Searching for the Irish Race
This new exhibition focuses on 63 early photographs of Charles R. Browne, taken along the west coast of Ireland in the 1890s. It represents one of the most important photographic archives to come into the public domain in a long time.
Browne was a medical doctor and anthropologist who undertook physical surveys of people for Trinity College, Dublin. These surveys were mainly carried out in County Mayo -- Erris, Clare Island and Inishturk, in County Galway -- the Aran Islands and South Connemara – and in County Kerry, Dún Chaoin and the Great Blasket Island.
The photographs are full of human interest and also convey a lot of detail about the clothes worn at the time. Details of people’s customs, housing and modes of transport are also featured, providing us with a snapshot of each community at the time it was surveyed. Some of the older people shown would have lived through the Great Famine. Many of the young boys are wearing skirts. Many of the photos are among the first known to exist for the places where they were taken.
In the surveys, Dr Browne measured and classified humans and “racial types”. Sliding rules, steel tapes and “craniometers” were used measure the bodies and to gauge the circumference of the heads of his sometimes unwilling subjects, many of whom may still be recognisable by their own communities today.
Alive or dead, the head of the Irish peasant was a source of intense interest to Browne and his associates.
The exhibition will be supplemented by a display generated by the National Museum. This includes material on eugenics – a movement aimed at improving human stock which culminated in the Nazi extermination camps. There is also material on anthropologists’ photos in the colonies, the origin of ‘mug shots’ to identify criminals and the image of the wild ‘ape-like’ Irish in cartoons from the 19th century and the 1970s.
The anthropologist Charles Browne takes the skull measurement of an islander on Inishbofin, County Galway (then County Mayo) in 1893. He is assisted by policemen of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Local people look on from the left, while a group of sailors from England, including a coloured, possibly African, man, look on from the right. There was some opposition to this sureying work on this island which may explain the presence of the policemen.
The exhibition runs until June 2013.Update:
Three plaster casts of real faces from the 1890s have been added into the Headhunter exhibition. They are drawn from a large collection which was displayed in the Natural History Museum many decades ago.
On Wednesday 29th May 2013 from 3 – 4.30pm, a special talk and tour will take place to coincide with the exhibition. Join Ciarán Walsh, Dáithí de Mórdha and Dr. Séamas Mac Philib for a discussion on the exhibition of early photos from Charles R. Browne taken along the west coast of Ireland in the 1890’s. This talk will include an insight into the context of racism at the time.
Booking required (Tel: 094 903 1751; email@example.com). Suitable for adults aged 16yrs+.
This exhibition has been curated by www.curator.ie Ciarán Walsh and Dáithí de Mórdha, Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir and the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life, in association with Trinity College, Dublin and the Royal Irish Academy.
This ‘Headhunter’ project has been made possible with the financial support of the OPW and The Heritage Council (Education and Outreach Grants 2012).