Oxford in the ‘New World’. Notes for a genealogy of the anthropology of South America

This essay deals with the figure of four anthropologists trained at Oxford, who were specialists of Native South America at their respective times: Everard im Thurn, Beatrice Blackwood, Audrey Butt Colson, and David Maybury-Lewis. I first refer to some of the research done at Oxford in this regard (lowland South America) and then examine these pioneers’ diverse contexts through archive exploration.

Key words: anthropologists, indigeneity, history of anthropology, South America, Native America.

"What anthropologists really like to hear about, apart from other anthropologists, is anthropology" (Rodney Needham)


Not every history is a completely nice and transparent one. My initial interest was to know about the motivations to study the indigenous peoples of the Americas in Oxford anthropology, who as this discipline has aided to evince, were brutally decimated since the “discovery” and occupation of the so-called “New” World began[1]. About 95% of the indigenous population died as a result of the so-called Conquest and subsequent colonisation of their territories by multiple European empires. In the wake of unapologetic narratives attempting to reframe the past in a more bearable and allegedly nonconfrontational way (according to which that surviving 5% must pay unrestricted homage to the grace of having received the gifts of civilisation), I started asking what anthropology has concretely been doing, besides apparently just abandoning the “study of the primitive peoples” or self-indulging into questioning categories like indigenous (in turn embedded in a history of rights' vindications; cf. UN 2007), to help set right the record of those who provided it its raison d'être until the middle of the last century[2]T o be sure, much has been done since the emergence of the systematic study of human “cultures” began. Despite this uneasy coexistence with the legacy of labels such as “savages”, a denomination spearheaded by founding figures like R.R. Marett and E.B. Tylor, I chose an approach as disaffected, "objective", and diaphanous as possible. The result is an essay with an exploratory character, this is, with an expositive rather than an analytic goal, as I argue this makes possible a better understanding of how these ideas and ways of framing “other” ways of life -what we call the anthropological thinking- has been progressively developing through the concrete actions of its practitioners, explicitly towards respect, pluralism, and mutual understanding, although always within the limits of a specific epoch.

In this essay I will retrieve four vignettes of different anthropologists trained at, and linked in many ways to Oxford, representing different times and contexts. I first start with a general panorama of South American anthropology in the United Kingdom, exploring specifically some of the research that has been conducted in this regard at Oxford. This is unavoidably superficial since a thorough review greatly exceed the purposes of this contribution. Nevertheless, I think it will serve as a starting point for further documentation on the subject to those interested in the topic.

The first Americanists


Photo of Darcy Ribeiro and Francis [Huxley] with the Ka’apor from from roberts and itten 2021

Image 1: “Darcy Ribeiro and Francis [Huxley] with the Ka’apor”. Taken from: Roberts and Itten (2021: 149)

Undoubtedly this genealogy would have to begin with Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), who despite had not gone properly on a fieldwork expedition, did go to Mexico on a holiday (Petch 2007: 28), and was able to publish extensively through his, probably his most renowned book is Primitive Culture from 1873, but he also wrote several essays and papers presented at different scientific institutions. Tylor maintained “correspondence with people abroad who could collect both data and artifacts” (Stoking 1992 cited in Petch 2007: 28), as we will see with the case of im Thurn. But Barbara Whitchurch Freire-Marreco (1879-1967) was the very first graduate from Oxford in anthropology, where she was “taught by [Henry] Balfour” (Petch 2007: 29) and was “examined by Tylor who had never examined or been examined”. Freire-Marreco conducted fieldwork among Pueblo peoples in New Mexico and Arizona between 1910-13 [3]. She co-edited with John Linton Myres the third edition (1912) of the influential manual Notes and Queries (Petch 2007: 29). Her friend and colleague Beatrice Mary Blackwood (1889-1975) visited the same Pueblo communities and went also to New Guinea. After these two pioneer women, Francis John Heathorn Huxley (1923-2016), biologist trained at Oxford and member of the Huxley family (his uncle was Aldous), got a MSc. in anthropology from Oxford in 1950, after having been awarded an Emslie Horniman scholarship two years before. That very year, 1948, Mr. Huxley went on an Oxford University expedition to Gambia. Then he conducted fieldwork among the Ka’apor people in Brazil, first with Darcy Ribeiro in 1951, and then on his own in 1953 (Roberts and Itten 2021: 5). His dissertation was published in 1957 under the title Affable Savages: An Anthropologist Among the Urubu Indians of Brazil. He was also the author of The Way of the Sacred (1974) among many other titles. Also, interestingly specially with relation to the fourth section of this essay, Mr. Huxley was one of the founders of the organization Survival International.

Also in the 1950s, Audrey Joan Butt (born 1926) went to the Upper Mazaruni, Guyana, completing her DPhil in 1954. She then “lectured in 1956 on South American societies, mainly the Guianas, and with a particular emphasis on the Akawaio, at the Department of Ethnology and Prehistory at Oxford University” (Rival 1999). Dr. Butt Colson has written and researched extensively about the Kapong and Pemong peoples of the Guiana Shield (Guyana, Venezuela, Brazil, Surinam), mainly in the Upper Mazaruni. Her latest book, Land (2009), summarizes her career and contributions to contemporary demands for territory.

The place of South American studies in Oxford anthropology

While Dr. Butt was a pioneer in Amerindian studies at Oxford, if we open the scope to South American, Latin American, or even American (in the whole and not US restrictive/appropriative sense of the term, i.e., North America, Middle or Central America, and South America), we can note that among the doctoral theses in anthropology accepted from 1936 (year of the first such degree conferred) [4] relating directly to the Americas, the early work of Louis Fernando Henriques (1948) stands. Henriques was a British anthropologist from Afro-Caribbean descent, who worked on social structure and race in his natal Jamaica. He published many books, including Family and Colour in Jamaica (1953), based on his DPhil thesis, and Children of Caliban (1974) [5]. After him, three of the authors covered in this essay came (see part 2, or section 3 and 4): Audrey Butt (1954), already mentioned, David Maybury-Lewis (1960), and Peter Rivière (1965). They were followed by a more prolific period in the 1970s and subsequent generations: Verena Stolcke (1970), Argentinian from Belgian descent, on marriage, class, and colour in nineteenth-century Cuba; Julie Taylor (1974), Argentinian, on Eva Peron and the concept of myth; Donald Tayler (1977) in Colombia [6]; Didier Boremanse (1978), Belgian, on the Lacandon peoples of Mexico; Juan Manuel Ossío Acuña (1979), Peruvian, on the Andean community of Andamarca, Peru; Richard Hoosie Heelas (1980) on the  Kreen-Akrore of Central Brazil; Marcus E.M. Colchester (1982); Scott William Hoefle (1983); Neil L. Whitehead (1984); etc.
To have an estimate, between 1975 and 1980, from the total 404 masters and doctoral thesis in social anthropology accepted at British universities (Webber 1983), 103 were done in Oxford (60 masters and 43 DPhil), representing 25,5% of the total, while the next two were 9,7% (39 theses) and 7,9% (32 theses), in Cambridge and Manchester respectively. These numbers tend to contradict the perception of archaeologist Eric Thompson (trained at Cambridge) who had expressed one decade before that “Americans haven’t yet realized that Oxford is now a mere appendage of the Morris-Cowley works!” [7]. In terms of the countries where the research was conducted, 14,85% (61) corresponded to the Americas, a half of those done in Africa (121 theses or 29,95% of the total), while Asia represents 27,47% (111), and Europe 19,31% (78). Among these, 18 (30%) were from Oxford: 11 masters (including B.Litt. and M.Litt. degrees) and 7 doctoral theses. From these total 18 dissertations, 13 (72,22%) were about indigenous cultures of the Americas. It can be argued, then, that by the end of the twentieth century Oxford was still preponderous in social anthropology, and within it, indigenous peoples were the main scope in South American studies. This had not been the tonic during the first half of the twentieth century. As the third part of this essay will show, the efforts of Dr. Audrey Butt Colson and the parallel publication of the ‘Parry Report’ proved a turning point, enabling the emergence of ‘Latin American Studies’.

This relative lack of anthropological research of South America from Oxford during the first half of the twentieth century can be directly explained having in mind that Latin America was not historically an area of interest for Great Britain (note the absence of South America in Wendy James’ contribution to Rivière 2007, about Oxford’s global links), and on the other hand, by the fact that most of the efforts were placed on working within those territories that were part of the Empire (the so-called ‘prescribed area’). In a very explicit way, then, the trajectory of anthropology was entangled with colonialism [8]. In fact, a big part of the teaching activity was devoted to the formation of colonial officers, an activity that lasted until around those same years. In parallel, this is reflected theoretically in what was the common ideology sustaining the expansion of British (or more broadly European) colonialism, namely: social evolutionism. Anthropology was defined explicitly, until the middle of the last century, as the ‘study of primitive societies’ (Evans-Pritchard 1951 quoted in Asad 1973: 11). Physical anthropology of the kind of classifying races and human types was one of the commonest enterprises to be sought by practicing anthropologists (although already in the figure of Blackwood this can be problematized, given her awareness of the problems of racism, see Peers 2003). Yet, much has happened during the last century, in which anthropology ‘surprisingly has survived’ (James 2004: 15). In this context, I propose in this essay to shed some light on the trajectory of four pioneers of South American anthropology at Oxford: Sir Everard im Thurn, Miss Beatrice Blackwood, Dr. Audrey Butt Colson, and Dr. David Maybury-Lewis, by following different registers, devices, and archives (photography, correspondence, papers). Each of the following sections will be dealing with one of these figures at a time.


Sepia Photo of Wapisiana shield game. Im Thurn Collection, The Royal Anthropological Institute.

“Warrau shield game; players assembled with their decorated shields”. Copyright Royal Anthropological Institute (Im Thurn Collection).



1. “Among red-skinned Indians”: im Thurn in British Guiana

Sir Everard Ferdinand im Thurn (1852-1932) was a botanist, explorer, anthropologist, and colonial administrator. His first book, Birds of Marlborough (1870), was published before he went to Oxford, where he matriculated at Exeter in 1871. Having excelled as part of the college’s Boat Club, he later had the opportunity to test “his watermanship on the vast Essequibo” or the Kaieteur Fall in then British Guiana, South America (Marett 1934: xii) [9]. A “man of rare and attractive qualities” (RAI 1980: 14), characterized by his “tact in dealing with all sorts and conditions of men” (Marett 1934: xxii), im Thurn had an extraordinary career which started as Curator of the Museum of Georgetown, then called Museum of the Royal Agricultural and Commercial Society of British Guiana (Tayler 1992: 187), from 1877 to 1879. He was able to secure this position with the help of Sir Joseph Hooker, Director of Kew Gardens (Ibid.), in order to “earn a living” after his father’s business, a merchant banker called John Conrad im Thurn, “fell upon evil days”. His “wanderings in search of botanical specimens brought him in touch with the Indians”, wrote Robert Ranulph Marett, former Rector of Exeter College and pioneer of Oxford anthropology among others like E.B. Tylor. Marett thought that im Thurn might have been warned “once for all off Guiana as a playground” (Marett 1934: xiii-xiv) if he had read previous published works about them, in his controversially racist formulation, the “wild savages of Guiana” [sic].

Back in England, Everard im Thurn started writing down his “experiences among the Redmen” (Marett 1934: xiii), in what would become the “anthropological classic” and “masterpiece” (Ibid.), Among the Indians of Guiana (1883). During this period, he met Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (whom he called “the great Master of the modern science of anthropology”; im Thurn 1921: 16 [10] and was also in touch with leading scientific institutions, like the Royal Geographic Society, the Kew Gardens, and the Royal Anthropological Institute, over which he was later to preside between 1919-21. Having entered the Colonial Service, Sir Everard was able to return to Guiana in 1882 as special magistrate of the Pomeroon River District. This was the first time he started using a camera as a means of recording data [11] (RAI 1980: 14; Cox 2007; im Thurn 1893). The photographs that now form part of the RAI’s archive, where he documented mainly different “physical types” [12] and games, are from this period. Cox argued that im Thurn’s photographs were elevated (for instance by Tayler 1992) as “early examples of sympathetic and naturalistic representations of colonial subjects” (Cox 2007: 348). Further exploring the treatment of “half-bred” peoples, and the specific case of “Gabriel”, Cox conclude instead that im Thurn’s ‘nature’ was racially specific (Ibid.: 353) and worked as a “powerful mechanism for stabilizing scientific ‘facts’ about the colonial Other” (Ibid.: 364).

While in Guiana, he also succeeded in some exploits, like reaching the top of Mount Russell in the Pomeroon District in 1882 and that of the Roraima in 1884 (im Thurn 1882; 1885). After his service as magistrate (he was a government agent in North West district of British Guiana from 1891 to 1899; Cox 2007: 348), he was called by the Venezuelan Boundary Commission in 1899 to act as an expert adviser in Paris, to help settle a boundary dispute with Venezuela which had erupted in 1886. He also worked as a Times correspondent during this period. Later he was sent to Ceylon and Fiji to serve as Colonial Governor and High Commissioner of the Western Pacific between 1904-10. Most of the written documents (correspondence, reports, diary) in the Royal Anthropological Institute’s im Thurn Collection are from this period [13], when he visited the “remotest parts of his far-flung jurisdiction” (Marett 1934: xxi). Although he retired in 1910 and returned to London, the outbreak of the Great War made him move again to the Pacific, where he had an outstanding performance (he took care of a hundred survivors among the troops from Fiji) for which he was awarded K.B.E. in 1918. Among other recognitions that he received were to be made an honorary LL.D. by the University of Edinburgh (1911) and an honorary fellow of Exeter College, Oxford (1925).

Extract of a letter from Sir Everard im Thurn to Sir Edward Burnett Tylor 11 March 1889. Tylor Papers, Pitt Rivers Museum.

Image 2: Extract of a letter from Sir Everard im Thurn to Sir Edward Burnett Tylor 11 March 1889. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (Mss.Tylo.12.I.1).

I was able to find and transcribe only one document related to im Thurn in the Pitt Rivers Museum manuscripts archive, which is a letter written by him to E.B. Tylor, inquiring about his publications on games:

I should like to say that though of course I knew one of your chief subjects was games [14] I have not among a good deal of your writing contained in my small library your papers on games, nor can I recall when and in what shape they were published. It seems like too bare faced begging – but I am so placed that I do not know how to get hold of them unless you will help me. I do not think – indeed I am pretty sure on this point – that you have published any book on the subject; and [thus] […] must therefore exist in the […] form of contributions to periodicals"

Another motive for this letter was a theoretical one:

There is another point I should like to note here at once – though most probably it would be cleared in by your writings on games. It is this. I have used the word ‘games’ in a vague sense and in default of a better word. Brought to bay on the subject a few weeks ago by Dr. Gatschet, I suggested that probably ‘recreations’ better express what I mean than any other word I can find. That is to day the subject in which I am at present interested would include not only games proper – which in America are I suppose chiefly represented by various forms of ball-games and […] games – but also (and these in Guiana are much the most interesting) the dancing, and […] in general, which takes place here on festive, or funeral and on almost all other special occasions. Can you suggest a better word than ‘recreations’. (By the way yet another class of “games” might be called educational – these being those in which children learn their future work by imitating the serious occupations of their elders. As when the boy shoots lizards and small birds with a tiny bow and the girl makes [thing] brick-pots and goglets”.

Finally, he answers an apparent request for field data and artifacts, characteristic of Tylor’s correspondence with people abroad (cf. Petch 2007: 28) and more generally of a period of “epistolary anthropology” (Larson 2021: 22).

Of late years I have been too busy as a magistrate to put in order the casual notes I have made of dreams and such matters”, wrote im Thurn. “I will however gladly think over the matter [to] see of [sic] if I can give you any new information. I will also make another serious attempt to get at distinctive native names for soul, spirit, [etcetera]”.

About the possibility to contribute to Tylor’s “magic museum” he again indicated that his work as magistrate kept him “a good deal in the dark as to the peaimans [shaman] performances” but is in the position to contribute with some instruments (natural rattles of stone called Masikki-sikki [sic] by the Arawak, a horn made of a jaguar’s skull, and some baskets depicting different animal-patterns) [15].

Sir Everard developed the topic of games [16] the same year he wrote to Tylor (and other specialists from the United States). He classed all the “games of the Indians of Guiana” as “natural games” speculating that they were “originated spontaneously among the people who now play it” (as opposed to “artificial games” which were allegedly derived from previous ones). As such they “are therefore valuable as material to be used in [a] comparative study” (im Thurn 1934 [1889]: 34). There are several photographs of indigenous games in the RAI’s archive which can be linked with this publication [17]:

Makushi “vicissi duck game”: the children are imitating a flock “resting on the ground in a close-packed, irregular-shaped group”. Im Thurn Collection, The Royal Anthropological Institute.

Image 3: Makushi “vicissi duck game”: the children are imitating a flock “resting on the ground in a close-packed, irregular-shaped group”. Copyright Royal Anthropological Institute (Im Thurn Collection).

1) the Makushi children’s “dramatic representations of doings of adult friends or animals” (Ibid.: 36-37) including “game of going to town” and “up the creek” (photo no. 28), the monkey game (no. 30), vicissi duck game (no. 32/613; see image 2), mosquito game (no. 33), and ring game (no. 132) [18], the latter being an example of another class corresponding to “simply exhibitions of animal spirits without any dramatic element” (Ibid.: 38);

2) the Arawak’s “similar simple games of imitation”, played by “most men and women as well as children” (Ibid.), including the trumpet-bird or warracaba game (no. 34), whip or macquari game (no. 28/641) and rattle game (no. 35/648; Ibid.: 39-47); and

3) the Wapisiana’s taratoo or “shield game” (no. 42; see heading image and Ibid.: 47-51). It is described as the “only game except mere children’s games not accompanied by drinking”. In it, “each player [was] provided with a large shield made of palm-leaf stalks” and it had a “real element of contention” serving as a “trial by ordeal” (Ibid.: 47-49).


At this time, photography was employed mainly to portray the different “physical types”, and in terms of the composition, “at least a front view and profile were required” (RAI 1980: 4). This is observable in im Thurn’s photography, where he also included many examples of “rear view of body” (e.g., photo no. 55/649) and other specific poses where the characteristics of the bodies can be contemplated (for instance, the photo of a young man lying on a palm leaf, no. 82).

What is also distinctive of im Thurn’s photographs is the classification of the “specimen” according to the group they belonged to (i.e., “true Carib”, Makushi, Warrau [Wapisiana], Arawack [Arawak], Ackawoi [Akawaio]), relative age, and gender (e.g., “A true Carib male”, etc.). In terms of the former category, there is special interest in noting the degree of miscegenation of what were thought to be different human races, specially noting those who were “half-breeds” or “half-castes" [19] (e.g., Arawack/Spanish, true Carib/Scotch, Warrau/African, Arawack/Portuguese). This feature was typical of the European and ethnological thought of the moment, which while having connections with altruistic initiatives like the anti-slavery groups from the 1820s or the Aboriginal Protection Society, had perhaps the most dramatic consequences in the realization of numerous colonial exhibitions (like the Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne in 1866, the Moscow Ethnographic Exhibition in 1867, the Colonial Exhibition in Amsterdam in 1883, etc.). In these instances, “sometimes real people were exhibited” (RAI 1980: 4-5). But in a more biographical sense, im Thurn’s interest in human races might have been influenced by his background from a "good stock" family – his “mother’s mother was a Campbell” as Marett (1934: x) recalled.

Lonk (im Thurn 1893: 196), a “Macusi male; full face; wearing neck/chest decoration and loin cloth” (photo no. 11/618). Im Thurn Collection, The Royal Anthropological Institute

Image 4: Lonk (im Thurn 1893: 196), a “Macusi male; full face; wearing neck/chest decoration and loin cloth” (photo no. 11/618). Copyright Royal Anthropological Institute (Im Thurn Collection).

His views of the so-called “Indians” are often favorable, at least he seemed to prefer them to other inhabitants of Guyana. In fact, while the latter were “unmanageable and disagreeable”, for him it was “far pleasanter to employ only Indians” because they were “easily managed but also far more pleasant in manner” (1883: 5). Also, they were “civil” and “hospitable” (1883: 19). Indeed, he was remembered for his “close bonds of sympathy” among the “Indian tribes of Guiana” (W.L.S. 1932: 556). But the “Redskins of South America”, as he had it [20], also had some reprehensible behaviour, like the “cruelties” they exhibited towards tame animals, being “incapable” of natural affection in his opinion (im Thurn 1934: 153), or the way they used to “gorge their food”, although he thought at the same time that their “power of gorging is really wonderful” (1883: 15). This state of amusement is expressed repeatedly in his early ethnographic account of lowland South America, for instance with respect to the peoples’ “rich red colour of their skin, made yet more red by paint” which produced a landscape of “harmony in red and brown”, or as they sailed their canoes, the “naked skins of the Indians (…) literally flashed red in the intense light” (1883: 13); although it were of course “the Indians who undoubtedly have a childlike love and affection for bright colours” (1934: 162).

Photographic protrait in Black and white of Sir Everard Ferdinand im Thurn (1852-1932). Taken from im Thurn (1934).

Image 5: Sir Everard Ferdinand im Thurn (1852-1932). Taken from: im Thurn (1934).

Most likely, these somewhat annoying descriptions were shaped by the cultural context in which Sir Everard developed his work. In fact, this is noticeable already in a writing from 1889, still during his period in South America, where he expressed that “anthropologists seem to me either unusually liable to suffer from the insufficiency of adequate terms or to be peculiarly non-inventive in supplying this defect”. That would explain why they were still recurring to that “terrible and unavoidable word ‘savage’, used to express a man in an uncivilized state (it really, by the way, means a woodman or man of the silvage)” (im Thurn 1934 [1889]: 32). Later he insisted that “savagery” was not quite a useful analytical concept, although “unfortunately it seems now too late to substitute any term of less misleading suggestion”. He saw himself as “tr[ying] as abstract and unprejudiced point of view as possible to understand the character, mental and moral attitude of the natural ‘savage’; more accurately described as the wild man” (1914: 251-252). Seven years later he further developed the point, arguing that the presumed “savagery” of natives “does not mean “fierceness”. In reality it means no more than “wildness” or “uncontrolledness” (…) in that they had not been subjected to the influence of “civilization”” (im Thurn 1921: 15). Marett (1934: xv) remembered his efforts, not quite happily in retrospect, as “expound[ing] without bias or prejudice the scheme of sub-human Nature in its entirety, and at the same time relates the savage, the genuine Homo silvestris, to that scheme as hardly more than an integral part of it”. For Marett, im Thurn’s demonstrated that the “naturalist is just the man to prepare the way for the introduction of a higher civilization”, and his trajectory was an example of applied anthropology. Im Thurn did consider in fact that “[o]ne of the greatest practical tasks of the anthropologist is constantly to strive to improve this mutual understanding” among “civilized” and “primitive folk” (1921: 17). But he had progressively refined his thought sufficiently to state, during his Presidential Address to the RAI in 1921, that the Pacific Islanders “were not fierce “savages”; but were a highly self-cultured and in many cases a courteous and even hospitable people” (Ibid: 20). Unfortunately, he concluded the same paper with a nuance (“but entirely uncivilized”) that contradicted the very facts he gave and what he himself provided as a definition for civilization: altruism, or the “prime motive of human action” being the “good of others”. In fact, he attested that the indigenous peoples manifested an almost universal friendliness towards the unknown “other”, and “[t]hey only became repellent when they were habitually injured by their visitors” (Ibid. 24).

At the mouth of Demerara River, there was during the nineteenth-century an export trade that involved many animals, mainly parrots, which were carried to England: “if they could speak, they could tell odd stories of their early life spent, half free, among red-skinned Indians”, wrote im Thurn. “As a child sitting before the family parrot, I used often to wonder what sort of place it came from, and what were the surroundings of its early life. Afterwards I saw these things for myself” (im Thurn 1934: 165).

2. "Lands and Peoples". The Blackwood lectures [21]

Photo of typed pages on the lands peoples ii cultivators of tropical south america the manioc area blackwood papers pitt rivers museum

“Lands & Peoples II. Cultivators of Tropical South America. The Manioc area”. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (Mss.Blac.40.4.4).


At a time when what was most usual was the ethnology of so-called “prescribed area” (namely East Africa: Southern Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Uganda and Kenya [22]), the first teaching experience of Lowland South American indigenous peoples in the University of Oxford was realized by Miss Beatrice Mary Blackwood (1889-1975) of the then Department of Ethnology and Prehistory at Oxford University. In 1948 she was already “lecturing on the Pueblo Indians” [23]. In effect, as summarized by Rival (1999: 213), she “gave a few lectures every year on Lowland South America as part of her two-term course on ‘Lands and Peoples’ for geography and anthropology students. This was followed in the third term by a course on the archaeology and prehistory of Latin America, which was mainly dedicated to the study of Highland civilizations”. In fact, it is possible to reconstruct some of these courses from the papers she bequeathed to the Pitt Rivers manuscripts archive, particularly those containing lectures and bibliographic notes, materials that gain more legibility from the summary she herself elaborated (Blackwood 1965).

Blackwood started her long-term bond with Oxford in 1908 when she got a scholarship at Somerville College to read English. In common with im Thurn, she was captain of the college’s Boat Club when she was 22 years old (Larson 2021). After graduating in 1912 and having worked in London with Miss Maria Czaplicka assisting her in her ethnological research for some time (Ibid.), she took the Diploma in Anthropology between 1916-18, approving with distinction, although membership and conferment of degrees were not open to women until 1920. That very year, Blackwood registered for the B.A. and M.A., on the same day (Penniman 1976), after which she joined Arthur Thomson, Professor of Human Anatomy, as his assistant. In 1923 she got a B.Sc. with a thesis on Embryology. Blackwood’s connection with the Americas started in 1924 when, following the advice of R.R. Marett, she went to see Professor Clark Wissler of the University of Yale, spending three years in Canada and the United States on a Rockefeller Fellowship (Ibid.). She visited the “Northwest Indian area” until 1927, where she observed that it was “interesting that [the] Kwakiutl and Gidkihan [sic] are still carrying on so much of their culture” [24]. Her objective was to “study the relative intelligence of various races in America” which later materialized in corresponding articles and books (Blackwood 1927, 1930; see also Peers 2003).

At her return to England, she was transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1935 where she served as Demonstrator and Lecturer in Ethnology until her retirement in 1959. She later assumed as vice-president of the PRM keeping her connection with the museum until her demise (Penniman 1976). She was awarded the Rivers Memorial Medal in 1943 for her fieldwork in North America, Melanesia, and New Guinea. In 1948 she was elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and was also nominated as one of the two National Secretaries for the United Kingdom section on the Permanent Council of the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (the other was Meyer Fortes). In 1955 she was elected a member of the RAI’s Council, eventually becoming its vice-president. The same year she was appointed simultaneously representative of the University of Oxford and delegate of RAI at the XXXII International Congress of Americanists, Copenhagen 1956 [25]. In fact, she was an active member of the Society of Americanists (Penniman 1976).

From at least 1946 until 1958 Beatrice Blackwood offered lectures on different “Lands and Peoples” from the Americas, including “The [North American] Southwest” (Hopi, Pueblo, etc.) [26] and “The Higher Cultures of South America” (or “The Higher Civilizations of Pre-Conquest America”) namely “Aztec, Maya and Inca” (Trinity Term 1950), but also some more specifics about for instance “Pre-Inca Cultures” (Trinity Term 1955), “Pre-Aztec”, or “The Aztec” (Trinity Term 1950). Besides the geographical region, type of culture and their alleged degree of technological development [27], the lectures were also oriented according to the subsistence or economic activities they developed: “Maize Cultivators of Mexico, Central America and the Andean Area”, “Cultivators of Tropical South America (The manioc area)”, “The Horticultural Areas”, “South American Hunting peoples”; or their way of life: “Sedentary People of the Desert / The Pueblo Indians”, etc. Already in these times South America was conceptualized in terms of a division in ‘highlands’, ‘lowlands’, and forested areas, which came from the Handbook of South American Indians (edited by Julian Steward in 1936). Blackwood worked with this material, and other authors of the time, e.g. Clark Wissler, as the papers evince. It is likely that these lectures were also triangulated with those offered in other universities, as the presence among the papers of the “Chicago Syllabus” for Middle America reveals, but also the fact that some of the authors from the books and articles building up the reading lists were in close contact among themselves [28]: Robert Redfield, Eric Thompson, Alfred Métraux, Geoffrey Bushnell, Sol Tax, and others. For the lecture on “Cultivators of the South American Tropical Forest Region”, the bibliography included among others the works of im Thurn (see previous section), Gillin and Métraux, while the lecture on “higher civilizations” included Thompson’s books.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Beatrice Blackwood and Barbara Aitken (Freire-Marreco) were of the opinion that the indigenous peoples of the Americas retained many of their cultural and biological traits, although they pointed particularly to the Spanish Conquest as having a tremendous impact and inducing change. Some notes from one of Blackwood’s lectures state that they will be “dealing with peoples as they now are. A mixed culture, but a good deal of the original Indian still remains” adding that the “Spanish policy [was] one of absorption by means of admixture. Not many full blood Indians [were] left in many places. Where they do remain, type survives with astonishing fidelity, cf., ancient sculptures and modern Maya and Zapotec” [29]. Discussing the hypothesis of “Pueblo Indians” being “always patrilineal”, Aitken wrote to Blackwood: “I don’t consider it proved by any means, especially as we have the Spanish administration of that part of the territory as a causa causans of change of custom” [30]. These views were later reinforced by Blackwood in a published bibliographic synthesis of so-called Americanist studies:

“In some areas, although there has been contact with our own civilization for more than three hundred years, so much of the ancient culture still survives that excavated objects can be recognized by comparison with their modern counterparts, and their meaning and use ascertained by reference to present-day practices. This is not true everywhere, of course, for many tribes have become extinct, and others, though they survive, have changed so much that they view with astonishment the achievements of their forbears when these are shown or explained to them” (Blackwood 1965: 321).

A controversial aspect of Oxford teaching in anthropology, which extended beyond the first half of the twentieth century (cf. Rivière 2007), was the training of cadets for colonial administration, mainly in Africa, Malaya, Burma (Myanmar), but also the so-called ‘West Indies’ [31]. Blackwood was herself involved in it at least from 1939 [32]. The Colonial (later renamed to “Oversea [sic]”) Service Courses and the Oxford University Colonial Summer School on Colonial Administration were intended to give the cadets an “introduction to the indigenous culture of the people amongst whom they are going to work” [33]. In the case of the latter, “organized under the auspices of the Social Studies Research Committee of Oxford University”, it was “attended by officers of the Colonial Service, the Sudan Civil Service and the Burma Civil Services [sic]” (another document also mentions the Indian Civil Service [34]).

“[T]he purpose of some of the lectures was to survey the position of the Colonial Empire against the background of the political and economic situation of the world of to-day. Others were intended to throw comparative light upon the problems of colonial administration from the experience of India and foreign colonial territories (…) The anthropological approach to administrative problems was explained by leading teachers and by field workers [Professors Le Gros Clark, Radcliffe Brown, Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Fortes and Mair], and led to lively debate” [35]

image 6 miss beatrice mary blackwood 1889 1975 in 1967 copyright pitt rivers museum university of oxford photograph collections 1998 271 75 detail

Image 6 Miss Beatrice Mary Blackwood (1889-1975) in 1967. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (Photograph Collections, 1998.271.75, detail).

There are some hints that the anthropological discipline might have developed a critical and not completely complicit role. For instance, the secretary of the Colonial Summer School, hosted at Lady Margaret Hall, wrote in 1940 that “at the last session of the school lectures were given on anthropology and kindred subjects by Radcliffe-Brown and Evans Pritchard and Fortes, and a discussion was held on the relations between administration and anthropology” [36]. That the subject was at least a topic for discussion can also be confirmed by some of the exam questions from the Diploma at the time, for instance: “Is it possible to justify the lack of interest anthropologists sometimes seem to show in problems of administration in the colonies?” [37]. Nevertheless, at first look Blackwood does not seem to have faced herself any contradiction or ‘dissatisfaction’ -as for instance Peers (2003: 79-80; 2007) suggested was the case with her studies on the relative intelligence of races in North America-, rather expressing her delight to serve in the teaching of the Colonial Service probationers. “I should be pleased to give them [Malaya cadets] a set of three lectures on the arts and industries of Malaya if you care to have this done”, she wrote to the Supervisor of the Oversea [sic] Service Courses in 1955: “We have an exceptionally rich collection of objects from Malaya, and I have in past years given courses in the area to cadets, and should be glad to do so again” [38]. This was materialized, and she gave a course on “Malayan Arts and Industries” during the first four weeks of TT 1955 (only for the Malaya cadets). The other course was “Arts and Industries of British Africa” with a duration of three weeks (for all cadets except those for Malaya). All the courses were held in the Pitt Rivers Museum. The latter was renamed to “Some African Arts and Industries” (for the cadets for Africa) during Trinity Term 1958 when she also lectured on the “Ethnology of the Western Pacific” (for the cadets for Fiji and Western Pacific).

Blackwood also supported the Colonial Service cadets in other ways. For instance, she acted as referee for Miss Jeanne M. Fisher’s application to the Colonial Social Science Research Council for a grant to undertake research in Africa [39]. There is also testimony that she was concerned and asking the Colonial Office about the status of many of the cadets who faced complicated situations during the War (some were held prisoners). As for the students coming from colonized territories, they were interestingly seen by Blackwood to behave very similarly to the members of surviving Amerindian “tribes” (see above): “[w]ith regard to the African from the Gold Coast, I have frequently had such students among our Diploma people, and have found that they are, as a rule, very ignorant about the arts and industries of their own people, and are interested in hearing about them especially as some of the objects shown to them are of high artistic quality” [40].

A second part of this essay will be dealing with two of Blackwood’s students: David Henry Peter Maybury-Lewis, who later migrated to Harvard, and Audrey Joan Butt Colson, her successor [41] as Demonstrator in Ethnology at the Pitt Rivers Museum. With respect to both, Blackwood was asked to be a referee: in the case of Dr. Butt’s application to a Leverhulme research award in 1963 [42], which she supported “confidently recommend[ing] her as a suitable candidate”, adding that: “I have known her since 1948, first as pupil and subsequently as colleague on the staff of the Pitt Rivers Museum (…) She has already carried out two very successful periods of field work in South America, in which she has proved that she can gain the confidence of the Indians, without which the collection of authentic ethnological material is impossible” [43]. As for Maybury-Lewis’ application to the Emslie Horniman Anthropological Scholarship Fund [44], Blackwood described Maybury-Lewis as “an able young man, with a special aptitude for languages” adding that “his work is likely to be of a high standard”. She mentions a prior fieldwork experience, “some of which was done under very difficult conditions”, in which he brought specimens from the Serente [sic] Indians [45].

The Emslie Horniman Fund, a research grant from the RAI, was awarded to many of Oxford’s Americanists: Audrey Butt (1948), Francis Huxley (1949), David Maybury-Lewis (1957), Donald Tayler (1966), Marcus Colchester (1979). The origins of the scholarship also reveal some uncomfortable details. Emslie John Horniman’s (1863-1932) “decision to create the Fund arose from his conviction, as a result of wide travel, that the scientific study of non-European peoples was vital to the British Empire, as well as to the health, happiness, progress and good government of these peoples throughout the world”. It expressly specified that “[m]embers of the British naval, military, colonial, diplomatic or consular service, or like services of any of the Dominions or Dependencies of the British Empire, and those intending to enter them, are eligible for awards” [46].

3. The Butt Committee (1957-1968)

copyright prm trio of men watching a missionary aircraft

Trio men watching a missionary aircraft at Alalaparu. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (Rivière Collection, 2001.33.113.1).


first draft of the guiana project commented by beatrice blackwood blackwood papers prm

Image 7: First draft of the ‘Guiana Project’, commented by Beatrice Blackwood. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (Mss.Blac. 42.2.6).

During the final years of the 1950s a group of anthropologists came together to promote the British anthropological research of South America. Dr. Audrey Joan Butt Colson (from Lady Margaret Hall and later St. Hugh’s College, Oxford) led the conformation of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Committee for Middle and South American Research [47], which was formally established in 1958 to “encourage and extend anthropological research in Middle and South America” aiming “to form an international clearing house for the exchange of information”. One year before, the preparations for its establishment were already on the making through the efforts of Dr. Butt and Dr. Marion W. Smith (Honorary Secretary of the RAI from 1956 to 1961). The starting point was the diagnose of a “widespread feeling that South America has been neglected in the sphere of Social Anthropology” [48]. The Committee was initially conformed by: Beatrice Blackwood, Edward Evans-Pritchard and Francis Huxley (Oxford); Geoffrey Bushnell, Meyer Fortes and Eric Thompson (Cambridge); Hermann Braunholtz, Philip Dark and Adrien Digby (British Museum); Daryll Forde (UCL); Max Gluckman (Manchester); and Marion Smith (RAI].[49]

The first objective of the group thus constituted was to obtain funds for a “project to be presented to the [Ford] Foundation”, which was labelled “Guiana Project” [50]. In fact, among the measures agreed in the first meeting held on 26 March 1958, during which the Chairmanship was handed to Cyril Daryll Forde (1902-1973), Africanist and president of the RAI between 1947-49, it was decided that “the project should be limited to ‘Guiana region’ instead of all South American countries, including Brazil and Venezuela”. The intention was to configure “a truly international research project” and with that purpose different specialists were contacted, and the draft circulated [51]. An application was prepared in consequence to the Ford Foundation in 1958.


In the second meeting, held on 13 November 1958 [52], following a discussion on the feedback gathered from the specialists contacted (like Robert Redfield and Claude Lévi-Strauss), it was decided that priority was to be given to Amerindian studies, but not excluding village community studies. After Dr. Smith’s proposal, the existence of corresponding members was also established, who were “not expected to attend meetings owing to residence abroad” but would be the link between the Committee and the institution, area, or country they belonged to or resided in. In the first months of 1959, those who confirmed their participation as corresponding members were: Herbert Baldus (São Paulo), Cruxent, Roth (British Guiana), Claude Lévi-Strauss, Johanna Felhoen Kraal (WOSUNA, Holland), Otto Zerries (Germany), Rouse (USA), Theo L. Hills (McGills University, Montreal), Gillin, Huggins (West Indies; U C West Indies Jamaica), Lehmann (Musée de L’Homme, France), Jens Yde (Denmark), van Lier. They were joined by Sol Tax (Chicago) in 1960, Alfred Metraux (UNESCO) in 1961; and Bray (Sheffield), Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff (Colombia) [53] and Wilbert in 1966.

letter from claude levi strauss

Image 8: Letter from Claude Lévi-Strauss to Audrey Butt, 25 February 1958. Copyright Royal Anthropological Institute.

During the 1958 International Congress of Americanists, in Costa Rica, the committee members Philip Dark and Geoffrey Bushnell were able to receive a motion passed approving the Guiana project [54] and suggested “association with Yale Caribbean programme”[55]. However, a year later, the project was still seeking funds. The Ford Foundation rejected to support the project (Dr. Smith would write to Butt in 1959: “we got the cold shoulder from Ford”[56]), given that their interest in Latin America, embodied in their “only recently initiated Latin America Program” to study the relations between that part of the world and the United States, was focusing on Argentina, Brazil, and Chile [57]. Forde, the Committee Chairman, would reply that the Committee “concerns itself in principle with Latin America as a whole” and request they “might be advised of any occasion then [sic] its further interests and views would be of concern to the Foundation”[58], not receiving in turn any further response. Butt wrote: “a pity about Ford. I expect we can put it again (year after year if necessary!) If what Prof. Firth said at the Assoc. of. Soc. Anthropologists meeting is correct. Apparently we are expected to try again and again [59], suggesting at the same time to try with the “Wenner-Gren or other Foundation” [60]. The Smithsonian Institute also declined funding. Still in 1959, the project received support “in principle” from the Ministry of Education of then British Guiana which did not materialize into something concrete. To get funds proved in fact to be much more difficult than envisaged. As Alfred Métraux later expressed to Dr. Butt, “[i]n our regular Unesco programme, there is money set aside for anti-Semitism, for meetings and whatnot, but not a penny for studies of the type you mention, studies which I personally consider most important, worthwhile and urgent [61]. Three years after the formation of the Committee, the main labors done were still “almost entirely preparatory; nevertheless, contacts between members have proved useful in guiding and informing students who wish to begin work in America, but who have not known how to set about it”.

The third meeting took place on 10 March 1959 [62]. At this stage, owing to insufficient time to complete the changes proposed by several of the committee members, the task was given to a sub-committee consisting of Dr. Forde, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Butt. On the fourth meeting, 31 May 1960, officially this sub-committee was “empowered to put the Project to the Foundations”. Forde asked if members had contacts with firms doing business in the Guiana area: the names of oil companies, fruit companies and shipping firms were suggested, and the secretary promised to circulate a brochure to facilitate business contacts. One of the suggestions later received by the corresponding members was to ask the “Creole Foundation which operates with Venezuelo [sic] oil money” [63].

The Committee revisited

image 9 the committee for middle and south american research royal anthropological institute

Image 9: The Committee for Middle and South American Research. Copyright Royal Anthropological Institute.

The opinions of the Committee’s corresponding members provide a glimpse to the varying attitudes towards the feeling of neglection referred to by Butt. For instance, Huggins (West Indies) expressed that “we look forward to the day when American studies will be as carefully and extensively treated in British universities as African studies are treated at present”[64]. Alfred Métraux (UNESCO), “aware of the dearth of good monographs on the social structure of South American tribes”, was of the opinion that this project “may prove to be the turning point in the study of South American Indians”[65]. On the other hand, some contended the alleged denial. Robert Redfield (Chicago) expressed that the project “seems to me very much to underestimate both the amount and the quality of anthropological research already done or current in Latin American”[66]. Similarly, Johanna Felhoen-Kraal from the Royal Institute of the Tropics, Amsterdam, suggested “to build a bibliography of existing publications concerning social research in the Guiana region, so as to have a realistic basis for the contention that it is a neglected area”[67].

Some of this was included in a “short bibliography of works dealing with British Guiana published by the University College of the West Indies”[68] enclosed by Huggins. Incidentally, this same letter hints some discrepancies in terms of the conceiving of the “Guiana region” in the project as composed by “the five nations having interests” there (“Brazil, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Venezuela”). Huggins asked whether beyond the “five nations involved in the area (…) is it not desirable to add The West Indies and British Guiana to the list of nations involved in the area” (this was marked with a “?!” by the recipient of the letter). Many Caribbean nations and Guyana were to obtain their independence shortly after. A further document from 1965 adds more details of how things kept unfolding: Theo Hills from McGill University, Montreal, referred to a “growing feeling of annoyance” in Guyana, since “the country had not benefited from research”[69]. Another aspect that the documents reveal are some ambiguities between the project as “a request for funds to enable British anthropologists to do work in Latin America and a proposal to establish a truly international central agency for assisting and perhaps guiding work in Latin America”[70]. Equivocations in a perspectival sense also stemmed occasionally in other instances, like the possible link between Ford (Foundation) and Forde (the Chairman), and a more interesting equivalence between Oxford and British anthropologists (e.g., “the study of the Caribbean would gain a great deal if Oxford British trained anthropologists were to work here”[71]), which a statement from Thompson appears to epitomize: “Americans haven’t yet realized that Oxford is now a mere appendage of the Morris-Cowley works!”[72].

Although Evans-Pritchard, Fortes and Gluckman were never present in the meetings, they were crucial because of the support they represented.  In 1966, by the time Butt wrote to Gluckman to evaluate his continuity, she expressed they were “most grateful to [the] Africanists and others who have willingly lent their name and supported our projects: it would have been very difficult to win any recognition as a Committee without having had this backing of eminent anthropologists outside the Americanist field”[73]. Gluckman replied: “I have of course been a member of your Committee -without doing much- in order to help you get going”[74]. He suggested to be replaced by Peter Worsley (Texas), a nomination that Butt recognized “would satisfy those feeling that now [that] we have got going we ought to have more Americanists”. She further commented about “the fact that one of your lecturers in sociology is now in Mexico. This area and this type of research is what the Americanist element in Oxford likes (more than Amerindians in the Bush). I believe Cambridge also feels this”[75]. In the end, Gluckman was invited to stay in the committee because “[t]here are not so many Americanists as yet, in spite of the Parry Report”[76].

Vera Rubin's Institute

trio people on trek

Image 10: Trio people on trek. Rivière Collection, 2001.33.146.1, Pitt Rivers Museum.

Things began to change for the Committee when Dr. Vera D. Rubin, Director of the Research Institute for the Study of Man (RISM), New York, responded positively in June 1961 to a request for funds. After asking her contacts in the Institute of Social and Economic Research in the University College of the West Indies, who had “worked for several years in a productive relation with [Dr. Rubin’s] unit”, Butt was encouraged to make an application, although she was advised that the institute’s “major interests in this region lie in the Creole societies with slave plantation histories, rather than in the Amerindians of the hinterlands”[77]. Despite this, Rubin offered “to make funds available for one studentship and one fellowship to an established scholar”[78]. Forde, the Chairman of the Committee, suggested Butt to “take the initiative and frame proposals (…) on the basis of general policy accepted by the Committee”[79]. In September 1961, Forde met Rubin in person and confirmed that her institute was “not in a position to make a grant direct to the R.A.I. in advance of definite proposals for specific field studies” but “might favourably consider specific applications for grants sponsored by the [Committee]”. In this sense it “will be necessary for individuals to frame specific projects and submit them through the Committee to her”[80]. Butt suggested that this “might be done through the Committee and the corresponding members who would know of any up and coming students amongst their own pupils”[81]. In response to a proposal of agenda for a meeting in October 1961, Forde wrote to Butt: “[c]ome armed with names to receive the grants”[82].

In December 1961, Butt wrote to Rubin to express their gratitude, and expressing their intention to make definite proposals in the spring of 1962. It did not go that smoothly. First, Forde stepped down from the Chairmanship that very month, “owing to pressure of work”[83]. After the fifth committee meeting on 14 November 1961, a long hiatus in terms of summoning the members happened (although “a great deal of business [was] transacted by post”). The sixth meeting occurred four years later, on 15 December 1965, when Dr. Eric Thompson [84] (proposed by Blackwood and seconded by Digby) officially took the chair from Forde. Nevertheless, Forde was invited to “stay on until London University has a Parry Lecturer in Latin American Studies” who “could then take over for you” since he was regarded “as a link north of the border (ie [sic] of Latin America!)”[85]. Then, on the other hand, a suitable candidate only emerged by the end of 1962: Peter Gerard Rivière (b. 1934), whose application for the Committee’s support was circularized among the members, reminding their original “intention to sponsor suitable projects for research”, and inviting them in consequence to forward their opinions. Unanimous support was received between December 1962 and January 1963. Hence, in the end of that last month, a letter was drafted for Dr. Vera Rubin. In it, the Committee Chairman expressed: “we did not find a completely suitable candidate, and we felt our first recommendation should be of a project and an individual in whom we have complete confidence. We now have such a project and such an individual”. Rivière was introduced as someone who has “a fine honors degree from Cambridge, and is likely to repeat that at Oxford”, and on whose project “the Surinam government is very interested”[86]. As a result of this application, and the support from the committee, “RISM offered to finance one year with a sum in dollars equivalent to 1500 pounds”. Dr. Butt celebrated this “most satisfactory conclusion” as the “first success of the Committee in helping to launch worthwhile research projects in American Studies, encourag[ing] us to proceed on the same lines (…) Success is not guaranteed, but the result of Mr. Riviere’s [sic] application shows that we can help" [87].

Later that year, Dr. Audrey Butt wrote to Rubin informing about Rivière’s advance, whom she saw “for 1 ½ days on my way back” from a research period among the Waiyana of Surinam. In this letter she expresses there are “signs that Latin American studies are improving in Britain”, for instance, there was a “Society for Latin American Studies just starting up and a government inspired committee, the Parry Committee, is investigating ways and means of stimulating research and interest in the area”. She finishes, assuring that “however, for the anthropologists you and your Institute will hold a special place – as being the very first to help us in our own particular line of study”[88]. After succeeding with his doctorate, Rivière became Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies, London, one of the five “Parry Centres”[89] established after the publication of the Report of the Committee on Latin American Studies (University Grants Committee 1965). The story of the so-called Parry Report, issued by “a subcommittee of the University Grants Committee chaired by historian John H. Parry” (Paquette 2019) provides legibility and background to the documents of the RAI’s Committee of Middle and South American Research explored here, by informing the multiple links (especially with US Foundations like the Ford Foundation) and the geopolitical context (the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Revolution) which explains the sudden emergence of this academic field after decades of neglection (see in this regard: Paquette 2019, Miller 2018).

The year of the Parry Report’s publication, 1965, Butt wrote that “much needs to be done in British Guiana still for anthropological and governmental benefit and in order to help the tribesfolk themselves”[90]. In 1966, that “I feel myself that Latin American Studies still need a lot of encouragement [and] as there is as yet no Parry money -we still have an important function”[91]. By 1967 though it was informed that there was “every indication that studies in Middle and South America which has been the committee’s aim to foster, are now beginning to multiply and prosper”. A year later, Butt wrote “it is gratifying to record that interest in South American research in particular is increasing rapidly”. There are no further records from activities of the Committee, suggesting that as anticipated after the appearance of the Parry Report in 1965, they did decide “whether or not we can assume that our ends have been achieved and whether we should dissolve ourselves”[92]. Thus, it seems that the Committee’s greatest achievement was to facilitate the accomplishment of Peter Rivière’s project[93], which in turn later helped set new standards in the anthropology of lowland South America (Rival 1999, Rival and Whitehead 2001).

4. The Other within? Maybury-Lewis and the Xavante

the young men dancing round the village

‘The young men dancing round the village’. Taken from: Maybury-Lewis (1967: plate VIII).

Another important contribution to South American anthropology in Oxford was that of the late Dr. David Henry Peter Maybury-Lewis (1929-2007), contemporary to Dr. Audrey Butt in Oxford. He conducted fieldwork in Central Brazil among the Xavante and the Xerente (both Gê speaking peoples), in the 1950s. As a corollary to this essay, I will briefly include Dr. Maybury-Lewis’ experience as reconstructed from both PRM and RAI’s archives[94]. Graduated from the DPhil in Anthropology at Oxford where he worked under the supervision of Rodney Needham and Edward Evans Pritchard (Peacock 2009, Levi 2009), he went later to Harvard where he became a professor from 1960 until his retirement in 2005.

David Maybury-Lewis was trained in Modern Languages and received his first degree from Cambridge in Spanish and Russian. Then he travelled to Brazil in 1953, where he learned Portuguese while studying ethnology with Herbert Baldus[95] at the Escola de Sociologia e Política of the Universidade de São Paulo (where he got a masters degree). He left testimony that his motivation to embark on the "madness" of going to South America, originated during his undergraduate years at Cambridge, where he attended a course on the discovery of America and dazzled with the "audacity of the conquistadors". With these "highly unscientific ideas in mind" (1965: 13), his mentor Baldus had urged him and his wife Pia (Maybury-Lewis 1992: 3) to follow up the work of the German explorer and anthropologist Kurt Unckel (also known as Nimuendajú[96]) and thus recommended: “you might find it easier to go to British Guiana and start there. On that frontier nobody minds who goes in and out of Brazil” (Maybury-Lewis 1965: 13).

He later provided a supplementary version for his early motivation to become an anthropologist. In a “story he also sometimes liked to share with his graduate students” (Levi 2009: 876), which he left written in the Introduction to his book Millenium (1992), we read: “I met my first aliens in early childhood, and they fascinated me”. He refers to an encounter with “camelmen” while he “was a small boy, travelling with my family in what was then British India and is now Pakistan”. He further explicit: “Perhaps that vague hankering for exotic peoples that impelled me later on to take up anthropology actually came from my early affection for my alien friends” (Maybury-Lewis 1992: 1-2).

Maybury-Lewis had embarked on the “restudy called for by Lévi-Strauss [who was also fascinated by Nimuendaju’s work] in 1952 on a large scale, through an ambitious bi-national project” in collaboration with the Museu Nacional at Rio de Janeiro and Harvard University. Lévi-Strauss’ urgent call also resounded during the 29th International Congress of Americanists. Maybury-Lewis himself refers to Lévi-Strauss conclusion that “further fieldwork was required” (1967: viii) during that instance, specifically in a symposium organized by the International Committee of Urgent Anthropological and Ethnological Research. We also read of this in letters from Dr. Heine-Geldern and Dr. Herbert Baldus to the RAI’s Committee of Middle and South American Research, who both organized the symposium. These documents also inform us that in 1957, David Maybury-Lewis was “trying to obtain funds” for his “research among the Chavante [sic]”. It was hoped indeed that he “might get a Horniman [scholarship]”[97].

That year, Baldus was informing that “our friend Maybury-Lewis discussed plans of an intense anthropological field research program”[98]. Baldus was highly supportive of his pupil, encouraging the committee to contact him if they required information about Brazil, and describing him as the “most gifted and most experienced young anthropologist doing this type of research in Brazil at the moment”, referring to “field work in Central Brazil under the auspices of the Brazilian Government and financed mainly by an Emslie Horniman Studentship”[99].

He had already spent seven months among the Xerente of Central Brazil to learn their language in 1955-56 (he described them as not “brabo” or “wild Indians”), having left because of lack of funds and ill health (malnutrition). After securing the funding he and his wife Pia returned to Brazil in December 1957, where they “initially faced bureaucratic difficulties”: “Since our arrival in the field, things not always gone smoothly, but then I suppose they never do (Our soups by the way are magnificent, so in this at least we are more fortunate than you were!)”, David Maybury-Lewis wrote to Miss Beatrice Blackwood in 1958[100]. David and Pia “got to Rio finally on December 5th" and “spent a week there in the customary bureaucratic chaos”. The customs “impounded the tape-recorder, the radio, the arms and the ammunition”[101]. In April they were “definitively in [the] field”. By the end of November, in turn, they “left Shavante definitively” having spent a “total over seven months in the field” (Maybury-Lewis 1965: xxii-xxiv).


Image 10: Akwẽ-Shavante. Taken from: Maybury-Lewis (1967: plate IX, p. 144).

Despite Maybury-Lewis was an expert on modern languages (he mastered nine languages throughout his life), he faced some complications given the “language barrier” he found, declaring that he “never overcame it satisfactorily” (Ibid.: xxix). Yet he informed that by the end of June 1958, not only had he “gained an entrée” to Shavante culture; he also wrote a “doctoral dissertation based on these data” (Ibid.: xxx). His DPhil thesis, ‘The social organisation of a central Brazilian tribe: the Akwẽ-Shavante’, was accepted in 1960. In 1962 he returned to Brazil, in order to assist a team of geneticists in their research on the Shavante. He was “obliged to leave” to be during term time at Harvard. His “final visit” to (and further study of) the Shavante occurred on March-April 1964 (Maybury-Lewis 1965: xxxiiii).

One of his methodological contributions lies with the introduction of “transparency to [the] relationship between fieldwork practice and the production of [the] ethnographic text” (AUTOR). Despite this is recurrent in his writings, from his letters it is possible to add more details to the circumstances under which his fieldwork among the Xavante occurred. Particularly remarkable are the ideas that shaped his ethnographic work. Starting from a clear optimism, by the time they were about to “set off for the Shavante in early February”, Maybury-Lewis wrote:

The Shavante sound delightfully ripe for the type of field-work [sic] I have in mind. I hear that at least one of their villages is less than a day’s walk from the Indian post, that the post has horses for us to get to it, that the villagers are friendly but that they do not speak any Portuguese. If all this is borne out on the spot, then the conditions will certainly be better than I had dared to hope for [102]

letter from david maybury lewis to beatrice blackwood

Image 11: Letter from David Maybury-Lewis to Beatrice Blackwood, 20 August 1958. Blackwood Papers, PRM.

He further developed this idea of a “golden opportunity for comparative study” (Maybury-Lewis 1965: 19) across the years. For instance, he confirmed decades later that “These societies [Gê-speaking peoples] thus offered an opportunity for controlled comparison which was not to be missed” precisely because of their “social organization not appreciably modified by outside contacts” (Maybury-Lewis 1967: viii-xix). He was referring to what he later termed “dual organization”, a presumably characteristic trait of central-Brazilian “tribes”, like the Xavante: “Their interlocking systems of exogamous moieties and agamous moieties - he wrote on an edited volume about the topic-, with all their overlapping social fields and attendant complications, were a model maker’s delight” (Maybury-Lewis 1979: 2).  

Nevertheless, the difficulties encountered -the “early trials and tribulation” as he described it- made him reconsider his position:


It is certainly consoling for my battered self-esteem to find that I am – with the exception of this Indian [the lone informant he was working with by the time the group had moved off on trek] – the person who speaks most Shavante outside the Shavante themselves, but it is not helpful, for my Shavante is limited and I can find no way of pushing on with the hardest part of the research. There are times when I wonder what [even] prompted me to imagine that I could get an insight into Shavante society in less than a year, and the mood is only occasionally lightened by moments of elation when I finally do get the answer to some point that has irritated me.


Another aspect that transpires from the letters is the degree of acquaintance among the Americanists: Maybury-Lewis’ wife Pia received a letter of congratulation for the birth of his first son Alan Biorn-Henning, for which she “was so charmed and delighted”[103]. Apart from “looking forward to seeing you and giving you the Shavante gossip (there’s plenty of it)”[104] they close another letter asking Blackwood to “please give our regards to Audrey Butt”[105]. The ultimate purpose of Maybury-Lewis’ letter, though, was to “offer the Pitt-Rivers Museum a collection from the Xavante” (“carrying baskets, bows and arrows, clubs etc. much the same as the Sherente ones”), considering that he was already gathering one for the São Paulo Museum[106].

signature from letter to blackwood

Image 12: Signature from the Letter to Blackwood, 20 August 1958 (pp. 3). Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (Mss.Blac. 46.1.5).










Public Intellectual

Described by colleagues and former students as someone who “achieve[d] an enviable success as a person” both in his office and his home, becoming an “exemplary model as a teacher, fieldworker, and advocate of indigenous rights” (Levi 2009: 885); a “very unusual person -someone with immense resources of empathy”; characterized by his “courage” and “selfless tenacity” (like the difficult conditions he faced in the Amazon prove), by his “civility and kindness”, being remembered as a “welcoming human being” and a “public intellectual” marked by “intellectual honesty and academic bravery” (Reed 2009: 1067).

Probably his main achievement was the founding in 1972 of Cultural Survival with his wife, Pia, having the objective “to speak for [those] indigenous groups” who were “losing their battle”, by promoting a “socially engaged and politically active” anthropological frame of work (Reed 2009: 1068) [107]. This initiative was already on the making in the 1950s, when David and Pia were having conversations about how they could give back to those “endangered cultures” and “small peoples” who were unable to defend themselves (Levi 2009: 881-882).

Some of Maybury-Lewis’ former students remembered this initiative as being “light years away from the anthropology of late 1950s”, which rather tended to promote assimilationism (Lamphere 2009: 1050-51). In this sense, this approach based on the promotion of human rights, constitute allegedly Maybury-Lewis’ “most enduring legacy” (Ibid.: 1054). Within this organization, they were asked in 1978 to report on the situation of indigenous peoples in Paraguay, allegedly facing a genocide at the moment[108]. This role as public intellectual strongly committed to advocating for the promotion of indigenous rights is reflected in his late written production. In 1993 he wrote: “the Americas since the conquest have been a vast laboratory for the eradication of indigenous cultures” (1993: 50), which contrast with the “insistence of indigenous peoples on being allowed to maintain their own cultures” (Ibid.: 55). He perseverated with these ideas, organizing in 2005 -months before his demise- a conference about indigenous peoples in the Americas (later edited in a volume entitled Manifest Destinies from 2009). In his very last essay, he firmly advocated for anthropology to “tak[e] native ideologies seriously”. According to Dr. Maybury-Lewis, “anthropologists’ ideas have been most successful where they have incorporated indigenous theories into their analyses” (2009: 922).

Maybury-Lewis’s life project was to counteract in whatever way possible the developed world’s “evolutionary disdain for tribal peoples” that was not only morally offensive but lethal. Treating small-scale societies as a resource for the “west” – whether for paradigms of social welfare or for cures for cancer – was a tactic in that battle. His ultimate concern was to place some impediment in the way of the wholesale destruction of the physical, political, and cultural terrain on which the survival (in whatever form) of small societies is premised, and on which, ultimately, he believed a viable and pluralist state must also be based (Hart 2009: 1041)

As stated, Maybury-Lewis often emphasized the necessity of specifying the actual “circumstances of fieldwork”. He himself recounted how he got the “role of camp jester or perhaps mascot” due to his “general ignorance and incompetence” (1967: xxvii). He recounted a story of when he got lost, “guaranteed to produce guffaws in the men’s circle and which was retold on every occasion”. Methodologically, “if we joked at my expense at least we joked, and could then go on to talk of other things” (Ibid.: xxviii).

Photo of Maybury Lewis and Sipuba sitting by a fire

Image 13: Maybury-Lewis in 1990 with Sipuba, “his Xavante brother”. Taken from: Maybury-Lewis (1992: 28).

They were caught in “the drama of mounting an expedition into the unknown” (1992: 25). Being “bound by the romantic tradition of the West, we could not just visit the Xavante. We had to organize an “expedition to them”” (1992: 7). This unapologetically romantic posture -which reached its peak in the television series Millennium from 1992- configured what was described by a collaborator as Maybury-Lewis’ “radically populist message”, who did not hesitate to place those “big questions worth asking” (Lamphere 2009). Yet, one can legitimately ask: what were the actual impacts of the ethnographic report produced in this context[109] by Maybury-Lewis, who was employed by the local government[110]? As he himself recounted, while in 1958 the indigenous groups were “to be found at intervals for the entire length of Rio das Mortes”, by 1962 the situation had “changed dramatically” and the “powerful Shavante” were now impotently “reduced to enclaves” (1967: 6).

With respect to those topics that fascinated earlier anthropologists, specifically skin colour and human races, Maybury-Lewis reported, somehow contradicting im Thurn (cf. infra), although both authors documented different Amazonian indigenous contexts (Central Brazil and the Guyana shield respectively), that “[i]n the population as a whole, skin color varies from light to dark tan, and the Indians are not always noticeably darker or redder than their non-Indian neighbors” (Maybury-Lewis 1967: 8).

In the last volume edited, published posthumously in 2009, after the death of Maybury-Lewis in 2007, his son Biorn disclosed a “deeper colonial truth” embedded in his father life: he was “himself a quarter Indian”. He thought that the fact of this “mixed heritage” explains his “lifelong fascination with complementary opposition”. At the same time, he argued that his father “did not merely “identify” with the Other by means of postmodern rhetorical gestures, he literally -albeit perhaps uncomfortably- embodied it within himself”. Yet, he “never traded on his mixed background” (Biorn Maybury-Lewis 2009: 228; Levi 2009: 878-879).

This is how, in the lapse of one century from 1883, anthropology transited from the imaginary of savagery and racism in im Thurn to a collaborative relation with indigenous peoples.


About the author


headshot of andres gonzalez dinamarca

Andrés González Dinamarca (DPhil in Anthropology). His research interests relate to indigenous epistemologies and ontologies, and the concept of indigeneity in contemporary world. He is currently conducting fieldwork in South America. andres.gonzalezdinamarca@anthro.ox.ac.uk







[1] This essay deals with problematic descriptions of South American indigenous peoples which can be offensive to certain individuals and groups. These visions do not at all represent the thought of the present author and they are treated with an expositive, historical, and scientific interest only.

[2] At least until 1955 the work of Social Anthropology at Oxford was defined as “chiefly based on field research and this is in the main conducted among primitive peoples”. Committee for Advanced Studies, University of Oxford. 1955. Facilities for Advanced Study and Research. Oxford at the Clarendon Press.

[3] The history of her experiences with North American indigenous peoples have been recently reviewed in a volume also including the case of Blackwood and other three pioneer women of the discipline in Oxford and the UK (Larson 2021). 

[4] See full list on https://www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/dphil-research-list-thesis-titles

[5] Cf. Bourne (2012).

[6] Donald Bertram Tayler () Tayler first went with his friend from Cambridge, Brian Moser, and later came back to complete a B.Litt (1966) and a doctorate. He eventually became Curator of the PRM

[7] Letter from Eric Thompson to Audrey Butt, 25 January 1963.

[8] Providing something useful for the British Empire meant that anthropology was a worthwhile pursuit” (Cox 2007: 351)

[9] He used the Cherwell as reference to compare with some streams from the tropical forest; cf. im Thurn (1883: 7).

[10] “Tylor, Sir Edward Burnett (1832-1917) may be reckoned the father of British Anthropology –“Mr.Tylor’s science as Max Müller called it – in its British developments, his position being parallel to that of Bastian in Germany”. Draft of obituary made by R.R. Marett. Marett Papers, Pitt Rivers Museum.

[11] In this sense he was a decade ahead of the recommendation that appeared in the second edition (1892) of Notes and Queries about the using of cameras and drawings to record information (cf. Petch 2007: 23).

[12] Although Donald Tayler remarked the fact that im Thurn viewed his photographs as opposed to those of his contemporaries (“the purely physiological photographs of the anthropometrists”; im Thurn 1893: 186) insofar as they were mostly “taken under natural conditions”, this is, involving “no coercion or compulsion” and focusing on the accuracy of the “representations of Indians ‘as they are’ in their environment” (Tayler 1992: 188-190; italics added).

[13] While catalogued among his papers, the correspondence is mainly not of his authorship, being probably documents gathered with administrative purposes, for instance, the “correspondence relating the occupation of German Samoa by an expeditionary force from New Zealand in 1915”, or an early “correspondence on the subject of removal of inhabitants of Pitcairn’s Island to Norfolk Island” from 1857, and “correspondence relative to the proceedings of the French at Tahiti” from 1825-43.

[14] See for instance Tylor (1879; 1896).

[15] Letter from Sir Everard im Thurn to Sir Edward Burnett Tylor 11 March 1889. Tylor Papers, Pitt Rivers Museum.

[16] In the end he gave up the search for a more proper word: “it is difficult to find, I have failed to find, a better term”; im Thurn (1934: 32).

[17] See also: im Thurn (1893: 197-198).

[18] Apart from these, he also provides descriptions for the Makushi’s kaikoosi (jaguar dance), and other games representing for instance “an acoorie [aguti] in a pen and the attempts of a jaguar to get him out of it”, an “ant-eater supplying himself with ants”, or “a swarm of wasps” buzzing; and the Arawak’s monkey dance (im Thurn 1934 [1889]: 36-38).

[19] See in this regard his descriptions of the “half-bred Brazilian Indians” (“Nikari-karus”) (im Thurn 1883: 17) or those “half-breeds between negroes and Indians, called ‘Cobungrus’” (Ibid: 8). Also, im Thurn (1893: 191-194) provide descriptions of these “persons whose veins are half filled with Indian, half with foreign blood”.

[20] There are multiple references to this problematic formulation in Everard im Thurn’s writings (e.g., im Thurn 1883: 9, 13; 1893: 187, 192; 1934: 59, 153, 155, 165; etc.). He also referred to the indigenous peoples of Guyana as ‘Indians’ (1893: 191). He mentions the use of a pigment for body painting (faroah), which might further inform im Thurn’s perception of redness (1934: 163).

[21] All the documents cited in this section belong to the Blackwood Papers, Pitt Rivers Museum.

[22] Diploma and Certificates in Anthropology, 1948. V. Ethnology of the Prescribed Area (East Africa: Southern Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Uganda and Kenya).

[23] Letter from Barbara Aitken to Beatrice Blackwood, 1948.

[24] Letter from Blackwood to Dr. S.W.A. Gunn (World Health Organization), 17 October 1968.

[25] Presumably in that Congress she established contact with Jens Yde, curator of the National Museum of Denmark and acting secretary general of the Congress, who later became one of the corresponding members of the Committee for Middle and South American Research; cf. next chapter.

[26] The different categories that compounded her regional arrangement, “the best framework in which to fit the material available” (Blackwood 1965: 321) in her opinion, were: The South-west, The Plains, East and North-East, West and North-west, The Artic, Nuclear America (grouping the so-called “Higher Civilizations of the New World”), Lowland South America, and the Caribbean.

[27] In 1949 one of the Diploma exam’s questions was: “Consider the leading cultural advances made in Mexico and Central America before their discovery by Europeans, in relation to the material resources and equipment of their authors”. Diploma and Certificates in Anthropology, 1949. IV. General Anthropology, 15 June 1949.

[28] Cf. next section. In this regard it is also worth noting that Blackwood was already in touch with Braunholtz and Digby from the British Museum in the 1940s, and with Bushnell in the 1950s.

[29] “Maize cultivators of Mexico, Central America and the Andean Area – HT 1954”.

[30] Letter from Barbara Aitken to Beatrice Blackwood, 1948.

[31] In this regard it is at least demonstrable the attendance to the First Course of 1955 academic year of “a West Indian lady from Jamaica” who held a degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Toronto. Letter from H.P.W. Murray (Supervisor, Oversea Colonial [sic] Service Courses, Oxford) to Blackwood, 3 February 1955.

[32] She mentioned in 1940 that she had “for the past two years given a short course of three lectures to the Burmese students on Burmese Arts and Crafts, at the special request of Mr. G.E. Harvey. Balfour used to do this, but I believe it was never made official”. Letter from Blackwood to Dr. Lindgren (Cambridge), 8 May 1940.

[33] Letter from D.L.P. Tovey (Colonial Office) to Blackwood, 1 March 1940.

[34] Letter from Lindgren to Blackwood, 1 May 1940.

[35]  “Notes on the Oxford University Summer School of Colonial Administration”.

[36]  Letter from Secretary (Colonial Summer School) to Blackwood, 10 May 1940.

[37] Diploma and Certificates in Anthropology, 1949. Social Anthropology, 15 June 1949.

[38] Letter from Blackwood to Murray, 5 February 1955.

[39] Letter from Blackwood to E.M. Chilver (Colonial Office), 21 June 1949.

[40] Letter from Blackwood to Murray, 5 February 1955.

[41] Letter from Blackwood to Aitken, 21 January 1963.

[42] Letter from Miss M. Branney (Leverhulme research awards) to Blackwood, 5 February 1963.

[43] Letter from Blackwood to Branney, 8 February 1963.

[44] Letter from Dr. Marian W. Smith to Beatrice Blackwood, 25 April 1957.

[45] Letter from Blackwood to Smith, 27 April 1957.

[46] Emslie Horniman Anthropological Scholarship Fund, 1957.

[47] I worked here with the Royal Anthropological Institute collections. Thanks to Miss Sarah Walpole who granted access to these documents.

[48] Letter from Butt to Marion W. Smith (Honorary Secretary, RAI), 2 March 1957.

[49] Evans-Pritchard said they “ought to” invite Gluckman to be a committee member, and “should invite Miss [Barbara] Freire-Marreco” as well (at least “as a matter of form” since it was likely “she would not in fact accept”). Letter from Butt to Smith, 3 January 1958.

[50] The first draft of this project had the title “The Guiana Region of South America”.

[51] “Minutes of the First Meeting of the Committee for Middle and South American Research”, 26 March 1958.

[52] “Minutes of the Second Meeting of the Committee for Middle and South American Research”, 13 November 1958.

[53] Reichel-Dolmatoff has been considered the founding figure of Colombian anthropology. Recent research declassified his early links with Nazism.

[54] “Resolución propuesta por Dark y Bushnell, 33 Congreso de Americanistas”.

[55] Letter from Philip Dark to Butt, 21 August 1958.

[56] Letter from Smith to Butt, 30 July 1959.

[57] Mr. Nims (Ford Foundation) to Daryll Forde, 17 July 1959.

[58] Letter from Forde to Nims, 27 July 1959.

[59] Indeed, Forde would inform in 1961 that he “mentioned to Mr. Swazey of Ford the project” again. Letter from Forde to Butt, 26 April 1961.

[60] Letter from Butt to Smith, 4 August 1959

[61] Letter from Métraux to Butt, 31 May 1961.

[62] “Minutes of the Third Meeting of the Committee for Middle and South American Research”, 10 March 1959.

[63] Letter from Sol Tax (University of Chicago) to Butt, 17 May 1961.

[64] Letter from Huggins to Forde, 2 February 1959.

[65] Letter from Métraux (UNESCO) to Butt, 19 March 1958.

[66] Letter from Robert Redfield (University of Chicago) to Butt, 5 March 1958.

[67] Letter from Felhoen-Kraal to Butt, 27 June 1960.

[68] Letter from Huggins to Forde, 2 February 1959.

[69] Letter from Hills to Butt, 22 December 1965.

[70] Letter from Redfield to Butt, 5 March 1958.

[71] Letter from Mike Smith (Research Institute for the Study of Man) to Butt, 8 April 1961.

[72] Letter from Thompson to Butt, 25 January 1963.

[73] Letter from Butt to Max Gluckman (Manchester), 18 January 1966.

[74] Letter from Gluckman to Butt, 31 January 1966.

[75] Letter from Butt to Gluckman, 10 February 1966.

[76] Letter from Butt to Gluckman, 4 April 1966.

[77] Letter from Mike Smith (RISM) to Butt, 8 April 1961.

[78] Letter from Dr. Vera Rubin (Director, RISM) to Butt, 16 June 1961.

[79] Letter from Forde to Butt, 29 June 1961.

[80] Letter from Forde to Butt, 20 September 1961.

[81] Letter from Butt to Christy (Honorary Secretary, RAI), 3 October 1961.

[82] Letter from Forde to Butt, 24 October 1961.

[83] He wrote to Butt: “I hope you will not feel I am letting you down”. Letter from Forde to Butt, 5 December 1961.

[84] Sir John Eric Sidney Thompson (1898-1975), leading English Mesoamerican archaeologist. Author among other titles of Mexico before Cortez (1933) and Archaeology of South America (1936).

[85] Letter from Butt to Forde, 22 March 1966.

[86] Letter from Thompson to Rubin, 27 January 1963.

[87] Letter from Butt to Christie, 10 April 1963.

[88] Letter from Butt to Rubin, 1 November 1963.

[89] Oxford’s Latin American Centre was one of these centres eligible to receive governmental funds. The other 4 were located in Liverpool, Glasgow, Cambridge and London (Paquette 2019: 237).

[90] Letter from Butt to Weir, 30 January 1965.

[91] Letter from Butt to Anthony Christie, 1 February 1966.

[92] Letter from Butt to Committee members, 21 April 1965.

[93] Rivière’s doctoral thesis was later published under the title Marriage Among the Trio (1969).

[94] Concretely, some scattered documents gathered from Blackwood Papers (PRM) and the Committee of Middle and South American Research Archive (RAI).

[95] Dr. Herbert Baldus (1899-1970) German professor of ethnologist and eminent Americanist.

[96] This was his adoptive Guarani name. Nimuendajú works had fascinated the Americanists in the first half of the twentieth century, as Maybury-Lewis himself wrote (1967: vii).

[97] Letter from Butt to Smith, 2 March 1957. RAI.

[98] He was referring to the formation of the CMSAR. Letter from Herbert Baldus to Butt, 21 May 1958. RAI.

[99] Letter from Baldus to Forde, 5 January 1959.

[100] Letter from Maybury-Lewis to Blackwood, 20 August 1958.

[101] Letter from Maybury-Lewis to Blackwood, 7 April 1957. Blackwood Papers, PRM.

[102] Letter from Maybury-Lewis to Blackwood, 7 April [1957]. Blackwood Papers, PRM.

[103] Letter from Maybury-Lewis to Blackwood, 2 April 1957.

[104] Letter from Maybury-Lewis to Blackwood, 20 August 1958.

[105] Letter from Maybury-Lewis to Blackwood, 7 April 1958.

[106] Letter from Maybury-Lewis to Blackwood, 20 August 1958:

[107] His influence was also felt in the conformation of the Committee on Human Rights of the American Anthropological Association, led by Terrence Turner (Peacock 2009).

[108] Maybury-Lewis and Howe published The Indian Peoples of Paraguay in 1980, after spending several weeks in that country. They debased the plausibility of a policy of genocide, rather stressing “severe poverty and health problems”, and governmental “economic policies and development programs,
[as being] far more dangerous than [the] Nazis or [the] Paraguayan military” (Reed 2009: 1066).

[109] I.e., mid-twentieth-century Brazil, the specific power differential between the anthropologist and the “other”, etc.

[110] We know at least from what Maybury-Lewis informed that the Brazilian government “urgently wanted somebody to go up there and bring back a report on the conditions in the region” (Maybury-Lewis 1965: 19).


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The author wishes to thank the following for their assistance and support during different stages of the writing of this essay, in chronological order: Audrey Butt Colson, Peter Rivière, Laura Rival, the Histories of Oxford Anthropology Project (HOAP): David Pratten, Morgan Clarke, Robyn Mason, Kate Atherton and Ramon Sarró. Thanks also to Elizabeth Ewart for her commentaries on the first section, and to the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Pitt Rivers Museum for facilitating access to the collections referred to here; specially, thanks to Miss Sarah Walpole (RAI), Mr. Philip Grover (PRM) and Mr. Mark Dickerson (PRM).