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The Australian National University

School of History Seminar Week 8: Expeditionary Anthropology: Travel, Teamwork and the ‘Science of Man’

Date and time

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 - 16:15 - 17:30


McDonald Room, Menzies Library, ANU


Members of the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land at Fish Creek, Arnhem Land, in October 1948. Those in the photo are Jiramul, Namirki, Tjerapu, Meraitji, Wilira, Wundu-lu-unga, Gunuwulma, Miriri, Militj, Joshua, Dorcus, John Bray, Margaret McArthur and Fred McCarthy.

Since Bronisław Malinowski’s pioneering investigations on the Trobriand Islands, immersive fieldwork by a sole investigator has been regarded as the essential rite of passage for the social anthropologist. Indeed, the advent of this convention has been read as fundamental to anthropology’s own coming-into-being as a discipline. Other models of data collection have been treated as mere overtures to a fully actualised ethnographic method. In this presentation I counter the standard account of anthropology’s emergence by critically examining the significance of team-based travel to intercultural research. In arguing for the recognition of expeditionary anthropology, I will evaluate the continuance of team-based travel through the twentieth century and comment on the gender politics embedded in the ‘science of man’.

Martin Thomas, who teaches in the School of History at ANU, has a longstanding interest in expeditionary travel, dating from his 2003 book, The Artificial Horizon: Imagining the Blue Mountains. He is editor of Expedition into Empire (Routledge, 2015) and has recently co-edited a new book, titled Expeditionary Anthropology, to be published by Berghahn.


Updated: 13 April 2016/ Responsible Officer:  Head of School / Page Contact:  Web Publisher