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Department of Social Anthropology


The Rivers Lecture

In 1983, on the initiative of Jack Goody and Edmund Leach, the University of Cambridge establish a fund to create the Rivers Lectureship in Social Anthropology. Both Goody and Leach contributed directly to the fund, and it has benefitted also from substantial donations by St John’s College.

The purpose of the fund is to commemorate the life and work of W.H.R. Rivers FRS, one of the founders of modern social anthropology and also a pioneering psychologist. Rivers qualified in medicine, helped to found the Cambridge Laboratory of Experimental Psychology, and participated as a psychologist in the pioneering Cambridge ethnographic expedition to the Torres Straits, led by A. C. Haddon in 1898, which introduced him to anthropology. He became a Fellow of St John’s College in 1902, and conducted anthropological field research, in 1902, 1908, and 1914, in South India and Melanesia. Rivers was a pivotal figure in the development of the study of kinship in anthropology, and was among the first to introduce Freud’s ideas on dreams, myth, the unconscious, and censorship to anthropology and medical sciences. During the First World War, he worked in military hospitals, especially with soldiers affected by shell shock. In this work, he came into contact with Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon, who wrote affectionate portraits of him, and he is portrayed in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy of novels.  Rivers died in 1922, at the early age of 58, when he was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Rivers Lectures provide a forum in which distinguished speakers address the University on aspects of scholarship or public affairs in which the work of social anthropologists connects with those in other disciplines, or has relevance in wider fields of thought and debate. Those delivering the Rivers Lectures have therefore often worked on the boundaries of anthropology: they have included both anthropologists who have contributed to the concerns of other fields, and those from outside anthropology whose work has been of particular interest to our discipline.

The Rivers Lectures:

1984 (24 Feb)    Robert Hinde, The Study of Sex Differences: An Ethological Contribution to Anthropology

1985 (25 Oct)    Geoffrey Lloyd, Mentalities, Metaphors and the Foundations of Science

1989 (20 Jan)    Colin Young, Some Not Altogether Random Notes, or Visual Anthropology

1993 (5 Nov)     Malcolm McLeod, Anthropology in Museums: A Waste of Time?

1997 (25 Apr)    Jonathan Miller, Imitation

2000 (13 Oct)    Simon Shaffer, The Disappearance of Useful Sciences

2003 (17 Jan)    Ludmilla Jordanova, Portraits: Visual Intelligence and Social Networks

2010 (29 Jan)    Bruno Latour, On Gabriel Tarde’s Idea of Society as Possession

2016 (18 Jan)    Tanya Luhrmann, Local Theory of Mind: Why Different People Experience the Same God Differently in Different Parts of the World