Marius Barbeau A glimpse of Canadian Culture (1883-1969)
Introduction Objects Photos & Papers Themes Barbeau's Story Kids & Teachers

Barbeau's Story

Studies Overseas (1)

At Oxford, each student had a personal tutor. Mine was the Reverend L.R. Phelps, a gentle man with a large white beard and bald. He looked like an evangelist. He asked me what I wanted to study. I didn't really know... first learn English, then criminal law, still believing that I would practice law when I returned to Canada. But he helped me understand that that was not my main interest. What was it then? "I wanted to know how Man was made ... created." He told me that I should study Anthropology; I would learn about everything I wanted to know about Man. I didn't know yet what it was. The diploma in Anthropology had been introduced, jointly by Oxford and Cambridge, only two years before, and there were just only two or three students registered for it.

He told me to go see Professor Robert Ranulph Marett, at Exeter College, to whom he would delegate control as my tutor, since he was a sociologist and cultural anthropologist. I went to Exeter and, from the first moment there, I understood that this professor met my needs. Looking at me from head to foot, both of us standing up, he put his hand on my shoulder and told me that we were both from the same race, Normands or Northmen.

His ancestors has settled on the Islands of Jersey (of which he was the son of the seigneur himself) and mine had settled in Normandy. Each week of the academic year, one has to see one's personal tutor for an hour. I liked this hour a lot. What was the topic? I forget, except that Marett had me write during the week an essay in French about whatever topic interested me. The first was about "intelligence" (memories of my readings of Taine). He had me read my essay aloud. I did it eloquently, in classical college style(!) He thought the essay was excellent and roundly complimented me. He nourished self-confidence in me, which is what I needed. My courses included cultural anthropology, those given by Marett himself; physical anthropology by Arthur Thomson, in the laboratory. We followed lectures, studied Duckworth's Physical Anthropology, and we measured craniums and bones (anthropometry); technology (in ethnology) at the Pitt Rivers Museum, with Henry Balfour, standing up in front of the display case an hour a week. That was our basic programme. In addition, there were (during the first two years) several other courses to follow, more or less electives: Sir Arthur Evans, at the Ashmolean Museum: The archaeology of Crete. He was not very interesting, but was an important figure. We had discussions with the famous Tylor (Sir Edward Burnett Tylor), foundations of anthropology. A good looking man, older with a white beard, suave. He had lost his memory would repeat at the end of the discussion what he had said at the beginning. But he was kept in the programme because visitors wanted to hear him. Other lecturer or demonstrator, the old Bell, local archaeologist. He led us on a path where we could find a few "Celts".

Professor Sallas, geologist, for knowledge of the prehistoric periods, tertiary, quaternary, the caves. We were very busy. But I found some of the subjects terse, I needed more rhetoric! All the same, I accepted it willingly and I took copious notes. We had to read also. First our large illustrated manuals, then Tylor, "Animism", Frazer (Sir James George Frazer 1854-1941) "The Golden Bough", "Totemism". The latter really interested me and was too short. The others were too long for me to read them entirely. And then is was rather disconnected: one fact after the other, in single file. But I myself found an author that I liked more: Herbert Spencer. His work was systematic, well structured, like the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas. I took pleasure in it. It was the history of the world! That is what I wanted to master. But before I wasted too much of my time doing that, I talked with my tutor who laughed a little at me and convinced me to stop.

« Previous | Next  »