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The Presidential Address 2013

Professor Clive Gamble, University of Southampton and President of the Royal Anthropological Institute

The anthropology of deep-history

Friday 20 September 2013, at 5pm (approximately) in the Stevenson Theatre, Clore Education Centre, the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG.

The lecture will be preceded by the RAI’s AGM. All are welcome to the AGM; only RAI Fellows may vote.


The history of anthropology reveals a discipline driven by fission and fusion. One moment of fusion occurred in 1871 with the formation of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. This year marks the centenary of the death of our first President, Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury. Lubbock was closely involved with the promotion of Darwinian evolution as a science and his wide interests encompassed natural history as well as archaeology. His centenary provides a moment to ask if the fragmentation of the constituent parts of anthropology that has occurred in the last century is irreversible. Does the strength of the discipline lie in its myriad interests or is it better served by reaffirming a unified approach to the science of humanity?

In this address I will use the framework of deep-history as an example of what might be achieved if anthropology resolved to travel the road of fusion rather than continue with atomisation. I will illustrate the pathway by examining the fusion of interdisciplinary endeavour that is encapsulated in the concept of a social brain. By placing social life at the heart of the historical process we find common ground for all the fields of anthropology, and beyond to other disciplines. Here anthropologists have the opportunity to set the agenda. The social brain works in deep as well as shallow-history. It unites experimental and historical science. And it marks a return to those core principles which Lubbock and the founders of our Institution established.