Alfred Cort Haddon can take credit as the man most responsible for establishing and legitimating anthropology as an academic discipline in Britain. There were anthropologists before Haddon, but no one did as much as he did for the discipline in its early years. In Haddon’s words, anthropology was the “Cinderella science.”
Haddon was born on May 24, 1855, and was educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge. From 1880 until 1901, he was Professor of Botany at the Dublin College of Science. In 1900, he moved back to England, where he lectured in ethnology at Cambridge and, after 1904, at London University as well. Haddon served as President of Royal Anthropological Institute and President of Ethnological Section of the British Association between 1902 and 1905.
Haddon’s prominence as an anthropologist came as a result of the influential expeditions to the Torres Straits islands. The first tour, in 1888, was originally undertaken to study coral reefs of the islands, reflecting Haddon’s original interest in zoology. The second tour, in 1898 to 1999, was specifically devoted to anthropological issues and included a team of people, several of whom were destined to make large contributions to the development of anthropology in Britain. The photographs and film from that tour remain very valuable to this day. Haddon wrote up his conclusions from the tours in articles in Nature and in the proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society. A large compendium of works covering all aspects of the Torres Straits expeditions was put together, which spanned six volumes. Haddon had the largest single role in the six-volume Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait (Cambridge, 1901-1935), being involved in some capacity in five of the six volumes. The first volume, on ethnography, was one of only two that came from a single author (the other being the second volume, on physiology and psychology, by W. H. R. Rivers). Less helpfully, Haddon’s volume was not published until 1935, more than 27 years after Volume 5 had been completed.
Haddon was unusual in his ability to appreciate the power of relationships involved in his study of native peoples. He was more anxious than many of his colleagues to study native cultures in a climate of respect and with some attention given to helping them preserve their customs in the face of Western encroachments. Haddon appreciated the friendliness of the Torres Straits Islanders, particularly in view of their earlier sufferings “from the malpractices of white men.” Haddon was strongly opposed to the often casual use of the word “nigger” by his colleagues.
He was also a consistent opponent to the fashionable theory of diffusionism, whose main champion was the Australian anthropologist Grafton Elliot Smith.
Haddon was brought up a Baptist but lost his faith, becoming an agnostic. He was a member of the Rationalist Press Association (RPA) and, after 1927, an honorary associate. He cooperated with the RPA on a couple of occasions. In 1910, his History of Anthropology was published as the fifth title in the History of Science series, a pioneering series of popular science published by Watts & Co., the publishing arm of the RPA. A revised edition of that work was published in 1934, as Number 42 of the Watts & Co. Influential Thinker’s Library series.
Haddon’s last works reflect well his progressive opinions. For instance, he wrote a preface (as did Sir Arthur Keith) for Ettie Rout’s Stand Up and Slim Down (1935), a health book for women with obesity and constipation problems. Ettie Rout was a very controversial woman, having achieved notoriety during World War I for helping prevent sexually transmitted diseases among soldiers by encouraging the use of contraceptives. In the same year, Haddon collaborated with Sir Julian Huxley and A. M. Carr-Saunders in a publication called We Europeans, which was devoted to demolishing the racial theories of the Nazis, in particular the claims of so-called Aryans to being a race apart and superior to all others.
In 1883, Haddon married and had a son and two daughters. His wife died in 1937, and Haddon died on April 20,1940. The faculty of archaeology and anthropology’s library at Cambridge is named after him.
- Cooke, B. (2004). The gathering of infidels: A hundred years of the Rationalist Press Association. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
- Haddon, A. C. (1934). History of anthropology. London: Watts & Co.
- Stocking, G. W. (1995). After Tylor: British social anthropology, 1888-1951. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.