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  • Establishing Anthropology and Maori Language (Studies), Auckland University College:The Appointment of Ralph Piddington, 1949
  • Geoffrey Gray (bio) and Doug Munro (bio)

In case I may be misunderstood I emphasise the fact that talking of a "school of anthropology" does not mean that I dream of the immediate establishment of a huge research department with acres of floor space and a host of instructors. One or two instructors, a few square feet of office room, a few books on anthropology and an extremely modest research grant is the limit of my most extravagant dream.

(Beaglehole 1938:161 n.)

I have always maintained that Auckland was the most suitable place in NZ for the establishment of such a Chair. Auckland is surrounded by rich cultural areas with tribes that have descended from different voyaging canoes. You have a wonderful Museum that forms the richest laboratory that anthropologists could desire. I sincerely trust that you will be able to establish the Chair as a centre of teaching and research.

(Peter Buck, 1942)

Easily the largest anthropology department in New Zealand resides at the University of Auckland (formerly Auckland University College), but sixty years ago it had only begun to exist with the appointment, in 1949, of Ralph Piddington as the foundation chair. Even then, Auckland anthropology's remoter origins began some thirty years earlier. At the end of World War I there were a number of conferences to discuss the future of the colonies, the governance of colonized peoples and the usefulness of anthropology to colonial administration in Oceania. The Pan-Pacific Science Congress, at its first conference in 1920 in Honolulu, addressed the state of ethnographic inquiry in Oceania. Subsequent meetings of the Congress in Sydney and Melbourne in September 1923 proposed that Oceania should be divided into four main ethnographic areas—Australia, New Guinea and Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia. It was suggested that Australia take responsibility for Australian ethnology; that Australia "should more particularly investigate Papua, the Mandated Territory of New Guinea and Melanesia, but Great Britain and France should assist in this work"; and that the investigation of [End Page 49] Maori be the responsibility of New Zealand. The rest of Polynesia was regarded as "pre-eminently the field" for American research, with the cooperation of France and New Zealand; and finally the study of Micronesia was the "particular province" of Japan and America. This proposal was described by Ernest Beaglehole, psychologist and anthropologist, as a "gentlemen's agreement" that "fairly placed the responsibility for anthropological research in New Zealand and presumably in its Pacific dependencies upon the shoulders of New Zealand research institutions" (Beaglehole 1938:156-157).

It was, however, undecided which parts of Oceania required research priority—although it was thought that Micronesia should be first "since the culture and ruins of this group are of such a nature that . . . they should furnish the clue to much that is obscure in Oceanic mythology, folk-lore and culture generally" (Gray 2010:50).

Notwithstanding the division proposed at the Congress one of the initial tasks for A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, foundation professor of anthropology at the University of Sydney, was to determine the areas in which Sydney would take responsibility for ethnographic research. He told Raymond Firth, who had written seeking an Australian National Research Council fellowship, that there would be no problem "in providing [him] with funds" that were "intended to be used for anthropological research in Australia, New Guinea and Melanesia, although, in exceptional circumstances, it might be possible to provide funds for work in Polynesia or New Zealand" (Radcliffe-Brown 1927a). The general research plan laid down by Radcliffe-Brown paid "special attention to research in Australia so as to complete if possible, our knowledge of the aborigines before it is too late; . . . to increase our knowledge of the peoples of New Guinea and Melanesia with the resources at our disposal, not only for scientific purposes, but also that the results may be available for the Administrations concerned" (Gray 2010:51). Overall he wanted "the sociological investigation of primitive peoples—systematic investigation directed by sociological theory" (Radcliffe-Brown 1928).

In New Zealand there was a wider interest in enlisting anthropology as both a way of preserving...


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