Alfred Cort Haddon

From New World Encyclopedia

Alfred Cort Haddon (May 24, 1855 - April 20, 1940) was one of the founders of modern British anthropology. Trained in zoology, he the became interested in studies of human life and undertook further study in anthropology. He developed the department of anthropology at the University of Cambridge, teaching and leading research expeditions. He became famous for his study of life in the Torres Strait Islands, where he pioneered the use of film and introduced other methods that characterize modern ethnographic studies, including the use of genealogies, to understand social relationships in different cultures. An outstanding contribution that he made was to pioneer the use of recordings—sound to record music, cameras for still photographs, and cine-cameras which he used to record short films. His films remain as poignant views of the social life of these people. Through the use of technology in this way, people around the world can come to experience more closely the life of those in distant cultures.


Alfred Cort Haddon was born in Finsbury, Middlesex, England, the second child of John Haddon, printer and Baptist deacon, and his wife Caroline, née Waterman. Haddon received basic education at the City of London Middle Class School and at the Nonconformist Mill Hill School. He became interested in zoology as a child, but his father wanted him to work at the family business. Haddon however, continued to pursue his interests by attending evening classes in anatomy and zoology at King's College, and in geology at Birkbeck College, London.

He completed a B.A. degree in biology at Christ's College, Cambridge University in 1879, and spent six months at the university's zoological station in Naples, Italy. In 1880, he was appointed the professor of zoology at the Royal College of Sciences, and assistant naturalist to the Science and Art Museum in Dublin. On September 21, 1881, he married Fanny Elizabeth Rose. He obtained his M.A. in 1882.

Haddon initially enjoyed his work as a marine biologist, but soon became dissatisfied. He tried unsuccessfully to apply several times to different positions at other universities, most notably the University of Melbourne, and even started to plan to continue Charles Darwin’s exploration of coral reefs. The suggestion to go to visit the Torres Strait came from his friend.

In 1888 he led an expedition to the Torres Strait Islands, where they spent eight months investigating their marine zoology. This visit led to his interest in the native culture of the region. He was particularly fascinated by the rapid disappearance of local customs and ceremonies and decided to do something about it.

During this first expedition, Haddon spent most of his spare time recording details about different rituals he observed. He published several minor papers on the topic, but was unable to collect enough data to assemble a general ethnographic work on the region.

In 1893, Haddon enrolled in Cambridge University to study anthropology, and in 1895 he was appointed lecturer in physical anthropology. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1897.

Haddon assembled a team of scientists, and in the period from 1898 to 1899, led the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Straits. The expedition was extremely successful, and established the basic framework for anthropological fieldwork. The results were published in six volumes between 1901 and 1935, entitled Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. It remains the seminal work in studies of the Torres Strait Islanders.

In 1900, Haddon was appointed university lecturer in ethnology at Cambridge University, and in 1901 was elected to a fellowship at Christ's College. He became reader in ethnology at Cambridge University in 1904, a position he held until 1926. Under his influence, the school of anthropology was formed at the University of Cambridge.

Alfred Cort Haddon retired in 1926, but continued to write. He died on April 20, 1940 in his home in Cranmer Road, Cambridge.


Haddon became famous for his study of the Torres Strait Islands, one of the first anthropological studies that was largely empirical in nature. The goal of the expedition was to make a comprehensive anthropological study, one that had never been done before, embracing ethnology, physical anthropology, psychology, linguistics, sociology, and ethnomusicology. Haddon assembled a team of professionals who traveled with him, including Sidney Ray, an authority on the languages of Oceania, musicologist Charles Samuel Myers, naturalist Charles Gabriel Seligman, psychologist W.H.R. Rivers, and medical expert William McDougall.

The expedition was comprehensively equipped with the latest scientific instruments for recording: Wax-cylinder phonographs through which they were able to record almost one hundred recordings of Islander speech and song; photographic kits which included equipment for taking both stills and movies, and an experimental kit for color photography. Haddon was in charge of photography and short films, taking with him a Newman and Guardia 35 mm cine camera. However, problems with the tropical heat prevented the equipment from working properly and Haddon was able to record only a limited number of films.

The expedition also pioneered the use of genealogy to elucidate social systems, and reconstruct and precisely record different ceremonies. The informants were also cross-checked. The expedition thus established the basic field techniques of modern anthropology.


Haddon’s emphasis on intensive fieldwork distinguished him from the earlier generation of anthropologists. His study of life on the Torres Strait Islands study was one of the first largely empirical studies, with a methodology grounded in zoology. His expedition was among the first anthropological expeditions that used contemporary scientific equipment for recording sound and pictures. The color pictures he took there are considered among the first color pictures ever taken in Australia, and probably among the first ever used in anthropological research. Haddon is thus regarded as one of the earliest anthropological film-makers.

He mentored and influenced Caroline Furness Jayne, who wrote one of the best-known books on string figures, String Figures and How to Make Them (1962). In the introduction to her book, Haddon wrote that, "in ethnology … nothing is too insignificant to receive attention."

His daughter, Kathleen Haddon, (1888-1961), like her father, began in zoology and then turned to anthropology, becoming renowned in the field.


  • Haddon, Alfred C. 1890. Manners and customs of the Torres Straits Islanders. William Clowes.
  • Haddon, Alfred C. 1890. "The ethnography of the western tribe of Torres Strait" in Journal of the Antrhopological Institute. 19, 297-440.
  • Haddon, Alfred C. [1898] 2006. The Study of Man. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 1425498167
  • Haddon, Alfred C. 1899. "The Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Straits and Sarawak" in Nature. August 31.
  • Haddon, Alfred C. [1901] 1970. Headhunters, Black, White and Brown. AMS Press Inc. ISBN 0404141269
  • Haddon, Alfred C. [1906] 2001. Magic and Fetishism. Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 1421224291
  • Haddon, Alfred C. [1909] 1935. Reports of the Torres Strait Expedition (6 Vols). London: Cambridge University Press.
  • Haddon, Alfred C. [1909] 1981. The races of man and their distribution. Gordon Press. ISBN 0879682884
  • Haddon, Alfred C. [1910] 1975. Evolution in Art: As Illustrated by the Life Histories of Designs. AMS Press Inc. ISBN 0404141250
  • Haddon, Alfred C. [1912] 1984. The wanderings of peoples. Cliveden Press. ISBN 0941694216
  • Haddon, Alfred C. 1928. "The cult of the Waiet in the Murray Islands Torres Straits" in Mem. Queensland Museum. IX.
  • Haddon, Alfred C. [1934] 2005. History of Anthropology. Cosmo. ISBN 8177558668

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Australian Dictionary of Biography. Alfred Cort Haddon. Retrieved on March 10, 2007.
  • Fegan, E. S. 1978. Bibliography of A. C. Haddon 1855-1940. Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
  • Jayne, Caroline F. 1962. String Figures and How to Make Them. Tandem Library. ISBN 0613811712
  • Long, Chris & Pat Laughren. 1993. Australia's first films: facts and fables. Part six: Surprising survivals from Colonial Queensland in Cinema Papers 96. 32-37; 59-61. Retrieved on March 10, 2007.
  • Moore, D. R. 1984. The Torres Strait Collections of A. C. Haddon: A Descriptive Catalogue. London: British Museum Publications. ISBN 071411569X
  • Quiggin, A. H. 1942. Haddon, the Head-Hunter: A Short Sketch of the Life of A. C. Haddon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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