The following is an abstract of a PowerPoint presentation that I gave at the 2019 Annual Conference of the Folklore Society. I devised the piece in response to a call for papers that explored the relationship between “Folklore and the Nation,” taking the format from a slideshow on photography and folklore that Haddon presented in 1895.
This presentation represented 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.
Folklore and nation in Britain and Ireland (forthcoming)
This presentation has been reworked for the opening chapter in an exploration the relationship between folklore, folklife and unions in Folklore and nation in Britain and Ireland edited by Carina Hart and Matthew Cheeseman and due for publication by Routledge, Taylor and Francis in 2021.
I also developed the themes explored in this presentation as part of my docctoral research into the skull-measuring business in Ireland in the 1890s, which was incorporated as the Dublin Anthropometric Laboratory, a Eugenics facility that opened in TCD in June 1891.
At the same time however, an unlikeley confederation of utopians, anarchists and social reformers used folk-lore – they used the hyphenated version – to challenge the dominance of anatomical anthropology and the scientific-racism that underpinned much of it. That conflict is one of two main themes that I explore my thesis.
The other is Haddon’s pioneering use of photography, which, combined with a radical feminism, led to a photographic collaboration with Clara Patterson, a member of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club, who documented the games that children played in rural districts in County Down, Ireland.
I completed my research in June 2020 and was awarded a PhD by Maynooth University in September. The combination of anarchist-influenced social reform, folklore and photography is explored in Anarchy in the UK: Haddon and the anarchist agenda in the Anglo-Irish folklore movement in Hart and Cheeseman’s collection of essays.
I present a radical new version of the early history of organised anthropology in Ireland and the UK, which explores many of the issues thrown up by the Black Lives Matter movement and humanitarian campaigns like Tribal Voice.
My intention is simple enough: to rattle the skeletons in the anatomist’s cupboard and use this study of race in an historical context to create a scientifically robust platform to challenge racism in a contemporary context, creating an interface between academic anthropology and civil society activism by employing a range of public engagement strategies. This blog is one of those strategies.
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