The politics of early anthropological study in Australia are explored in a new exhibition at the Macleay Museum. ‘People, Power, Politics: the first generation of anthropologists at the University of Sydney’ opened recently and explores the methods and studies of Australia's first wave of anthropologists from 1923-47.
Sydney University’s anthropology department and ASOPA had a very close relationship until the 1960s and next Wednesday the museum will host a special guided tour for a group of former ASOPA lecturers including Dr Ruth Fink Latukefu, Dr Ann Prendergast and Dr Dick Pearse.
The first Department of Anthropology in Australia was set up at Sydney University in 1925 after the Federal government was impressed by the urgent need for the study of Aboriginal and indigenous people of the Pacific region. According to exhibition curators Rebecca Conway and Jude Philp this changed the face of anthropology.
“Anthropology went from being based on armchair theories - the British style popular back then - to active fieldwork where anthropologists spent months and even years studying and working with communities.
"These young anthropologists worked with communities to chronicle whole societies, documenting language, cultural practices and other aspects of daily life. They also documented the effects of European settlement and colonisation on these peoples' lives.”
People, Power, Politics specifically looks at the lives and work of ten prominent and respected Sydney University anthropologists - including Ian Hogbin, AR Radcliffe-Brown, AP Elkin and Raymond Firth - whose work became internationally significant.
The Macleay Museum is located in Gosper Lane near the Footbridge Theatre entrance to the University of Sydney. The exhibition closes on 20 July.
Photo by Ian Hogbin, Ontong Java, Solomons, 1928