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Basu, Paul (2016) 'N. W. Thomas and Colonial Anthropology in British West Africa: Reappraising a Cautionary Tale.' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 22 (1). pp. 84-107.

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As the first government anthropologist to be appointed by the British Colonial Office, Northcote Whitridge Thomas (1868-1936) has earned a place in the footnotes of anthropological history. Historians of the discipline have discussed his career in West Africa in their wider explorations of the relationship between anthropology and colonial administration in the early twentieth century. Through this work an orthodox account of Thomas has emerged as an eccentric dilettante who damaged the reputation of the discipline, setting back its adoption as a practical science of value to colonial governance by a generation or more. Adopting a micro-historical approach, closer scrutiny of the archival evidence challenges this orthodoxy, and places Thomas more centrally within the professional networks and practices of British anthropology in the period 1900 to 1915. As well as correcting the record concerning Thomas’s professional reputation, a more complex picture emerges regarding the colonial authorities’ attitudes towards anthropology and the reason why this early experiment in colonial anthropology failed.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Anthropology & Sociology
Legacy Departments > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of Anthropology and Sociology
ISSN: 14679655
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2015 14:35

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