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Chapter 2: History of Anthropology

Let me introduce myself: I am Professor Dylag, or Professor Dr. sci. anth. Edward Tadeusz Dylag, if you want to use my full title, Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Honorary Member of countless more august bodies. It is my great honour to continue the course that my dear wife opened with you yesterday. I would have so liked to be here myself for the opening day, but we have so many committees at our University, and, being a very senior Professor, I am obliged to do much more than my fair share.

I take the view that you cannot hope to understand what anthropologists are doing today unless you have some idea of where they are coming from, of the intellectual traditions and practical and political circumstances which have shaped the discipline...

This brings us to the contribution of our Bronio - I am sorry, I should explain that Bronio is a diminutive of Bronislaw. This was how Malinowski was known to his very close friends, and this is how I speak of him with my good wife. Perhaps you too will find this easier than his full Polish name, which can be a bit of a mouthful.
Of course we have particular reasons in Cracow for taking pride in Bronislaw Malinowski, who was born here in 1884 and educated at this university, obtaining his doctorate with distinction in 1908.

Figure 7: Malinowski on the day he received his PhD in Cracow, 1908

He then went on to study in Germany and in England, before carrying out field studies in Australia and Melanesia. He is the man who made the Trobriand Islanders so famous in the anthropological literature, following the intensive studies that he carried out there during the First World War. His first and most famous book about these people was published in 1922. Its opening chapter was a sort of manifesto for close-up, ethnographic work, with the aim of understanding "the native's vision of his world."

Figure 8: Frontispiece and title page of Malinowski's first Trobriand monograph.

Malinowski became known internationally during the inter-war decades as Professor of Social Anthropology at the London School of Economics. He never returned to this country, but I am sure you can understand why we are nonetheless proud of this pioneer at his home university. It seems no exaggeration to see him as a revolutionary. The anthropologists of the Victorian era had used the data sent to them by missionaries and explorers to support their general theories about the evolution of humanity. Malinowski dismissed this and argued for a shift of focus to the present. The task of the fieldworking anthropologist was to provide meticulous descriptions of how customs made sense to the natives in the contemporary context, and not to speculate on origins, evolution, or history. Malinowski defined this modern anthropology as 'the scientific study of cultures', ...

It is important to note the influence of social and political factors on the course of anthropological history, and also the very practical issues of research funding. In the interwar years it was relatively easy for Bronio to obtain grants from the Rockefeller Foundation to finance his students' projects on the impact of colonialism upon African societies. By the end of the century it is perhaps easier to obtain grants for anthropological projects in Europe, for example projects investigating the impact of the expansion of the European Union. Of course, not all research is driven directly by such pragmatic issues as the availability of sponsors. I am simply saying that you cannot understand the history of anthropology without paying attention to the changing social and political circumstances in which anthropology is practised.

This means also looking carefully at the way in which anthropology is presented in different education systems. It remains conspicuously absent from the school curriculum in most countries, Many anthropologists regret this absence, and believe strongly that instruction in cultural diversity should become a prominent part of national education systems. Others feel that the subject does not lend itself to popularisation for immature audiences, and that its proper place is therefore in the university, where it has become successfully established over the last century. But what sort of training should universities give in this subject? Should social anthropology be studied on its own, or always in combination with some other branch of anthropology, or with another discipline? Should the course include a practical, fieldwork assignment, or should such projects be reserved for postgraduate studies? I must confess to you that on some of these questions, as on some of those more theoretical points that I discussed earlier, my good wife and I have agreed to differ! We shall, however, discuss all these points again with you before the end of the course.
 

Assignment

Figure 9: Collegium Maius

For today's assignment I should like you to visit three important locations of this ancient university city. First, walk around the beautiful Gothic building just down the street here known as the Collegium Maius. It is the oldest university building in Poland. As you walk around the courtyard please try to conjure up the experience that Malinowski had here, when he first encountered anthropology. He described this as follows in one of his later books:

I should like to lead you back some twenty years to an old Slavonic university town - I mean the town of Cracow, the ancient capital of Poland and the seat of the oldest university in Eastern Europe. I could then show you a student leaving the medieval college buildings, obviously in some distress of mind, hugging, however, .... 'The Golden Bough'. ... no sooner had I begun to read this great work than I became immersed in it and enslaved by it. I realised then that anthropology, as presented by Sir James Frazer, is a great science, worthy of as much devotion as any of her elder and more exact sister studies, and I became bound to the services of Frazerian anthropology.

There is irony in Malinowski's words here, since by the time he wrote them the anthropology that he himself was practising had diverged radically from the model of James Frazer, who worked primarily in his rooms in Trinity College, Cambridge. Malinowski's functionalism has in turn been displaced by later developments. Only his emphasis upon the fieldwork method has remained for the most part unchallenged, though most anthropologists nowadays also make use of other techniques, including historical, library-based work. There is no escaping books and libraries in the formulation of fieldwork projects, and every fieldworker needs also to have some awareness of anthropology's intellectual traditions. Therefore, for the second part of your assignment this afternoon, I want you to register at the University Library, visit the special anthropology section that we have prepared for this summer school, and make some preliminary notes on the life of Malinowski and on the geography and history of Galicia.

Third please continue to the National Museum, which currently has an exhibition on the tempestuous relationship between Malinowski and his closest friend, Witkacy. Their combined achievements are remarkable. I am sure you will enjoy their superb photography, both here in Galicia and in the Trobriand Islands. Perhaps, too, you will gain some insight into the influence of Malinowski's Polish origins on his later achievements as an anthropologist.

'What did you make of that?' asked Tom as they followed Prof. Dylag out of the lecture room. Ania spluttered. For a moment he thought she might be unwell. Later, recovering in McDonalds, she said it had been one of  the most dreadful lectures she had ever heard. 'The way he patronised his wife and threw all those names and dates at us!' Tom agreed with this last point. 'I remember at school we discussed a quote from Henry Ford, who said that ''history is bunk. It seems like Malinowski got the same idea about the same time. Anyway, perhaps it's best to get all that stuff out of the way at the beginning.'

Figure 10: The Malinowski - Witkacy exhibition at the National Museum
 

After registering at the library they spent an hour at the museum. Tom was overwhelmed by the paintings of Witkacy, a demonic exhibitionist if ever he had come across one. Ania agreed that he was obviously more talented, and she suggested that Malinowski's inability to match up to his friend in the creative arts was precisely what drove him to pursue new standards of excellence in anthropology. She was struck by the dandyish egotism of both these privileged young men, and by a phrase of Malinowski's as he embarked upon fieldwork among people previously undocumented: 'Feeling of ownership: it is I who will describe them or create them.' Both disliked the whiff of exoticism they detected in the photographs of the 'savages' of the colonial Pacific.
 

Figure 11: Wawel Castle

Towards evening they walked up into the grounds of the Royal castle to find picturesque views over the River Vistula. The ancient cathedral had the most exquisite chapels, complete with brilliant gold cupolae. Despite the crowds of tourists, the atmosphere inside the cathedral was solemn. Plaques and tombstones honoured Polish Kings and Cardinals, most of them unknown to Ania and Tom. Near the entrance they overheard a group of visitors whispering that this was to be the spot where Pope John Paul II would be buried. 'The Holy Father will come here,' they overheard an old man muttering to a child who might have been his grandson. 'This is the city where he spent much of his life as Archbishop and Cardinal; he is a great son of Poland and so it is fitting that he be buried on this historic site.'

Figure 12: The Royal Cathedral

 
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