A. C. Haddon, a very English savage (in Ireland)

Anon. 1885 (detail). Robert Lloyd Preger captioned the photo “Dredging party, 1885, with friends. Sitting, left to right: A.C. Haddon (in front of light suit), S. Haughton, W. S. Green, C. B. Ball …”. Permission of the Royal Irish Academy © RIA.

Berghahn Books commissioned this account of Haddon’s work as an ethnologist in Ireland between 1887 and 1901 as of the Anthropology’s Ancestors edited by Aleksandar Bošković. The book passed peer review in August 2022 and is scheduled for publication in 2023.


A. C. Haddon never made the cut as an anthropologist and faded into the background as disciplinary anthropology took shape in the 1920s. Including him in a series on anthropology’s ancestors may seem like the rehabilitation of an old-school ethnologist whose involvement in the skull-measuring business tainted everything he did with scientific racism. Going against the grain of such arguments, I propose that Haddon, inspired by his anti-slavery grandparents and socialist aunts, assumed the persona of a very English savage and reinvented ethnography to challenge the atavistic racism that allowed colonists destroy other civilisations in territories annexed by imperial forces. Haddon wrote this in 1891, but the article entered the history of anthropology one hundred years later as evidence of a programme for enlightened imperial self-interest. That switch exemplifies how Haddon has been misrepresented and I respond with a methodology that concentrates on what Haddon said about what he did in Ireland between 1887 and 1900. Clifford Geertz wrote that knowing what ethnographers do is critical to understanding what anthropology is about. Haddon took photographs because, like Margaret Mead, he thought words incapable of capturing the affect of a dance performed for the last time.  I propose that his 1898 film of the last dance of the Malu Zogo-Le constitutes a singular modernist achievement in anthropology because it used cutting edge art to engage with the problem of representation in a colonial context. This combination of anti-colonial activism and formal innovation generates a simple proposition: what Haddon thought and did makes sense from the vantage point of an engagement with colonial legacies triggered by a resurgent Black Lives Matter Movement. Many of these arguments can be traced back to Haddon and the contrary ethnologists associated with his grandparents and that entitles Haddon to a place amongst the ancestors of anthropology.


Posted on

August 22, 2022