Ciarán Walsh and Nuala Finn “attend” an online awards ceremony during which Maynooth University conferred Walsh with a Doctor of Philosophy (Arts) degree.
Dr Mark Maguire, Dean of Social Sciences at Maynooth University, announcing the award in a video posted on YOUTUBE.

Walsh’s research, funded by the Irish Research Council, uses the scientific 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.

It has been widely recognised as an original contribution to the history of anthropology, challenging a long-held consensus that anthropology, as practiced in in Ireland in the 1890s, was a uniformly evolutionist and colonial enterprise. Walsh argues that Haddon was influenced by anarchists and ant-imperialists and developed photography as an instrument of anti-colonial activism, which functions as an analogue of contemporary anti-racism campaigns.

A detail of Haddon’s photograph of Gododo, taken in the Torres Strait in 1888, juxtaposed with a screen grab form Celia Xakriabia’s video calling for an end to “legislated” genocide in the Amazon.

Haddon was primarily a photographer who used the study of folk-lore, art and dance – which he defined in 1895 as the study of the “deepest and most subtle ideas of mankind” – to humanise and socialise anthropology, which was restricted to the anatomical study of the natural history of the human species within the academy.

Haddon operated on an extramural basis, jumping the academic wall and working through a network of folklore and naturalist organisations, becoming an important resource for cultural nationalists in Ireland. This brought him into conflict with the academy, a confrontation that prefigures current debates about the relationship between academic anthropology and anthropologists who operate civic society and humanitarian contexts.

Professor David Prendergast, Dr Ciarán Walsh, and Mark Maguire.

To conclude, Walsh’s study of The Skull Measuring Business represents an original and formally innovative study of the issue of racism in the 1890s, which, 130 years on, has become a defining issue in contemporary Ireland. It also represents a novel contribution to debates about the practice and purpose of anthropology, a debate that is as old as anthropology itself and remains as ‘lively’ as it was during Haddon’s time in Ireland.