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Department of Social Anthropology


Activating Anthropology’s Archive: Alfred Haddon’s Journals from his Expeditions to the Torres Strait, 1888 – 1898  (2016-2020)


At the end of the 19th century anthropology was an ambitious new discipline linked with colonial expansion. Early fieldworkers gathered vast quantities of data now housed in UK archives and museums.

Haddon Photo N.23140.ACH2)LR

Photo Caption: Alfred Haddon and Sydney Ray with Pasi (left) and family, having a picnic on the beach at Dauar, Torres Strait, 14 May 1898. MAA N.23140


The theoretical paradigms guiding these undertakings now seem obsolete, but this project demonstrates  that these archives retain far-reaching value. The empirical orientation of research in the period, and the personal, often intimate nature of field experience and encounter give anthropological records surprising salience, both for scholars and for source communities. Drawing on recent fieldwork and collections-based research, this Project focuses on Alfred Haddon’s personal journals from his two landmark Torres Strait expeditions in 1888 and 1898.  Haddon’s work was foundational to the development of British anthropology and continues to loom large in local affirmations of Island Custom. Developed in consultation with Islanders, this important case study will demonstrate ways that ethnographic archives can be activated for scholarly, community and wider public interests. It will lead to a fully edited and richly illustrated publication of Haddon’s Journals (forthcoming: Herle and Philp, Sydney University Press, 2020).


Awarding Bodies: Small awards from the Smuts Memorial Fund,  Cambridge Humanities Research Grant, University of Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Studies, Torres Strait Regional Authority.

The Project is being led by Dr Anita Herle with Dr Jude Philps (Sydney University), in consultation with the descendants and communities with whom Haddon worked. 




Dr  Anita  Herle
Senior Research Fellow, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology