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The roots of international co-operation in anthropology; Myres, the RAI and the founding of the IUAES

Dr David Shankland, Royal Anthropological Institute

Wednesday 9 October at 5.30 pm

In 1934, the Royal Anthropological Institute organised the largest gathering of anthropologists that had, until that time, taken place. Known as the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, it was intended to become a permanent structure through which scholarly agreements within anthropology could be made, and of course, disagreements resolved. Put in place by John Myres, the President of the Institute, it appeared to run entirely smoothly, as the many letters of thanks in the archive attest. However, there was significant controversy within the congress, largely surrounding the question of race, which although already part of the intellectual thought of the time, was brought sharply into question by the strong presence of a German delegation. At its head was Fischer, the German biological anthropologist, who was to become a leading supporter of the Nazi Party. Equally, though all went well on the day, putting together the Congress had taken more than two decades of international dispute, dispute in which rising European nationalism played a significant part. How the RAI steered its way through this troubled time, and how Myres – aided greatly by Miss Tildesley – managed to hold the Congress at all, forms the subject of this paper. It concludes by asking to what extent the Congress – which eventually became the IUAES – met its goals.

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