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Raymond Firth in the Antipodes: A ‘Capacity for Organising and Administration as well as First-Rate Anthropology’

Geoffrey Gray

University of Queensland

Christine Winter

Flinders University

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Gray, Geoffrey & Christine Winter, 2021. “Raymond Firth in the Antipodes: A ‘Capacity for Organising and Administration as well as First-Rate Anthropology’”, in Bérose - Encyclopédie internationale des histoires de l'anthropologie, Paris.

URL Bérose : article2477.html

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Publié dans le cadre du thème de recherche «Histoire de l’anthropologie en Australasie (1900-2000)», dirigé par Geoffrey Gray (University of Queensland).

Raymond Firth ‘is remembered today principally as an area specialist and by historians of the discipline as an ‘organization man’. [1] This doesn’t discount his importance as an economic anthropologist, particularly his ‘work on non-industrial economies’. Indeed British anthropologist Maurice Bloch credits him with ‘single-handedly’ creating ‘a British form of economic anthropology, which is still thriving’. [2] John Davis, in an obituary for the British Academy, described him as an ‘organisation man from the 1930s, both in his theory and in his administrative activities. … In administration he was a consistent and fair-minded advocate for anthropology at home and abroad’. [3] It is this aspect – a consistent and fair-minded advocate for anthropology – that we pursue by examining his place in the establishment and development of anthropology in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. It is a persona that is clearly seen after WWII. There were hints before then, such as his role in putting the needs of the institution ahead of personal friendship in enabling Adolphus Peter Elkin to succeed him as professor at Sydney in 1932.

Firth was consulted over all senior academic appointments in the Antipodes between 1946 and 1965 during this crucial foundation and consolidation time for academic anthropology in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. [4] He promoted mostly graduates from the LSE, especially those from the Antipodes. An unexpected consequence was that through these appointments he introduced new ways of thinking about the discipline that contrasted with that existent in Australia before the war, which is evident, particularly, in the appointments of Siegfried Frederick Nadel and John Arundel Barnes. [5] Grown and nurtured in the Antipodes, we argue, his Southern sensibilities remained throughout his career, and allowed him in turn to bring fresh approaches to anthropology in the Antipodes.

Beginnings in Australasia

Raymond William Firth was born in Auckland on 25 March 1901. [6] His English-born father, Wesley Firth, a builder, had arrived as a thirteen-year-old, while his mother, Mary nee Cartmill, was born and raised in Auckland. After attending a local primary school, he went to Auckland Grammar School. He enrolled in economics at Auckland University College, a constituent college of the University of New Zealand. [7] His university education was supported by the Senior National Scholarship scheme. He completed a BA in Economics, whilst also reading courses in English and chemistry. His MA, ‘The Kauri Gum Industry’ (1924), was in economics and history. It ‘took him into the Far North and into the predominantly Māori communities of the time’. Uncommon for an economics thesis he interviewed people about their lives and work. He also learnt some Māori. William Anderson, professor of philosophy at Auckland, pushed Firth’s interests in Māori beyond the descriptive and towards the anthropological.

Initially he planned to do an economics thesis concentrating on the frozen meat trade, but he decided to undertake a number of courses in anthropology while writing up his thesis. Already familiar with Malinowski’s work in the Trobriands he decided after six months to abandon economics to begin his career in anthropology under Bronislaw Malinowski. [8] He was Malinowski’s first student to successfully complete his doctorate. ‘Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Māori’ was completed in 1927 and published in 1929. He recalls that his own observations in the field, “although very scattered, very fragmentary, were part of it, but mainly it just was the amount of literature on the Maori in New Zealand, and I worked at the British Museum Library – seat L5 – for something like three years !’ [9]

He had been awarded, in 1928, a Rockefeller Foundation (the Laura Spellman Memorial Fund) funded research fellowship by the Australian National Research Council. Until 1930 there were no equivalent resources for research in the British empire. ‘As a result, Sydney became a center from or through which field research was carried on, not only in Australia, but through the area,’ Melanesia and Oceania. [10] He and Reo Fortune, a fellow New Zealander who was at Cambridge, had discussed going to either Rennell Island or Tikopia, Polynesian outliers. Rennell was Firth’s initial choice. [11]Rennell was out as H. Ian Hogbin, Radcliffe-Brown’s student, was to undertake research there as part of a geological expedition. After further discussion and advice from Malinowski, Firth settled on ‘the Massim area, preferably Sudest or Misima in the Louisiades as yet almost unworked’. Fortune, however, deciding to work in Dobu (Tewawa Island), freed Tikopia. [12]

On his way to Tikopia, Firth stopped over in Sydney, where he first met A. R. Radcliffe-Brown and Ian Hogbin ; soon after he left for Auckland, returning to Sydney in mid-April, 1928, to prepare for a year on Tikopia. [13] In mid-May Firth and Hogbin left Sydney on the Burns Philp steamer SS Malaram for Tulagi, the capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (BSIP), now the Solomon Islands. Travelling on the mission boat Southern Cross, Hogbin was put down on the coral atoll Ontong Java, and Firth went onto Tikopia. [14] In August 1929 Firth, having spent 52 weeks on Tikopia, returned briefly to Sydney via Brisbane before departing for Auckland to see his family.

Bernard Deacon, slated to be lecturer in Radcliffe-Brown’s fledgling department, had died of blackwater fever in Malekula in the British and French Condominium of the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu. This led to Radcliffe-Brown taking on all teaching and supervisory commitments for 1927. Little wonder that he described it as ‘one of the busiest years of my life’. [15] Cambridge graduate Camilla Wedgwood filled the vacant position the following year. Firth replaced Wedgwood in 1930. [16] There were few professional opportunities across the Tasman Sea.

There was no formal anthropology in New Zealand other than a certificate in anthropology offered at Otago University, Dunedin in the South Island. It was for one year and focused on museum and archaeology studies. A diploma in social science was offered at Auckland but anthropology, such as it was, was largely left to the museums. There were other attempts to introduce a cultural focused anthropology particularly the Board of Māori Ethnological Research (BMER), established in 1923. [17] Its founders, Apirana Ngata and Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) were ‘sandwiched between two generations of New Zealand anthropologists ; between the amateur ethnologists who founded the Polynesian Society in the 1890s, Stephenson Percy Smith, Edward Tregear and Elsdon Best and the new generation of New Zealand-born, overseas-trained, anthropologists who came to the fore in the 1920s and 1930s’. Neither had any formal training in ethnology, in ‘our university days’ but they had ‘field experience that few, if any, ethnologists have been favoured with… . Neither the ethnologists of the old school like Peehi [Best] nor the younger generation like [Henry Dervish] Skinner … could tackle the things that you or I know to be of importance’. [18]

Indeed, as Conal McCarthy and Paul Tapsell argue, ‘this Māori-conceived, Māori-led and Māori-funded [board] effectively took over the management of anthropological research in Aotearoa/New Zealand and exerted considerable influence on related bodies : the Department of Native Affairs, the Dominion Museum (in Auckland), the Alexander Turnbull Library, and the Polynesian Society and its journal. It is a remarkable story of indigenous agency unparalleled in the history of museums and anthropology in settler societies’. [19]

Ngata, lawyer, land reformer, politician and scholar, saw the value of enlisting anthropology as a way of preserving Māori culture and more generally as part of the ‘armoury of colonial administration’. He, along with Buck, was ‘keenly interested in the government of native races’. [20] As a member of the government and its civil service, he had a practical need : ‘a function of government … was to discover and appraise “stubborn, conservative elements” of Maori culture, and “especially to judge whether in their nature they were detrimental to progress … or worth preserving in a modified form”’. [21] Māori had reached what Firth called the ‘phase of adaptation’, a problematic assumption for Ngata. [22] Ngata nonetheless praised Firth as a ‘competent ethnologist who brings to his study honesty of purpose and a sympathetic understanding of Māori people’. [23] Ngata could be critical of Firth’s work – ‘he had failed to penetrate the psychological strata of Maori life and thought’ – and he quoted Firth’s work extensively in his major report to parliament in 1931 on Māori land development. Despite these reservations Buck and Ngata entertained the possibility of encouraging Firth to implement Ngata’s proposal to ‘establish a department of anthropological field research which would later train officials in native affairs and islands administration’. [24] Ngata and Buck also read Felix Keesing with interest. He was at Auckland a year after Firth ; his interest was in the social and cultural background of Māori. His MA thesis The Changing Maori was published under the authority of the Board of Maori Ethnological Research. [25] It and his postgraduate study in Hawai’i was funded by BMER, at the instigation of Buck.

It was their custom to ‘regularly [discuss] their Pakeha protégés’ : first Skinner, Firth and Keesing, then Ivan Sutherland [at Canterbury University College] and later Ernest Beaglehole [at Victoria University College]. With the exception of Skinner, who could scarcely be described as a protégé, whom both Ngata and Buck disliked and treated to some particularly acerbic comments, their judgments tended to be equivocal. Indeed Skinner’s lack of Māori language skills and focus on material culture/archaeology set him apart. [26] Skinner produced descriptive rather than analytic accounts of Māori life. There is little doubt that Skinner did not attract the same interest as Firth, Keesing, Sutherland and Beaglehole. [27]

As historian Keith Sorrensen wrote : ‘Anthropology for Buck [Hiroa], as for Ngata, was no mere academic game, but was a necessary means of facilitating action in the field, in land development and in cultural regeneration’. [28] In the early 1930s Ngata’s endeavours were marred by criticism including a royal commission investigating financial irregularities. In the end with Ngata losing his position and Buck in Hawai’i, the BMER petered out. But their voice was not unheeded or lost. [29]

In Sydney, despite Rockefeller funding for research and subsidizing the chair, the financial crisis threatened the continuance of anthropology. It was a crisis made worse by Radcliffe-Brown deciding to leave for Chicago. In early 1929 he had written to Malinowski pointing out that as soon as Firth returned from fieldwork in Tikopia he would then see his ‘way to getting back to Europe. I should expect to see him succeed me here’. [30] It was to Chicago (initially for twelve months, it became five years), not Europe that Radcliffe-Brown was headed, and finally to Oxford in 1937 where he remained until his retirement.

At the end of 1931 the Rockefeller Foundation renewed its grant for a further five years. Research funding was assured until 1935 but the situation regarding future funding subsidizing the chair was not so clear. The Commonwealth, and the state governments, had indicated they were no longer prepared to fund the department to the extent they had. The states withdrew financial support with the exception of New South Wales but its grant was greatly reduced. [31] Without Commonwealth and state government funding, the Rockefeller subsidy for the chair would cease. These were dire times for anthropology. It was rumoured that the university ‘could not even guarantee Radcliffe-Brown’s salary’. [32]

Radcliffe-Brown had expressed great confidence in Firth’s abilities and saw him as ‘the only qualified man with the necessary special knowledge to plan research in the regions with which Sydney is concerned and to train students for the work in that region’. [33] When Firth was appointed acting head on Radcliffe-Brown’s departure, the financial future remained uncertain and the university was reluctant to commit itself beyond 1933. There was, despite the pessimism, a belief that Firth was the right person for the tasks ahead. It was confirmed by Wedgwood’s observation that Firth, she told Malinowski, combined a ‘capacity for organising and administration as well as first-rate anthropology, and such people are about as rare as icicles in mid-summer’. [34]

The Commonwealth government wisely sought detailed information on the anthropology department and its training courses, while it considered whether to continue funding the chair. In a memorandum entitled ‘On the Study of Anthropology in Australia and the Western Pacific’, Firth provided the first overview of the department since its foundation. [35] It had no immediate effect on the funding situation and the future of the department remained as uncertain as ever. [36] A further complication was that after little more than a year into the job, Firth requested 12 months leave to write up his Tikopia research at LSE under the supervision of Malinowski. Wedgwood pointed out to Malinowski that the situation at Sydney had taken its toll on Firth :

Raymond is very tired and I am devoutly thankful for his sake that he is going home. All this administrative work has taken up far too much of his time and it is to my mind rather surprizing how much he managed to get through. But six months or a year’s leisure to write should enable him to finish his first two books on Tikopia. [37]

Malinowski discussed with Firth the person best suited as Firth’s locum tenens. It had to be somebody who would not be ‘difficult afterwards to dislodge’ and an appointment ‘no longer than a year’, thus leaving the position open for Firth to return. [38] There was no opportunity for Wedgwood as there was a very strong anti-woman element in the University Senate, further compounded by her correct belief that a woman would not be acceptable to the men of the ANRC. [39] Ian Hogbin had recently completed a doctorate under the supervision of Malinowski, who declared himself to be ‘personally interested in [his] career and development’ ; Malinowski understood Hogbin was making ‘very good success’ as a lecturer and ‘developing in his theoretical grasp’ of anthropology. In short, he would be an ‘excellent [short-term] successor’. [40] Firth showing his ability to recommend a candidate best for the interests of the university and concomitantly not letting friendship interfere in his judgement, proposed Elkin, a forty-one-year-old ordained Anglican priest, and London University College-trained anthropologist as his ‘substitute’. [41] He considered Hogbin unsuitable to ‘handle the ANRC side of things’, aware administration was not one of Hogbin’s strengths. He added that ‘for a permanent appointment a man can take time to work himself into the research administration’ but Elkin was ‘equipped from the start’. Moreover, the deepening financial crisis made it essential to have someone with Elkin’s administrative abilities. [42] Elkin was well connected. He was on the Australian Board of Missions, the representative of the Bishop of Newcastle on the Sydney Anglican Diocese Council and had considerable administrative experience as rector of St James Church in Morpeth, northern New South Wales. [43] Firth, conscious of responsibilities not only to the department but also to Radcliffe-Brown, wanted to leave the department with a chance should the situation improve. He recommended to the university that Elkin take his position on an acting basis for twelve months.

The financial situation deteriorated and the University Senate presented Firth with an ultimatum : resign or stay. Twelve months leave was no longer an option. Even had he stayed his future was not assured. Firth resigned. On hearing of Firth’s imminent departure, Radcliffe-Brown wrote to Elkin, ‘distressed that Firth is leaving … and that the fate of the department is so doubtful’. He asked whether there was any chance that Elkin would take over and assured him of his support. [44] Firth left for London in December 1932. Elkin was appointed lecturer-in-charge with the task of overseeing the closure of the department. He spent three days at Sydney and the rest of the week at Morpeth, a country town in northern New South Wales. He was to accept no new students. [45]

The financial situation improved in late 1933. The university advertised the position of professor of anthropology for an initial five-year period. There were several scenarios raised, including the possibility of Radcliffe-Brown returning to Sydney or that Firth might be induced to return. [46] Firth did not apply. Elkin was informed on 22 December that he was appointed professor for five years from 1 January 1934. The opportunities for Firth were greater at LSE, and he was, as Charles Seligman told German anthropologist Paul Kirchhoff, ‘Malinowski’s pet pupil’. [47]

Firth recalls Sydney as ­­

‘… important for my aesthetic development and breadth of cultural understanding what I sometimes used to call the “golden years.” We were a cosmopolitan group of diverse interests, but we saw much of one another, dining together nearly every night at a Swiss restaurant, the Claremont Cafe, and having frequent parties at one another’s rooms. …. It was a lively, amusing period that no doubt helped to strengthen my feeling for the exotic.’ [48]

There was a dynamic conviviality that grew around the Sydney department. Radcliffe-Brown frequently ate with them. [49] These young anthropologists included Hogbin, Ralph Piddington, C.W.M. Hart, W.E.H. Stanner, the Americans W. Lloyd Warner and linguist Gerhardt Laves. Taught by Radcliffe-Brown, they were part of a cohort that developed a strong sense of themselves as emissaries of a new discipline. Piddington enjoyed the ‘solidarity … [during] the old days of the Group’, as he called them, their solidarity being increased by anthropology’s newness and hence its opposition to other ‘decaying disciplines’. These young anthropologists were on a journey to make a career in the new discipline of social anthropology. [50] Firth was a few years older ; he was thirty-one. On the cusp of his international career he was photographed, in 1932, by Sarah Chinnery, wife of EWP Chinnery, New Guinea government anthropologist : learned in front of his books, immaculately dressed, urbane with cigarette and cigarette etui in hand, and confidently holding the gaze. [51] Around this time Margaret Mead, then married to Reo Fortune and on the brink of leaving him for Gregory Bateson, observed that Firth was ‘an impossible little ex-Methodist bounder, petty pup in office… He’s just awful, although a pretty boy, with his mask on’. [52] Whatever charm revealed by Sarah Chinnery did not impress Mead.

With the exception of Warner, who briefly attended some of Malinowki’s seminars before arriving in Sydney, all of the Sydney cohort went on to attend LSE for doctoral studies in anthropology. Hogbin completed his doctoral studies in 1931. Malinowski arranged a position for Firth. Hart and Piddington arrived just before Firth, both funded by Rockefeller Foundation fellowships. Hart found work at Toronto and helped establish anthropology there. [53] Piddington, denied a position in Australia, worked for Firth as his research assistant, and later received funding through Firth to edit Essays in Polynesian Ethnology by Robert W. Williamson. He was appointed to Aberdeen University in 1938. [54] Theirs was a friendship that lasted throughout their lives. Other Australians such as Stanner arrived at LSE in 1937, soon after Phyllis Kaberry, another Sydney graduate. [55] Hogbin retained his friendship with Firth and took his sabbaticals at LSE.

The Australians had completed an MA with field experience. Their doctorates at LSE were, afterall, based on their Australian fieldwork. [56] There was no similar preparation for the New Zealanders ; they, too, had to leave to gain further academic qualifications and a career. Firth’s trajectory is atypical, as was that of fellow New Zealander Reo Fortune, who attended Cambridge. He had an MA from Auckland, a diploma in anthropology from Cambridge and completed his PhD at Columbia, New York in 1931. [57] As it was, those New Zealanders who attended LSE did so after the war. Only Felix Keesing attended LSE, between 1933 and 1934, when Firth was there. He had completed a DLitt at Auckland. Like Firth he was recruited to the intelligence services during the war ; in 1942 the Office of Strategic Services called him to Washington, D.C., where he worked with South Pacific materials and lectured to high-ranking naval officers on the cultures of the area. [58] Firth was attached to British naval intelligence, compiling Pacific island handbooks and maps.

By the end of the war Firth had replaced Malinowski as professor. He played a key role in helping to establish the Colonial Social Science Research Council (1944-45) and was its first Secretary. In part it was set up to provide an empirical base of knowledge for colonial development after the war. [59] In some sense it can be seen as a continuation of the project, ‘the Changing African’, developed by Malinowski, JH Oldham and Deidrich Westermann in the 1930s. Firth’s reputation had grown during the war. In 1947 he was recruited as one of four academic advisors to the Australian National University, his portfolio was establishing a Research School of Pacific Studies (RSPacS). [60]

Post War Expansion of Higher Education : Influence, Patronage and Power

Those British trained anthropologists who had established themselves during the interwar period are described by Adam Kuper as ‘the pioneers’. [61] Of those pioneers Raymond Firth, E.E. Evans-Pritchard and Daryll Forde stand out in the immediate post war period. Firth was made professor in 1944 ; Forde the following year ; Evans-Pritchard in 1946. They were dispensers of patronage ; they held ‘key positions on government grant-giving committees’ ; they held ‘the decisive voice in the appointment of staff and often in the choice of … graduate students’. They could ‘effectively withhold or grant promotions, leaves and other privileges, and his recommendation was crucial in any application for a research grant or for a position elsewhere. He was generally the only effective channel of communication with the university authorities and grant-giving bodies’. [62]

The post-war expansion in higher education, especially in Australia and New Zealand enabled Firth to exercise greater influence over academic appointments than either Evans-Pritchard or Forde in the Antipodes. [63] Firth appears to have exercised influence judiciously. He had a skill, recognised by Radcliffe-Brown in 1929, that exceeded mere administration, but aimed at orchestrating research in the region. Firth brought anthropological observation and analysis into the arena of academic politics. Part of his special skill was how he negotiated closeness and distance. He above the others was most entangled – he had taught most of the anthropologists seeking positions or they had been colleagues – but was able, so he claimed, and it was generally accepted, to stand apart from personal friendships and make recommendations which reflected the needs of the respective university. Evans-Pritchard and Forde were consulted over senior positions within the UK as well but Evans-Pritchard seemed somewhat disinterested at times, such as when asked to advise on a professorial appointment at the Australian National University (1957). [64] In spite of this apparent lack of interest, George Stocking contended that after the war Evans-Pritchard became the single most important figure in British social anthropology, dominating the profession both intellectually and institutionally. [65]

During the second half of the 20th century, a tension over its position intellectually and culturally permeated Australia ; the ‘cultural cringe’, conflicting desires of a fledgling nationalism to hold local culture and identity proud, and an undercurrent of doubt that handed admiration and worth to a Britishness that resided in the metropole. Firth managed to assuage this tension, by being both at the same time, Antipodean and at the centre of a metropolitan Britishness. In the Antipodes, Firth’s influence and authority was rarely challenged ; it reflected, in part, a desire to choose one of their own to advise on senior appointments. This was certainly a key factor in his appointment as an advisor to the fledgling Australian National University. [66] Firth had a cloak of Britishness by virtue of his professorship at LSE. Institutions in the Antipodes, especially before WWII, frequently sought advice from British scholars and frequently appointed British born scholars to university positions. [67] Firth operated successfully in these environments. As one colleague remarked, he ‘was the centre of power with major connections in corridors that mattered’. [68] The Aotearoa/New Zealand-born anthropologist Cyril Belshaw (1921-1918), who regarded Firth as a mentor – ‘I owe him a lot’ – saw him nevertheless as ‘manipulator number one … always done in an urbane and kindly manner’. Firth, he told one of us, ‘had come a vast way from being the initially brash but upwardly mobile acolyte of Malinowski. In the context of the cut-throat competition that was there when he gained the chair, that was quite an achievement’. [69]

There was hardly an academic position in the Antipodes between 1945 and 1970 in which Firth didn’t have some say : he was consulted over a proposed position, as an advisor : sometimes as a selection panel member (usually chair) making a recommendation, or as a referee for some of the applicants or breaking a deadlock of a local selection committee. This is not to say that his advice was necessarily accepted, although more often than not it was ; sometimes local competitors (gatekeepers) challenged or attempted to undermine Firth’s recommendations. Notably, when advising on a successor to Elkin at the University of Sydney he met opposition from Elkin himself. Elkin saw himself as the pre-eminent anthropologist of Australia (if not the region) and he had no compunction in interfering in the appointment of his successor, as well as the appointment of a foundation professor at Auckland University College and that of a senior lectureship in anthropology at the University of Western Australia.

Elkin took a personal interest in his favoured students and their advancement. He was a provider of patronage, a gift giver adept at withholding his bounty to those who crossed him as well as promoting his chosen students. [70] Firth sought a role different to that of Elkin. Unlike Elkin he protected no legacy and he was free to assist in making an appointment that best suited, in his view, the needs of the university. In short, Firth’s method was to take the institution, look at the individual, and explicate a fit that met the implicit criteria. [71] His skill shifted from the descriptive and analytic to the predictive. How would this person perform in the position in the structure of the institution ? He was able to write a personal report, for the selection committee ; often suggesting a short list which was usually adopted by the selection committee, including even those for whom he had acted as a referee. He seamlessly shifted to a new persona, disengaged from earlier actions, and turning instead to the selection committee as his primary concern as he set out the criteria by which one or more of the candidates were a fit for the university. Firth made assessments on the qualities he thought a professor and head of department required : accepting responsibility, providing intellectual leadership and having the ability to deal with the brightest students. The focus in the end was on ‘the fit’ of the applicant to the needs of the university. He did not always voice a choice, leaving that to the university selection panel. Despite personal entanglements he was able to overcome possible conflicts of interest. [72] To illuminate the way Firth went about this work, we discuss appointment of S. F. Nadel to the foundation chair of anthropology at the ANU and the appointment of R. O. Piddington to the foundation chair at Auckland University College.

In 1946 the Australian government enabled through legislation and funding the establishment of the Australian National University in Canberra, the capital. [73] The foundation of the ANU created a novel and prestigious Commonwealth-funded university dominated by research and interested in connections with politics and policy advice. An initial problem for the ANU and its academic advisors was finding suitable Australian applicants for senior academic positions. Thus the university sought to encourage the return of expatriate scholars, many of whom were part of the (interwar) brain drain to the United Kingdom. [74] To this end the interim university council appointed a London-based Academic Advisory Board consisting of eminent Australian scholars, Howard Florey (medicine), Mark Oliphant (physics), Keith Hancock (social science) and New Zealander Raymond Firth (Pacific studies). Each was expected to accept appointment as director of their specific schools once the university was formally established. In the event, only Oliphant stayed on to direct a school although Hancock returned in the mid-50s to direct the School of Social Sciences. [75]

One of Firth’s tasks was finding an anthropologist with the ‘right capacity and also with much first-hand acquaintance of Pacific problems’. It would be difficult. Firth considered suitable Australian candidates, including Elkin, but ‘someone rather different is needed at Canberra’. This left two Australian candidates : Hogbin (then reader at the University of Sydney) and Stanner (then director of the East African Institute of Social and Economic Research, Makerere College, Uganda), of which only Hogbin deserved ‘very serious consideration’. [76] Firth knew him well and had ‘a very great respect for his capacity’. But he would not, Firth felt, ‘be the best person to occupy the Chair of Anthropology, and be responsible for the ultimate standard of teaching and research’. He should be ‘offered a Readership in the new School, a Professor should be looked for elsewhere’. [77]

Firth had discussed the position with Evans-Pritchard, and they agreed ‘there were only two men in England, S.F. Nadel and M. Fortes, of the right calibre’. There was one other possibility, Audrey Richards, trained under Malinowski, academically accomplished and experienced in university and colonial administration. Her career at the time was exceptional given the paucity of women in senior academic positions and the impediments confronting them. [78] In Firth’s view Richards was ‘not only of high quality scientifically but also is deeply associated with anthropological research in the Colonial field’. [79] Hancock, who knew and liked Richards, was keen, if she could be persuaded. The unexpected resignation of Stanner as director of the Institute for Social Research at Makerere College in Uganda solved the issue. Richards was sounded out to replace him. [80]

Hancock, disregarding Firth’s preference for Nadel, supported Meyer Fortes. Nevertheless, he asked Firth to tell him ‘a little about Nadel personally – his parentage, education, age, character, etc ?’ [81] Firth provided a short biography that talked him up. [82] In May 1949 Hancock resigned from the Academic Advisory Committee. [83] Disappointed that Hancock had withdrawn, Firth urged the council to fill the positions in anthropology ‘as soon as possible’. He noted that a chair was being created at Liverpool, ‘and there was a chance that Nadel might be lost … unless the opportunity of securing him was seized at once’. Firth underlined the qualities Nadel possessed which he considered were necessary for such a position. He reiterated what he had told Hancock. Nadel, an ambitious man about 40 years old, was

relatively easy to get on with, and extremely able. Talks very freely but well with ideas. A very good knowledge [of] sociology and psychology … as well as in Social Anthropology and with a cultivated taste in the arts and an especially good knowledge of music… The theory in his publications is implicit rather than manifest, but he has an extremely good theoretical equipment. Very stimulating to students of all grades. [84]

Firth told the council that he could ‘think of no one better to occupy a new Chair in such an important field that demands high theoretical capacity’. As for his lack of experience in the Pacific he had no doubt Nadel would ‘remedy this very rapidly, and his comparative experience in Africa would be of the greatest value’. [85] He also recommended Oskar Spate, geography, and J. W.(Jim) Davidson, Pacific history.

Firth discussed with Nadel the conditions of employment in early November 1948, noting that formal duties would not begin until 1951. He described the position as ‘attractive — directing and doing research, and postgraduate teaching’. [86] He also informed Nadel of the probable appointments of Melanesianist H Ian Hogbin and Australianist W.E.H. Stanner as readers, telling him, that as they both have ‘knowledge of the Pacific field’ it would relieve him ‘of the initial burden, leaving… [him] free to plan the work of the anthropology department’. [87] Douglas Copland, Vice-Chancellor of the ANU, cabled Nadel formally offering the Chair ; Nadel accepted the following day. [88]

We have often wondered if Firth had an ulterior reason for pushing Nadel toward ANU. It seems to us that the answer lies in his personal relationship with Nadel. We have a hint of this when Firth declined the directorship of the RSPacS ; the ANU Vice-Chancellor asked Firth whether it had anything to do with Nadel. Firth assured him it was not Nadel, rather a decision he and Rosemary had made, but it revealed a tension between Nadel and Firth. [89] As Firth noted, Nadel had a sensitivity to ‘his professional status and with most decided opinions upon the best way to set up and organize academic institutions’. [90]

Nadel’s appointment addressed the lack of theory in Australian anthropology, but he had limited impact on Australian Aboriginalist anthropology. Stanner was critical of the Sydney department, especially its teaching and the journal Oceania. In his opinion both reflected a lack of interest in theory ; he was critical also of the ‘thin sociological studies of the Middletown type’ pursued by the department. He told Firth that ‘since you and Radcliffe-Brown left I can’t find one theoretical gleam’. [91] A view shared by Lester Hiatt, for example, an undergraduate student at Sydney in the early 1950s, who recalled that ‘what may have passed as modern theory in the dying days of Elkin’s regime was no longer regarded as the state of the art north of the Equator’. [92] At Sydney it was addressed by the appointment of John Arundel Barnes, who although developing network theory with Clyde Mitchell rarely invoked it when teaching his students ; one of his doctoral students recalled ‘in our four years of supervisorial relationship, I don’t think he mentioned Network Theory even once.’ [93]

Nadel arrived in Australia in February 1951. He had a detailed research agenda, which he developed with Firth and in discussions with anthropologists he met in the United States of America on his way to Australia. [94] Nadel proved to be an excellent fit for the ANU, and as Firth promised, developed a direction of research that encompassed the Pacific and wider region, even stretching to India. [95] Though Nadel died young, the parameters he set remained a strength at the ANU until the dismantling of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies around 2010.

At Auckland University College the situation was far from straightforward and like ANU the task was to establish a new department, which had first been proposed in 1937. [96] It was raised again in 1945 but deferred until the war had ended. At the end of 1946 there was a submission to the College Council that a lectureship in Māori language be created as ‘a step towards the later establishment of a chair in Māori and Polynesian ethnology’. The whole matter of the chair and its staffing was thus raised ; it was resolved that Ernest Beaglehole (Victoria University College, Wellington), H. D. Skinner (University of Otago), Raymond Firth (LSE), Sir Peter Buck (Bernice P Bishop Museum, Honolulu), Felix Keesing (Stanford University) and A. P. Elkin (University of Sydney) be invited to express ‘their views (in the form of a memorandum) to the proposed course’. [97] They were asked to advise on

Staffing requirement for School (number of members, status and technical assistants) ; Administration —including space for museum and laboratories ; Equipment ; Library ; Amount and kind of practical work required for each stage ; whether the study of Anthropology should be included as part of the B.Sc. Degree ; whether it is desirable or necessary to link the study of the Māori Language with that of Anthropology ; in what direction the study of Anthropology would be of benefit in the social studies of Māori people in relation to their future (Buck, Firth and Beaglehole) ; Relationship to Maori Welfare (Buck) ; Relationship to Civil Service Course in [the] Pacific (Firth and Elkin).

Only Beaglehole and Elkin provided detailed suggestions : staffing, course content and the relationship to New Zealand’s dependencies and the colonial Civil Service. Elkin and Firth strongly advocated a chair in Social Anthropology and advised how such a department could be staffed. Firth suggested one professor who ‘is a specialist in Social Anthropology, and who is prepared to apply himself to the study of the Pacific and in particular to Polynesian problems’. There were views on Māori studies and language. Archaeology and physical anthropology should be taught ; however, there was no shared vision but a view that these subjects need not be housed in anthropology. [98] There was consensus addressing ‘the problems of the Maori people, of the island peoples whom New Zealand has in its charge’. [99] Elkin was not in favour of teaching Māori. Felix Keesing did not reply.

After some prevarication the position was advertised. Applicants were advised that the School of Anthropology ‘shall provide for study in the whole field of Anthropology’. They were further advised that the staff ‘will include a lecturer in Maori and Polynesian languages and linguistics’. The appointment was initially for five years, ‘renewal thereafter indefinitely’. A London-based selection panel – Firth, Evans-Pritchard and Forde – was convened. The applicants were Ralph Piddington, W. R. Geddes, W. E. H. Stanner, Harry Hawthorn, Richard Taylor and Percival Hadfield.

Firth, as often happened was in a peculiar but not unusual position, being named as a referee by three of the candidates, Piddington, Stanner and Geddes. Firth not only encouraged Stanner to apply for the chair, [100] but also provided a glowing general assessment of Piddington, which was attached to Piddington’s application. [101] Geddes had recently completed his doctorate, supervised by Firth. Only Piddington and Hawthorn had current senior academic positions. Hadfield and Taylor were quickly eliminated. [102] When asked to provide a reference, Firth’s practice ‘on these occasions’ was to ‘act as a reference … on the understanding that I do not just write a glowing testimonial but give a frank estimate of [a candidate’s] capacities and qualities’. [103]

On 10 May the committee interviewed Piddington and Stanner. Hawthorn was considered in his absence. After carefully considering the ‘testimonials and letters of reference’ about Hawthorn, it ‘endeavoured to assess his qualifications as accurately as possible without the advantage of a personal interview’. While his ‘testimonials were good, his publications were diffuse and rather thin’, and he was ranked below Piddington and Stanner. Stanner lacked the interest and enthusiasm of Piddington, as well as experience in setting up a department, and his teaching experience was nugatory. The London committee summed up :

‘There is … some doubt in the depth of interest in anthropological scholarship as distinct from practical affairs, and his career suggests, as one member of the Committee put it, “he often goes to the starting post but does not always run.” On present anthropological publications, his record is somewhat weak. Dr Stanner is therefore an unknown quantity, while there is no doubt that Dr Piddington would do the job well if he could be attracted to the Chair.’ [104]

The panel recommended Piddington.

Unbeknownst to the London Committee, Elkin had been asked to provide his opinion on the candidates. [105] His views were contrary to those of the committee. Elkin’s report, with its impression of an insider able to comment on the abilities and qualities of the candidates albeit uncertain about the candidates other than Stanner and Piddington, is a conglomeration of hearsay, gossip, anecdote and fact, it was a deliberate misrepresenting of the qualities and abilities of the applicants, specifically against Piddington. He was dismissive of both Geddes and Hawthorn, even questioning the value of their doctorates. Despite a cunning veneer of restraint, it is a thoroughly dishonest document. [106] Elkin harboured a deep animosity towards Piddington since Piddington’s field research in Western Australia in 1931-32, that led to Piddington publicly criticising the treatment of Australian Indigenous workers. Elkin’s approach to state and commonwealth governments was circumspect, cautious and accommodating for the sake of access to field sites and a general containment and advancement of Indigenous people under anthropological guidance. [107] Elkin brazenly informed Auckland that Piddington’s Western Australian research had not been original, but plagiarised Elkin’s own field notes. [108] The upshot was that Auckland offered the position to Stanner. Why they believed Elkin’s judgement above the London committee’s is unclear as there is no paper trail in the archives at Auckland.

Stanner, not untypically, dithered. He wrote to Firth seeking his advice. Firth pointed out that if he accepted the Auckland position he would be better placed to seek a more attractive chair sometime in the future. [109] Perhaps he was thinking of Sydney. Stanner had made no secret that he expected to be Elkin’s successor at Sydney. Elkin had not dissuaded him. [110] Elkin was due to retire in 1955 which coincided with Stanner’s view that he would be ‘fully ready’ for a professorship in ‘a couple of years at least’. Stanner’s career had stalled ; the war and other things made it later than even I wanted to be’, he told Elkin. [111]

Firth’s recommendation had gained Stanner his first position of leadership in anthropology as director of the Institute for Social Research at Makerere College in Uganda in 1947. He resigned after little more than a year, leaving Firth annoyed. [112] Stanner notified Auckland that he was declining their offer. They immediately turned to Piddington.

Piddington wrote to Firth toward the middle of November thanking him ‘for all you did to secure this appointment for me and for your invaluable preliminary guidance. Thanks to your introductions, I have made very pleasant contacts’. Moreover, he was grateful that Geddes had accepted the lectureship that he understood was on the basis of Firth’s insistence. He introduced Māori language, appointing Bruce Biggs, and later Jack Golson to archaeology. He arranged for Biggs to do his doctoral studies at Indiana university, and he encouraged and supported Mahataia Winiata to undertake postgraduate studies at Edinburgh University. [113] In Edinburgh he worked under Kenneth Little, and later studied, briefly, at the LSE under Firth. He and Biggs were the first Māori to gain their doctorates overseas. [114]

The remarkable aspect of the appointment process for the Auckland chair is not Firth’s initial recommendation that rated Piddington as the best candidate to fit local needs, or Elkin’s dishonest and spiteful attempt to thwart Piddington, nor Stanner’s self-destructive vacillation between longing for and fearing responsibility. The remarkable element for us is Firth’s advice to Stanner to accept the chair. In the wider scheme, this advice undermined Firth’s assessment for Auckland University College. But he was responding to Stanner who asked what he should do. His advice was made solely with Stanner’s career in mind. It is here that we see a peculiar approach of Firth’s, which we might call a compartmentalisation of his allegiances. As a final observation Stanner was already earmarked for a position at ANU. This was his fallback. It took another fifteen years before he was made professor, in 1964.


Firth oversaw the institutional emergence and consolidation of social anthropology in the Antipodes. He was there at its birth, when he was at the University of Sydney under Radcliffe-Brown. After a brief time as head of department, he enabled Elkin to succeed him. On his return to LSE he witnessed, and was a participant in, a discipline that was increasingly confident of itself and as opportunity arose he moved into higher and more authoritative positions. Importantly, he had the support of Malinowski although LSE was increasingly focussed on British Africa rather than the South West Pacific. He was offered the LSE chair in 1944 but did not take it up until December 1945. From there his influence spread and his reputation for balanced and thoughtful advice on teaching anthropology and appointments to senior positions was recognised outside of the British Isles. After the war he was critical in making the senior foundational appointments at the ANU, and the University of Auckland. He oversaw Elkin’s replacement and subsequently, for Barnes in 1957, at Sydney. He was consulted, in 1955, over anthropology at the University of Western Australia. His advice was sought, in 1963, by Monash University over establishing a department of anthropology.

Firth retired in 1968. His retirement coincided with the decade that saw a major expansion of anthropology across both Australia and New Zealand, yet he was sidelined for much of that post-1968 period as an authoritative figure able to advise and recommend. [115] The universities used local selection panels, such as the ANU when in 1964 it offered a second chair to FJ Bailey. He declined. Firth quickly advised Stanner, by now close to retirement, to apply. It was a final gesture to an old friend that ensured he was appointed. And it wisely took into account Stanner’s predicament to prefer being second to accepting real responsibility.

Firth’s focus was on ‘the fit’ of the applicant matched to the needs of the university. His appointments were free of theoretical considerations outside that of the ANU. He knew or had taught most of the applicants. Despite such entanglements he was able to overcome, or rather compartmentalise, possible conflicts of interest. On the other hand, not all appointments he recommended were met with satisfaction. For example, when he was consulted over appointments to the University of British Columbia, Cyril Belshaw told one of us that Firth’s choices were unsatisfactory : ‘He recommended with flowery language two people to my department when I was recruiting. One turned out to be pompously hopeless and the other, while doing some fairly good work, earned a reputation for manipulating women students to recruit them to feminist ideology in a rather extreme way’. [116] While Belshaw had a personal axe to grind, there is some merit to his assessment. At times Firth did not have the institution’s best interest at heart, but individual academics longer-term careers, and, more importantly a chess board of British-Anglo anthropology appointments in Britain, its dominions and spheres of influence. He oversaw the development of the discipline on a grand scale, while paying close attention to local differences and needs. Was his eye sharpened by the place Ngata and Buck attempted to crate for anthropology ? Did the fleeting power of Sydney as a regional centre allow him to analyse and utilise a potential for LSE and his role in it ? A Southern sensibility, we claim, permeated his politics, that ensued universality and recognised difference and locality. He also trusted the locality to draw in the anthropological researcher. The Pacific, as in the case of the ANU, or Māori studies and linguistics, would grow on the respective scholar. This is a reversal to the idea that expertise of a specific locale or culture was a pre-requisite. This, too, we see as a Southern sensibility.

[1Freddy Foks, 2020. “Raymond Firth, Between Economics and Anthropology”, in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris.

[3J. H. R. Davis. “Raymond William Firth 1901-2002”. Proceedings of the British Academy 124, 2004, 88 (71-88).

[4We have drawn on Geoffrey Gray and Doug Munro, “Australian Aboriginal Anthropology at the Crossroads : Finding a Successor to A. P. Elkin, 1955”, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 22 (3), 2011, 351-369 ; Geoffrey Gray and Doug Munro, ‘Leach would be first rate – if you could get him : Edmund Leach and the Australian National University, 1956’, History Compass, 10/11, 2012 : 802-811 ; Geoffrey and Doug Munro, ‘Establishing anthropology and Maori language (studies), Auckland University College : the appointment of Ralph Piddington, 1949’, in Regna Darnell and Frederic W Gleach (Eds.), Histories of Anthropology Annual, Volume 7, Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2012 : 49-82 ; Geoffrey Gray and Doug Munro, ‘The Department was in some disarray’ : the politics of choosing a successor to S.F. Nadel, 1957, in Regna Darnell and Frederic W. Gleach (Eds.), Histories of Anthropology Annual, Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2014 ; Geoffrey Gray, A Cautious Silence ; the politics of Australian anthropology, Canberra, 2007.

[5Jana Salat, Reasoning as Enterprise, Edition Herodot, 1983 ; Barnes, like Nadel an Africanist, was taught and mentored by Isaac Schapera, Max Gluckman, Meyer Fortes, EP Evans-Pritchard and Daryll Forde. Barnes had a research fellowship at Manchester, followed by a Readers’ appointment at LSE.

[6A fuller account of Firth’s early life in New Zealand, see Patrick Laviolette, Mana and Māori culture : Raymond Firth’s pre-Tikopia years, History and Anthropology, 2020 ; also J. H. R. Davis. “Raymond William Firth 1901-2002.” Proceedings of the British Academy 124,2004, 71–88.

[7Auckland, Victoria University College (Wellington), Canterbury (Christchurch), and Otago (Dunedin).

[8M Freedman (ed.), Social Organization. Essays presented to Raymond Firth, vii-ix. London : Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. 1967, viii.

[9Paul Thompson, University of Essex, Department of Sociology : ’Interview with Raymond Firth’ in ’Pioneers of Social Research, 1996-2018’ 4th Edition, UK Data Service [distributor], 2019-04-08, SN:6226, Para. 1-1234.,

[10George W Stocking Jr, After Tylor. British Social Anthropology 1888-1951, University of Wisconsin Press, 1995, 340. See also Geoffrey Gray, A Cautious Silence. 2007 including appendices ; ‘Dividing Oceania : transnational anthropology, 1928-30’, in Regna Darnell and Frederic W Gleach (eds.), Histories of Anthropology Annual, Volume 6, Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2010, 48-65.

[11Radcliffe-Brown to HE Gregory (Bernice P Bishop Museum), 2 April, 1928. Elkin Papers (University of Sydney) hereafter EP : 164/4/2/12. Richard Feinberg and Richard Scaglion, Introduction : The Polynesian Outliers, in Richard Feinberg and Richard Scaglion, (eds.), Polynesian Outliers : The State of the Art, Ethnology Monograph 21, University of Pittsburgh, 2012.

[12Firth to Radcliffe-Brown, 21 September 1927. Archive of Sir Raymond Firth, British Archive of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics. FIRTH7/10/4. Radcliffe-Brown told HE Gregory of the Bernice P Bishop Museum in Honolulu that ‘Firth being a New Zealander is already well qualified in Maori and general Polynesian ethnology’. Radcliffe-Brown to HE Gregory, 2 April, 1928. EP : 164/4/2/12.

[13This is not pertinent to this essay but the purchase of stores not only foodstuffs and such like but items for exchange (especially cultural items) and purchase (food and cultural items) are also included.

[14Hogbin to Radcliffe-Brown, 20 May 1928. EP : 159/4/1/49. Besides Law and Order (1934), Hogbin wrote a number of scholarly articles on Ontong Java. For Hogbin’s career, see Firth wrote several important ethnographic monographs on Tikopia. See, for example, We, the Tikopia : A Sociological Study of Kinship in Primitive Polynesia (1936) ; Primitive Polynesian Economy (1939) ; The Work of the Gods in Tikopia (1940). He made two subsequent visits, 1952 and 1966.

[15Radcliffe-Brown to Robert Lowie, 3 July 1928, EP, 41/17.

[16Wedgwood had been at LSE with Firth, Edward Evans-Pritchard, Hortense Powdermaker and Isaac Schapera ; Of this young cohort who found themselves in Sydney, only Reo Fortune and Raymond Firth were born in Australasia, Hogbin came to Australia as a child. She was also an external and viva examiner of Hogbin’s PhD thesis.

[17Board of Maori Ethnological Research, The Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 32, No. 4(128) (December, 1923), 253-254. Conal McCarthy and Paul Tapsell, Te Poari Whakapapa : The Origins, Operation And Tribal Networks of The Board Of Maori Ethnological Research 1923–1935. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 128 (1), 2019, 92 (87–106).

[18M. P. K. Sorrenson, ‘Polynesian Corpuscles and Pacific Anthropology : the home-made anthropology of Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 91 (1), 7 (7-27).

[19McCarthy and Tapsell 2019, op. cit., 88.

[20Sorrenson, op. cit., 1992, 17. Information on many of the individuals referred to in this article may be gleaned from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

[21Apirana Ngata (ed.) 1931. “Māori Land Development.” Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatives. Wellington : Government Printer, 1931, 1-21.

[22Raymond W Firth. Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Māori. Wellington : R.E. Owen Government Printer. 1929

[23Ngata, op. cit., 1931, 8.

[24Cf. I. C. Campbell, Staffing Native Administration in the Mandated Territory of Samoa. New Zealand Journal of History, 34, 2 , 2000. 276-295. Cf . The University of Sydney training colonial officials in anthropology.

[25Felix Keesing, The Changing Maori, New Plymouth, Printed by Thomas Avery, 1928 [Memoirs of the Board of Maori Ethnological Research Vol. 4].

[26McCarthy and Tapsell, op. cit., 2019, 128 (1), 92 .

[27Oliver Sutherland, Paikea. the life of I.L.G. Sutherland. Christchurch. Canterbury University Press.2013, 152.

[28MPK Sorrenson ‘Buck, Peter Henry’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012 URL :

[29See Gray and Munro, op. cit., 2011.

[30Radcliffe-Brown to Malinowski, 2 January 1929. NLA, MS 482, 850 (c).

[31Memo, Prime Minister’s Department, 7 April 1932, NAA : A518, P806/1/1, Part I ; Mitchell (Premier of Western Australia) to Robert Wallace (Vice-Chancellor, University of Sydney), 13 June 1931, SROWA : ACC 653, 120 ; Memorandum, Prime Minister’s Department. 30 November 1932, NAA : A518, P806/1/1, Part II.

[32Stanner to Firth, 8 August 1956, FIRTH8/5/8.

[33Radcliffe-Brown to Malinowski, 2 January 1929 ; Radcliffe-Brown to HG Chapman (hon. Treasurer, ANRC), 24 December 1931, ANRC Papers, NLA, MS 482, file 850 (c).

[34Wedgwood to Malinowski, 25 December 1931 (provided from the Malinowski Papers at the Yale University Library by Michael Young). Wedgwood and Firth shared the same birth-date.

[35McLaren to Radcliffe-Brown, 24 February 1931, EP : 165/4/2/46 ; Raymond Firth, Memorandum on the Study of Anthropology in Australia and the Western Pacific, c.1932, ANRC Papers, NLA, MS 482, file 849 ; also EP : 163/4/1/105 (hereafter Memorandum). Firth, Report on the Committee on Anthropological Research, July 1931 – July 1932, EP : 161/4/1/63 ; Radcliffe-Brown to secretary Prime Minister’s Department, 26 February 1931, EP, 163/4/1/46.

[36It was unusual for the Commonwealth government to subsidise a state university chair.

[37Wedgwood to Malinowski, 29 October 1932. Malinowski Papers (MP), Yale University Library, courtesy of Michael Young. Although raised in New Zealand, Firth saw himself as going ‘home’ to England. Firth on Firth : Reflections of an Anthropologist. Videorecording, lnstitut fur den Wissenschaftichen Film, Gottingen, Germany. 1992. When interviewed in 1974 he declared that he and Rosemary were European in outlook and this mitigated against his remaining at ANU as director of Research School of Pacific Studies. Raymond Firth interviewed by Margaret Murphy.

[38Malinowski to Firth, 25 May 1932. MP.

[39Wedgwood to Malinowski, 25 December 1931. MP.

[40Malinowski to Firth, 25 May 1932 ; Firth to Malinowski, 1 June 1932. MP.

[41Wedgwood was 31, Hogbin 28. Elkin had trained under diffusionists and Egyptologists Grafton Elliot Smith and WJ Perry.

[42Firth to Malinowski, 1 June 1932. MP.

[43Tigger Wise, The Self-made Anthropologist : A life of AP Elkin, Allen and Unwin, 1985, 73-111.

[44Radcliffe-Brown to Elkin, 2 August 1932 ; Elkin to Firth, 11 September 1932 ; Firth to Elkin, 18 September 1932, EP : 158/4/1/41 ; Wedgwood to Malinowski, 29 October 1932. MP.

[45See Gray, A Cautious Silence, 2007, 70-76.

[46Malinowski to Masson, 3 May 1933, ANRC Papers, NLA, MS 482, file 853 (c).

[47Seligman to Kirchhoff, 19 April 1932. Malinowski Papers, LSE File7/3.

[48David Parkin. An Interview with Raymond Firth, Current Anthropology, 29 (2), 1988, 328. The Claremont Café (Kings Cross) was run by ‘German émigré Walter Magnus ; he introduced an exotic, international flavour to the dining experience’. Dunn, Mark, Kings Cross, Dictionary of Sydney, 2011,, viewed 30 Jan 2021.

[49Stocking Jr, After Tylor. 1995, 347.

[50Piddington to CWM Hart, 31 March 1955. Copy in authors’ possession, courtesy of Kenneth Piddington.

[51Sarah Chinnery, Portrait of Sydney University anthropologist Professor Raymond Firth, Anthropology, Sydney, 1932 [picture], National Library of Australia, PIC/11131/65 LOC Album 1116/2.

[52Margaret Mead to Ruth Benedict, letter dated 26 October 1931. MMP S3, LOC. Cited in Caroline Thomas, The Sorcerers’ Apprentice. A Life of Reo Franklin Fortune, Anthropologist, 2015, 104. Unpublished.

[53It was revealed in 1956 that he had not completed his doctorate.

[54Edited by Ralph Piddington ; with an analysis of recent studies in Polynesian history by the Editor. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] University Press, 1939. See also Gray Geoffrey, 2018. “A Desire for Social Justice : Life and Work of Ralph O’Reilly Piddington” in Bérose, Encyclopédie en ligne sur l’histoire de l’anthropologie et des savoirs ethnographiques, Paris, Lahic-iiac, UMR 8177. ; also Geoffrey Gray, ‘“Piddington’s indiscretion” : Ralph Piddington, the Australian National Research Council and Academic freedom’. Oceania, vol. 64 (3), March, 1994. 217-245.

[55Gray 2007, op. cit., passim for their careers trajectories. .

[56For example : Hogbin was awarded his MA from Sydney in 1929 and his PhD from LSE in 1931. ‘Dr Hogbin is a graduate of Sydney University and after doing considerable field work in Ongtong Java, came to the School to work up his results under the direction of Professor Malinowski.’ Secretary to The Principal, University of London, 10 March 1932. Student Record , Herbert Ian Hogbin, LSE Archives. See also field reports published in the journal Oceania.

[57See Geoffrey Gray, ’Being honest to my science’ : Reo Fortune and J.H.P. Murray, 1927-30. The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol 10 (1),1999, 61.

[58Geoffrey Gray, ‘Australian Anthropologists and WWII’, Anthropology Today, vol 21 (3), June 2005, 18-21.

[59David Mills, Difficult Folk. A Political History of Social Anthropology, Berghahn, 2008 ; Davis, op. cit., 2005.

[60SG Foster and Margaret M Varghese, The Making of the Australian National University 1946-1996, Allen & Unwin 1996, 3-82.

[61For a detailed account of the interwar students (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation) at LSE see Goody, The Expansive Moment, 1995, 26-28 and passim. Most of the major figures, with few exceptions, in the post-war institutionalisation of the discipline across the British Empire trained at the LSE, under Seligman and Malinowski, including Firth, Audrey Richards, Edmund Leach, Isaac Schapera, Meyer Fortes, Siegfried Nadel, Ian Hogbin, Monica Hunter (later Wilson), Godfrey Wilson and Max Gluckman.

[62Adam Kuper, Anthropology and Anthropologists : The Modern British School, London : Routledge, 1983, 125.

[63He is not regarded as major theorist, although at the time most professors had some theory which they propounded, or as Kuper notes, it was, a time ‘when every professor had to have a theory’. Adam Kuper, Meyer Fortes : the person, the role, the theory. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, 34 (2). 2016, 131 (127-139). Cf. Goody, The Expansive Moment, 1995, 24-25. The way in which Forde and Evans-Pritchard exercised their authority in the United Kingdom is outside the interest of the authors’ of this paper.

[64See Goody, op. cit, 1995, 81-83. Audrey Richards and Phyllis Kaberry never had a chair ; Lucy Mair had to wait until 1963.

[65Stocking, op. cit., 1995, 430.

[66Despite recognising difference, Australians and New Zealanders have a symbiotic relationship with each other, despite fierce sporting rivalry, so that at times they are interchangeable.

[67Tamson Pietsch. Empire of Scholars. Manchester University Press. 2013.

[68Cyril Belshaw. Bumps on a Long Road, volume 1. Webzines of Vancouver, British Columbia. (Print on demand) 2009, 61.

[69Belshaw to Gray, e-mail, 12 January 2010. Firth told a story of accidently being in the right place at the opportune moment, first when Malinowski was ill and secondly when he was offered the LSE chair.

[70See Geoffrey Gray, The “ANRC has Withdrawn its Offer” : Paul Kirchhoff, Academic Freedom and the Australian Academic Establishment, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol 52(3), 2006, 367-369 (362-377). Initially he supported Stanner ; he moved his support to Phyllis Kaberry ; when she declined his offers Elkin turned his attention to Ronald Berndt, who with his wife Catherine became the much sought-after husband and wife team. Geoffrey Gray, ‘“You are … my anthropological children” : AP Elkin, Ronald Berndt and Catherine Berndt, 1940-1956’, Aboriginal History, vol. 29, 2005, 77-106.

[71Maurice Bloch. Sir Raymond Firth. The Guardian. Obituaries Section. 2002.

[72There is an exception that we are aware of : Firth wrote to one of us that he had taken a personal interest in Ralph Piddington’s career and had helped him finding suitable employment (Firth to Gray 3 February 1993). This included Aberdeen before the war and Edinburgh after the war.

[73The foundation of the ANU is discussed in, Foster & Varghese, op. cit., 3-82 ; Raymond Firth, The Founding of the Research School of Pacific Studies. Journal of Pacific History 31 (1), 1996, 3-5.

[74See Pietsch, op. cit., , 2013.

[75Foster and Varghese op. cit., 24-27, 41, 44-50, 126-29, 137-39.

[76Firth had recommended Stanner for the position at Makerere.

[77Firth to Copland. 25 January 1949. School of Pacific Studies — Notes on Discussion between the Vice-Chancellor and Professor Firth on Monday 23rd May 1949, FIRTH7/5/8.

[78The only other instances of senior university appointments and long-lasting careers in anthropology and sister disciplines in Britain around that time were Eileen Power and Lucy Mair at LSE and Margery Perham at Oxford. Power was professor of economic history at LSE ; Perham was an Africanist based at Balliol College, Oxford ; Mair was, successively, reader in colonial administration and reader (later professor) in applied anthropology at LSE.

[79Firth to Copland. 25 January 1949. School of Pacific Studies — Notes on Discussion between the Vice-Chancellor and Professor Firth on Monday 23rd May 1949, FIRTH7/5/8.

[80See David Mills, ‘How Not to be a “Government House Pet” : Audrey Richards and the East African Institute for Social Research’, in Mwenda Ntarangwi, David Mills and Mustafa Babiker (eds), African Anthropologies : History, critique and practice. London : Zed Books, 2006, 76–98. ; cf. Melinda Hinkson, ‘Stanner and Makerere : On the “insuperable” challenges of practical anthropology in post-war East Africa’, in Melinda Hinkson and Jeremy Beckett (eds.), An Appreciation of Difference : WEH Stanner and Aboriginal Australia. Canberra : Aboriginal Studies Press, 2008, 44–57.

[81Hancock to Firth, 3 March 1949, FIRTH7/7/11. See also Geoffrey Gray, 2018. “A figure of importance. Life and Work of Siegfried Frederick Nadel” in BEROSE International Encyclopaedia of the Histories of Anthropology, Paris, 2018.

[82Firth to Hancock, 9 March 1949, FIRTH7/7/11.

[83Hancock to Copland, 3 May 1949 ; Hancock to Copland, 24 May 1949. (carbon copy), FIRTH7/7/11.

[84Firth to Hancock, 9 March 1949, FIRTH7/7/11. We have to comment that overall Nadel was not easy to’get on with’ see Gray, op. cit. 2018.

[85Extract from Firth, 6 July 1949. ANUA19/19.

[86£A2000 per annum, ‘but if a Professor is stationed in the U.K. pending establishment of the University at Canberra, £2000 sterling’ Superannuation, FSSU or analogous. Tenure, till 65. Study leave : one year away in four on full pay, ‘with a substantial contribution to overseas travel – quite apart from field research travel. This allows frequent visits to Europe.

He added that the university would provide reasonable travel and removal expenses. Firth to Nadel, 25 July 1949 ; Firth to Nadel, 12 November 1948 ; Firth to Nadel 28 January 1948, FIRTH7/7/26.

[87Firth to Nadel, 8 June 1949, FIRTH7/7/26. Firth had funded Hogbin, as an ANU research fellow, to conduct a survey of the state of anthropology in Melanesia preparatory to him taking up the readership.

[88Firth enabled a doctoral placement for Peter Lawrence (who had a tortured relationship with Reo Fortune, his Cambridge supervisor), and in conjunction with Nadel, research fellowships for K.E. Read and Cyril Belshaw (1950), both had completed their doctorates under Firth. Derek Freeman, also an LSE graduate, was appointed research fellow in the same year.

[89Raymond Firth Interview with Margaret Murphy 1974. National Library of Australia.

[90Raymond Firth, ‘Obituary : Siegfried Frederick Nadel’, American Anthropologist, 59 (1), 1957, 122 (117-124).

[91Stanner to Firth, 6 April 1946, FIRTH7/7/31.

[92L. R. Hiatt, Kinship and Conflict. A Study of an Aboriginal Community in Northern Arnhem Land. Canberra : ANU Press. 1965, 17. J.A. Barnes was Hiatt’s doctoral supervisor at the ANU.

[93Paul Henley, John Barnes – An Appreciation. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 29, Complimentary special issue : in memory of John Barnes (2011), 14 (13-15). See also Lyn Schumaker, Africanising Anthropology. Fieldwork, networks, and the making of cultural knowledge in Central Africa. Duke University Press, 2001.

[94Judith Wilson and Michael Young, 1996. ‘Anthropology at the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies : A Partial History’, Canberra Anthropology, 19 (2), 62-91.

[95In 1951 Kenelm Burridge and Peter Worsley started their doctoral studies. Marie Reay, Richard Salisbury, Robert Glasse, Ralph Bulmer and Jean Martin followed soon after. Jeremy Beckett arrived at the end of 1955. See Terence Hays (ed.), Ethnographic Presents. University of California Press, 1993.

[96The following is drawn from the file, ‘Chair of Anthropology and Maori language’, University of Auckland Archives (UAA). The University of New Zealand had four constituent colleges – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Otago (Dunedin).

[97Elkin was the only non-New Zealander, but he had family connections into New Zealand. His father, from whom he was estranged, was born in New Zealand, and he had spent part of his childhood in Auckland. His parents separated and his mother returned to Australia. She died soon after and he was brought up by his German-speaking grandparents.

[98Cf. Raymond Firth, The Future of Social Anthropology, Man, vol 44 (Jan-Feb, 1944), 19-22.

[99For a full account of the various suggestions and recommendations see Gray and Munro, Establishing anthropology and Maori language (studies), 2011, 57-61.

[100Firth to W.E.H. Stanner, 7 December, 1948. FIRTH7/7/31.

[101Firth ‘To whom it may concern’, 8 February, 1949. FIRTH 8/1/96.

[102Dr Taylor, a dentist by training and the Health Department’s principal dental officer, had particular interests in anatomy and zoology. In 1937 on the grounds of dental arrangements he declared the ‘Piltdown man’ a hoax. Percival Hadfield had previously authored two scholarly books, on totemism (1938), with Australia being a core region, and on divine kingship in Africa (1949), before enrolling post-WWII for a PhD in biblical history and literature at the University of Sheffield. The resulting thesis ‘Matthew’s Gospel and the apocalyptic writers’ was finalized in 1952. Hadfield finished his career in the church as vicar of Youlgraeve in Derbyshire. He died in 1970. One reviewer dismissed his scholarly work, as ‘a thing of shreds and patches, a rehash of older views … and a collection of facts not too skillfully arranged, gathered by earlier workers in the field’. He authored : The savage and his totem, London : Allenson & Co., Ltd., [1938] Traits of Divine Kingship in Africa. By P. Hadfield, M.A., B.D. London : Watts & Co. 1949.

[103Firth to Stanner, 11 March 1955, FIRTH7/7/31.

[104London Committee 1949

[105Elkin to William Hollis Cocker (President of the Auckland University College), 23 April 1949, attachment in Minutes of Council, Auckland University College, 9 June 1949, UAA. The initiating correspondence is not located so the reason for seeking Elkin’s advice is unknown.

[106Gray and Munro, op. cit., 2011, 67-70.

[107Gray, op.cit., 2007, passim.

[108Geoffrey Gary, ‘“Piddington’s indiscretion” : Ralph Piddington, the Australian National Research Council and Academic freedom’. Oceania, vol. 64 (3), March, 1994. 217-245.

[109Firth to W.E.H. Stanner, 12 August 1949, FIRTH7/7/31.

[110Elkin to Stanner, 8 December 1944. EP : 197/4/2/573.

[111Stanner to Elkin, 25 October 1948. EP : 197/4/2/573. See Geoffrey Gray, ‘Stanner’s war’ in Geoffrey Gray, Doug Munro and Christine Winter (eds.), Scholars at War, ANU Press, 2012.

[112Firth would comment later : ‘Essentially he has seemed unwilling to face responsibility. His refusal of the Directorship of the East African Institute of Social Research was symptomatic of his tendency to dwell upon the difficulties inherent in the situation rather than the possibilities of what can be made out of it. His desire for a really worthwhile achievement sometimes makes him over-elaborate his argument.… How far complete responsibility for a Research Department would settle and strengthen him as an administrator I do not know’. Board of Graduate Studies(ANU) Minutes, 27 August 1957, ANUA 193. Referees’ reports, ‘Electoral Committee [Meeting] for the Chair of Anthropology’, 20 August 1957, Davidson Papers, ANUA 57/30.

[113Piddington to Firth, 13 November 1950, FIRTH8/1/96 ; Firth to Geddes, 14 November 1950, FIRTH8/1/36.

[114His PhD was published in 1967 as The changing role of the leader in Maori society.

[115For his continued association with ANU see Spate to Firth 23 December 1968. FIRTH8/2/17 ; Firth to Spate 23 January 1969. FIRTH8/2/7 ; Firth to Spate 16 April 1969. FIRTH8/2/7 ; Spate to Firth, 29 May 1972 FIRTH7/6/18. Firth’s longer legacy in the Antipodes would be a subject to consider separately and is not our focus here, although there is no doubt his appointments led to long-lasting change and a more robust Antipodean anthropology than before the war.

[116Belshaw to Gray, e-mail, 12 January 2010.