GEOFFREY GRAY, DOUG MUNRO & CHRISTINE WINTER | Extract
Scholars at War: Australasian Social Scientists, 1939-1945, Geoffrey Gray, Doug Munro and Christine Winter (eds), ANU E Press, Australian National University, 2012. Available online at http://epress.anu.edu.au
THE EXPERIENCE OF individual anthropologists during the Pacific War accelerated and consolidated the emergence of anthropology as an applied discipline.
Australia had long had an interest in Papua (an Australian territory from 1906; until then it had been administered by Britain) and New Guinea (a German territory until 1914 when Australia occupied it on the declaration of war, and then, from 1921, a League of Nations ‘C’ Mandate under Australian administration).
The appointments of government anthropologists in Papua and New Guinea reflect a growing acceptance by colonial governments of anthropology as a helpful discipline useful in governing colonised peoples.
Anthropology, as a way of justifying its scholarly and practical credentials, presented itself to colonial administrations and metropolitan governments—Britain, the United States and Australia—as a discipline that was able to help in the control, management and advancement of colonised peoples in the African colonies and indigenous people in settler nations such as Australia, Canada and the United States.
It is during the interwar period that Australian anthropology, slowly but surely, became a recognised academic discipline with the accoutrements of professionalisation: specialised and specific qualifications and training, specific funding for research problems, a growing body of specialists, a journal devoted to publishing the results of research, and various attempts to ‘control a market for their expertise’.
The interwar years saw also the demise of the amateur ethnographer, usually associated with museum anthropology.
War therefore opened up spaces in which a new academic and professional elite was established. It gave a younger generation chances it would never have had in the stagnant societies of New Zealand and Australia between the wars.
War enhanced the developing professionalisation of anthropology and an increasing interest in regional and national histories. Post war saw anthropology expanding its academic and disciplinary authority, knowledge and power.
The Pacific War thus created an unprecedented opportunity for Australia’s anthropologists. David Price has noted that World War II provided American anthropology with an impetus for its expansion not only in the academy but also within the military and government.
Before the war American universities and museums were few in number and funds for research were scarce, especially for overseas research. It was localised, inward rather than outward looking, with most socio-cultural research as salvage ethnography on American Indians.
War also placed an emphasis on the practical applications of anthropology and ethnographic knowledge, which saw an increase in applied anthropology after the war—a shift that by the end of the 1950s had given way to sociological ethnographic research on culture and what were perceived as people with minimal European contact.
This is so for Australia, which combined both an applied interest in governing colonised peoples in mainland and external territories and pursuing what might be thought of as major questions concerning people with minimal European contact—found in the Highlands of New Guinea.
Some observers expected that in the wake of the war the hour of social sciences had come. Ernest Beaglehole in 1944 saw a trend developing in Europe and South-East Asia that he hoped would extend to the Pacific region:
It is already clear that the reconstruction of the post-war world is likely to demand the solution of an enormous number of extremely complex problems. These problems are of all kinds: some of them economic, some political, some educational, some health problems—but all of them, in their fundamentals, human problems…
Statesmen will hopefully use the advice, the knowledge and the skilled techniques of the scientist in solving this world-wide human problem. The social sciences, in particular psychology, anthropology, economics and medicine, will thus have to meet large scale responsibilities in this post-war world.
The extended use of the social sciences, and anthropology in particular, as occurred in America, in the service of government and the military, however, did not occur in Australia and New Zealand. Certainly, post war, there was an expansion in the social sciences and increased student numbers.
Australian universities experienced a remarkable renaissance in 1946, 1947 and 1948, resuming the flowering of academic and student life interrupted in early 1942 by national mobilisation…The Universities were bulging. At Sydney a record 3,600 first year students enrolled in 1946, 1,200 of them ex-servicemen and women. The largest group was in the Arts, with 790 first year enrolments.
By 1948, enrolments were 10,450. Anthropology was a popular subject; the Anthropology Department was overflowing with students and its small staff was overloaded. To be sure, some of the younger scholars, such as Ronald and Catherine Berndt, Mona Ravenscroft and Jean Craig, were given teaching opportunities as a consequence.
During these years, Hogbin dithered over his future, teaching part-time at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) to the detriment of his teaching duties at the university. Elkin was furious with him for not pulling his weight.
Opportunities for social scientists—economists, historians, sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists—were limited. Nevertheless, in the first decade after the end of the war, anthropology in particular was courted by the PNG Administration even to the extent of contemplating (and arranging for) a husband-and-wife team as government anthropologists.
There appeared to be a defined role and future for anthropology and its usefulness and practical application in the governance of colonised peoples. Elkin, who, in 1949–50, had undertaken a survey of anthropological research in Melanesia, recommended not only that colonial administrations appoint permanent anthropologists to research positions but also that mission societies appoint ‘mission anthropologists’ to help in their ‘approach, in their difficulties, and to evaluate functionally the effects of their activities’.
He advocated—as he had before the war—that colonial officials and mission staff be trained in anthropology and associated subjects before embarking on their work. This represented some continuity with pre-war colonial governments and the place of anthropology but there was an added dimension: an interest in social change.
The establishment of an Army School of Civil Affairs at Duntroon in December 1944 illustrated the success of the DORCA [Alf Conlon’s Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs] in convincing military authorities of the wisdom of such a training school; it provided further opportunities for social scientists and was part of the expansion of the social sciences in Australia.
The School of Civil Affairs was, however, short lived and, after a rather prolonged negotiation over the future of the school post war, it was placed under the control of the Department of External Territories, renamed the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) and located at Mosman on Sydney Harbour.
The school trained officers, especially cadets and patrol officers for service in Papua and New Guinea. Various members of the ASOPA hoped the school would be incorporated into the ANU as a centre for colonial studies and training along the lines of that offered at Oxford. This did not occur.
The new Administrator of Papua New Guinea, JK (Jack) Murray, who had been a member of DORCA, was keen to get a set-up that would allow ‘routine anthropological work being done in the territory, research work directed to the answers to specific questions such as those related to depopulation, health and the status of women’; there was, he opined, ‘practically [an] open field being presented to any research workers in anthropology who wish to undertake work here’.
In these circumstances, Elkin recommended a husband-and-wife team, Ronald and Catherine Berndt, who were eminently suitable to undertake such research. A formal appointment for the Berndts was in the air. The upshot was that the Berndts were not considered. Rather, Charles Julius, who had done his MA under Elkin before the war, was appointed in 1950 to a position often described as government anthropologist.
Rather than making it an administration-wide one, the position was confined to the Department of District Services and Native Affairs and ‘limited to District Services’ requirements, which emphasises the point that no GA [Government Anthropologist] being available for the purposes of other departments such as Health and Education’.
The terms of Julius’s appointment cut across the plans of the Director of Education, WC Groves, who envisaged a research section in the Education Department in which Julius would have represented anthropology, the Viennese-educated Stephen Wurm linguistics, and a ‘third person specialised in Applied or Educational Psychology’.
Julius retained his position as anthropologist in the Department of District Services until his death in 1965. Unlike his predecessors, Chinnery and Williams, he acted as neither gatekeeper nor active researcher; he appears not to have engaged in any serious long-term anthropological research.
Groves pointed out to Elkin that as far as he could determine the newly appointed Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, squashed the proposal: ‘anthropology has no place in his administration.’