celt and the Anglo-Saxon in relation to nationality and governance.
Folklore collectors provided evidence of a pre-conquest nation that had survived in the edgelands of Empire in Ireland. Folklore, in this context, is generally treated as a resource for cultural nationalism.
I am not arguing with that. What I am proposing, however, is that there was a far more radical, anti-Imperial movement in Anglo-Irish folklore and that it was led by Haddon, the head-hunter.
4 Anglo-Irish Folklore
Haddon entered organised anthropology through the Folklore Society. In 1890, Gomme congratulated the Society on its capture of Haddon, who abandoned natural science and became an ardent folklorist. Gomme added that Haddon was pursuing his folk-lore work in Ireland and that he was expecting great things from him.
Haddon visited the Aran Islands for the first time and 1890. He wrote in his journal that they were the most remarkable islands he had ever visited. He spent a week documenting the islanders and their way of life. Haddon, it seems, had discovered a village community that had managed to escape the worst consequences of the Anglo-Saxon – his words – colonisation of Ireland.
Pyotr (Peter) Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist in exile in England, had used the idea of a village community to reject social-Darwinist arguments advanced by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1885. Huxley, it should be noted, was probably the most powerful public scientist in Britain at the time and was, in many ways, Haddon’s boss.
Havelock Ellis commissioned Gomme to write a book on village communities. Gomme acknowledged that the social organisation of some village communities resembled modern socialism. That claim has to be taken with some caution. It could be that the political commentary was insinuated by Ellis as editor of the volume.
Nevertheless, Haddon read Gomme’s book before visiting the islands and he informed Ellis that he had noted the influence of the zeitgeist.
In 1892, Haddon returned to the islands to conduct an “ethnographic” study of the inhabitants. The influence of both Kropotkin and Gomme is evident in the report that was published in 1893.
First, the introduction makes an historic distinction between race and ethnicity.
Second, the emphasis on the relation between race, place and political economy is consistent with Kropotkin’s work on the village communities, which Ellis had adopted as a key part of his political agenda.
In January, Haddon persuaded members of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club (BNFC) to undertake fieldwork on behalf of the Ethnographic Survey of the UK. He presented the survey of the Aran Islands as a model. The members agreed to collect folklore, but declined to undertake the measurement of peasant skulls .
In November , Douglas Hyde, the folklorist, gave a lecture at the BNFC on Celtic language and literature.
Hyde was followed by Haddon in January 1895. Haddon lectured on ‘Modern Relics of Olden Time’ and introduced a link between children’s games and savage dances.
As a result of these contrasting presentations, Hyde and Haddon have been linked in debates about the relationship between folklore, ethnology, and cultural nationalism / home rule.
5 Prof Haddon and Dr Hyde
In November 1892, Douglas Hyde delivered his lecture on ‘The Necessity of De-Anglicising the Irish Nation’ to the National Literary Society in Dublin. This lecture is widely acknowledged as a pivotal moment in the language-based, cultural movement associated with home rule and separatism.
The Gaelic league was founded in 1893 and a branch was establish in Belfast in 1896, directly as a result of Hyde’s visit to the BNFC. This has been interpreted as an equally pivotal moment in the separation of racial and cultural determinisms of nationality.
The key text is Greta Jones’s “Contested Territories,” published in 1998.
‘Haddon’s work in anthropology’ according to Jones ‘exemplifies the dominance of Darwinian evolutionary Anthropology’ and Haddon was ‘the Darwinian evolutionist par excellence’ who regarded ‘ anthropology as a form of cultural zoology.’
Jones quoted a piece written by Haddon in 1890, in which he described much of Folklore ‘as Psychological Palaeontology’. In 2017, Diamuid Ó Giolláin, in his introduction to the English-language edition of Irish Ethnologies quoted jones’ description of Haddon to illustrate significant differences between Haddon and Hyde and, by extension, between the practice of Victorian ethnology in Ireland and the cultural programme of Irish nationalists.
The problem here is that Jones misinterpreted Haddon’s original statement and the context in which it was made.
In 1890, Havelock Ellis asked Haddon to write a general study of anthropology. Ellis wanted to include it in the Contemporary Science Series, of which he was the editor. Haddon drafted a letter to Ellis and included a list of potential treatments. Haddon’s reference to “psychological palaeontology” is a reductionist representation of a theory of folklore, which attempted to situate the study of folklore within a scientific construction of anthropology.
This circumstance of the letter places Haddon’s comment in a really interesting context:
- Ellis was using the Contemporary Science Series to publish anarchist texts.
- He wanted to anchor the series in a general study of anthropology.
- Patrick Geddes recommended Haddon for the job.
Geddes met Haddon in Cambridge in the late 1870s. In 1890, he advised Haddon to become an anthropologist but warned him that the skull measuring business had been overtaken by a great scientific movement that was developing in France around radical approaches to comparative sociology.
File: Geddes to Haddon 1889
6 The Network
Geddes introduced Haddon to the writings of anarchist and geographer Pyotr (Peter) Kropotkin and radical ethnologist Élie Reclus. He also introduced him to Ellis. Haddon had become part of a European network of anarchists, socialist, feminists, and social reformers.
The photograph of the members of the Field Club Union is used to represent the network of folklore collectors that Haddon put together in Ireland, especially the women – key members of the network – for whom it was not possible to locate portraits online.
The fact that Haddon was associating with former communards and anarchists –men and women, whose characters were, according to Geddes, ‘disciplined by the disasters of 70-71’ – may seem a little far-fetched. Haddon and Geddes refer to Kropotkin and Élie Reclus in their correspondence. Furthermore, Haddon and Élisée Reclus participated in the Summer Meeting of Art and Science that was organised by Geddes in August 1895. Reclus gave a number of public lectures on Anarchy on his way to Edinburgh, in which he noted that there was plenty of scope for anarchy in the UK. These people – stateless anarchists and revolutionaries – were very much part of Haddon network in the early 1890s.
7 Clara patterson
Haddon built his own network in Ireland, drawing heavily of the folklore and field club movements, seen here gathered on the pier in Kilmurvey Bay in the Aran Islands in 1895.
He recruited Clara Patterson in January 1893. Patterson trained as a zoologist with Haddon and won a bronze medal in examinations conducted by Haddon under the auspices of the Society for the Extension of University Teaching.
The extension of university teaching was promoted by Geddes, Ellis, and Elisée Reclus as a means of empowering socially and politically marginalised groups. Gender equality was a priority area for political action and Haddon’s promotion of women is a matter of record.
In this context, it should be noted that Clara Patterson was not allowed to present her research on folklore to members of the BNFC. It was read by Francis Joseph Bigger, which was, as Guy Beiner noted, the practice in organisations like that. Haddon challenged such discrimination in 1890, when he arranged for Alice Shackleton to be the first woman to read a scientific paper to the Royal Dublin Society.
Haddon was a feminist.
Clara Patterson collected information on children’s games for Alice Gomme in 1893. Haddon persuaded her to take photographs and Patterson went up the hill to Ballymiscaw, a rural district in county Down, to get “instantaneous” photographs of peasant children playing “Poor Mary.”
in 1894, Haddon wrote about children’s games in his column in the The Irish Daily Independent. He proposed that singing games could represent the last vestiges of savage customs in contemporary society.
This may be interpreted as evidence of Haddon’s attachment to what Tabitha Cadbury called the discredited doctrine of “survivals.” That would not be entirely accurate. Haddon may have been using the rhetoric of “survivals,” but his intention was far more radical.
8 “Survivals” versus “Sympathetic Knowledge”
Haddon developed the concept of “sympathetic knowledge” and illustrated it by pointing out correspondences between the daily actions of people at the extremes of human kind. This shows how quickly he had incorporated Kropotkin’s ideas into his treatment of anthropological problems.
Haddon wrote “Incidents in the life of a Torres Straits islander” in 1889. It was the first of a series of overtly anti-imperial statements and actions. It included the following definition of “sympathetic knowledge”:
An intimate and friendly acquaintance with savages breaks down many prejudices, and while it often reveals modes of thought and traits of character which are all but incomprehensible to us with our specialized Aryan civilization, yet human nature is displayed at every turn, and common impulses and sympathies link the extremes of human kind.
Haddon was redefining the task of ethnographic representation in line with Kropotkin’s argument for increased access to geography in general education. The third, great task of geography was defined by Kropotkin as:
that of dissipating the prejudices in which we are reared with regard to the so-called ‘lower races’-
In 1891 Haddon incorporated these ideas into a radical critique of Imperial policy. It was rejected by the editors of a number of ‘monthlies’ before it was suppressed by Huxley in January 1892, on the basis that it would not be acceptable to the Government.
Nevertheless, Haddon presented his case at a packed meeting of the Anthropological Secton of the British Association in 1895. He delivered a speech on the subject of interference with the civilisations of other races. It was widely interpreted as an attack on the Empire and its missionaries.
Haddon had attacked both church and state and, in the process, he had confronted the political culture of organised anthropology, especially institutional ambivalence to the extermination of other civilisations. These hardly consitute the actions of someone engaged in cultural zoology.
9 The Malu Zogo te
Haddon returned to the field in 1898, when he organised the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait. He filmed a one minute sequence of the dance of the Malu Zogo Te, the islander who led an initiation ceremony on the Island of Kiam. It was the earliest known use of film as an ethnographic medium.
Haddon used a phonograph to record the islanders. A photograph of the recording session was reproduced in Head-hunters, Black, White and Brown, a narrative account of his fieldwork in Oceania that Haddon published in 1901. The photograph shows Ulai singing and Gasu on drums, while Myers acts as recording engineer. This recording does not seem to have survived, but other recording made on the day can be streamed on the British Library website.
Stills grabbed from Haddon’s film are strikingly similar to the photographs taken by Patterson in Ballymiscaw in 1893, providing a visually striking illustration of the “fact” that Clara Patterson and Haddon were involved in a joint folklore project that incorporated anarchist ideas and constituted a form of anti-racism activism.
If we regard folklore as the practical wing of ethnology – as practiced by Haddon – then we really need to rethink our attitude to (1) his ethnological fieldwork in Ireland and (2) his engagements with cultural nationalists like Douglas Hyde.
10 Some Conclusions
Haddon was an internationalist, whose politics were shaped by (1) a philosophical understanding of the essential unity of the human species and (2) his experience of the devastating effect of colonialism in Ireland and the Torres Strait.
Haddon used photography to materialise ‘the common impulses and sympathies [that] link the extremes of human kind.’ He used the experience of that material to persuade his folklore collectors to look beyond the local and embrace the essential unity of human kind.
Whereas Hyde sought to define nationality through the particularity of folklore, Haddon sought to use the universality of folk traditions to confront ethnocentricity at home and its consequences for other civilisations overseas.
This was one half of Haddon’s most radical innovation. The other half was the application of revolutionary audio-visual technologies to the task of making the those civilisations meaningful at home.
Beiner, Guy, 2012, Revisiting F. J. Bigger: A “Fin-de-Siècle” Flourish of Antiquarian-Folklore Scholarship in Ulster. Béaloideas, 80, 142-162.
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Gomme, G. L.,
1890, The Village Community, with Special Reference to the Origin and Form of its Survivals in Britain (The Contemporary Science Series). New York: Scribner
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