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Sydney celebrates pioneer anthropology

Jude Philp

Jude_philp This year from 1 February – 8 June the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney is holding an exhibition with many ties to ASOPA. It’s called People, Power, Politics: the first generation of anthropologists at the University of Sydney and it looks at the period between 1923 and 1947.

In 1923, the International Pan Pacific Science Congress, meeting at the University of Sydney, resolved that the need for anthropological investigation was both pressing and a necessity for our region. Three years later Prof AR Radcliff-Brown took up the Chair of the first Anthropology Department in Australia.

This was the time when many future ASOPA lecturers learnt their trade, and the exhibition includes aspects of the lives of Camilla Wedgwood and Ian Hogbin. While the ASOPA story, of course, deserves an exhibition all of its own, here we can only touch on the ways that anthropology at Sydney initially focussed on practical and applied purposes of the discipline.

Using images and objects taken by the first wave of anthropologists in the cultures they visited, this exhibition focuses on the department in its early years when its members went into Australian Aboriginal and Pacific Islander communities to investigate and test the latest theories and methods of modern anthropology. No longer bound by ‘armchair’ theories, these men and women divided their time between their work as leaders in anthropological sciences and as initially ignorant, if powerful, recorders of other worldviews.

If there is a group who would like to come on a special ‘ASOPA Day’ I’d be happy to organise a curator’s tour – or perhaps add to the oral history record and record reminiscences.

Dr Jude Philp is the senior curator at Macleay Museum. You can contact Jude on 02 9036 6486 or email her here.


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