Robert Foley interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 27th April 2010

0:05:07 Born in Sussex in 1953; my father was an architect, and was involved in building Crawley New Town; my patriline is Anglo-Irish; my grandfather, whom I barely knew, was the son of a family who had farms in County Waterford; the family left Ireland in the early 1900s, and my great-grandfather was a marine engineer; my grandfather was brought up in Naples and Geneva, and my father was born in England; my grandfather married a Danish woman who was much younger than he was; I did know her, though not very well as I was the last of all the grandchildren by some way; I found her a slightly austere figure; my mother (Jean Dorman Hughes) was born in Shanghai; her father was a Scotsman from Fife who fought in the First World War; he trained as an architect but as there was little work in Britain after the War he moved with my grandmother to Shanghai intending to practice there; he was much more interested in horse racing, gambling, and other colonial pursuits, so I get the feeling that he did not do much architecture there; his name was Andrew Hughes; the family story is that he ended up managing a greyhound track there in the 1930s; my mother was brought up there, but the family came back before the Japanese invaded; the family then lived  in the area of Birkenhead; my maternal grandmother was English and came from Rutland or Leicestershire; again, she seemed very old compared to my other grandmother, but was very nice and charming; my grandfather was always a delight when I was younger because he loved sports and games which the rest of my family were not really interested in, and I was quite sporty

4:18:15 My father was Nelson Foley; the Nelson goes quite far back, so my grandfather was Nelson Trafalgar Foley, so you can trace this Anglo-Irish family back to the Battle of Trafalgar; this naming pattern continues so that my brother is Nelson Keith, and his son still has the name; I was very fond of my father and he was a wonderful man; he died four or five years ago; no one quite knew what my grandfather did but they had some family wealth; he used to wander around Europe and was remarkably cultured, spoke half a dozen languages, and played the piano beautifully; my childhood was spent hearing what was wonderful man my grandfather was; my father was probably very different from him - very quiet and unassuming; he had really wanted to be an artist and to do stage design but his parents thought it too risky; for me he was always reassuring with a wonderful sense of humour; he did very little to force me to do anything in particular; after he retired he painted endlessly; he admitted that he could only paint exactly what he saw and not from his imagination; he was very keen on my going to university; his brother was at Cambridge and his sister's husband; I was keen to go; my mother is a more forceful character; she was in the WRNS during the War, went out to Australia and did a number of things, then wanted to settle down; she was a classic home-maker; she did a little work but not very much; her fascination is with the family; she was not really ambitious for me but was supportive; I was always quite successful academically, so it was just assumed that I would go to university; by the time I got into the sixth form I was genuinely interested in studying; my only brother is older and has spent his whole life in Holland as a businessman

10:15:14 When I was four the family moved to Jamaica; my father went out to build the airport and the university; I have a fleeting memory of England before, but all my first real memories are of Jamaica; of course you never know how memories are reinforced by photographs; my father was always keen on taking slides, so there are pictures of the boat going out to Jamaica, but I do think I can remember that boat, if only because it had the West Indian cricket team on it; I remember watching these enormous men practicing on this small boat; we were in Jamaica for four years; we lived in a place called Halfway Tree which is now a suburb of Kingston; my memories are of sunshine and my dog, running around barefoot, all happy; I was not sent back to England; I remember my parents saying that we were going home; I had no memory of England, and for me it was devastating, leaving our dog and my home and friends; when we arrived at Heathrow it was grim and cold; Stephen Hugh Jones and I went to the same school in Jamaica; when we were interviewing potential undergraduates together, a young man came in; looking at his application form, Stephen noticed that he had been at school in Jamaica and asked him which school; he replied, the Priory School, and Stephen said he had gone there, and I said that I had also been there; I came back to a series of temporary schools as my parents took a while to settle; we lived in a little village called South Nutfield near Redhill where I went to the village school while preparing for 11+; my brother was sent to a prep school as my parent were worried that he would not pass 11+; he was kept in the private system but the expectation was that I would go to the local grammar school; in the end they moved me to the prep school to be with my brother; it was called Brunswick and was near East Grinstead; it was a boarding school; my brother had been boarding for quite a while; I was ten when I went; the actual going away didn’t upset me, but about three days after arriving homesickness really hit me; I still remember going to my brother and saying that I wanted to go home; by that time he had settled in with his friends and told me to get on with it; my parents lived quite close and came to see us regularly, and my mother would come and watch I if we were playing in a game

16:52:24 My big interest at that time was sport; my favourite subject throughout school was history; we did no science to speak of; cricket and rugby were the two sports I most liked; I think you can divide people who flourished in boarding schools from those who didn't by whether they were good at sport or not; if you were good at sport you were not bullied; I do remember later at my public school that the people who were not good at sport suffered; I went to Ardingly College near Haywards Heath in Sussex; it is a Woodard Foundation school and high Anglican; it was not very big - between 4-500; I enjoyed a lot of it, particularly sports, but found it restrictive by the end; I have been round private schools since and they are terribly comfortable; in my time, in the late sixties, they were spartan, with lavatories outside and enormous dormitories with forty people in them; the idea of sharing rooms with strangers is one I never want to think about again

21:57:23 Science never figured at all in my life; although I teach biology I do not even have biology 'O' level; for me English and history were the two subject that I liked; undoubtedly that reflects the teachers who were significant in my life - one was my housemaster, John Craig, an extraordinary Scotsman; he had been a Gurkha Officer toward the end of the Second World War; to him, duty, honour and Shakespeare, were everything; for any occasion he could quote long passages; I did not get on particularly well with him, but we both loved argument; he taught me both English literature and how to drink; when I was a prefect in the sixth form, he used to have meetings with him in his study at night; his father had died and left him some money; he was a bachelor and he decided to learn about wine; he would bring out wine for us to try, with Wagner in the background, and he would talk about morality; I never had any experience of homosexuality in school although there were always rumours about it; there was corporal punishment, but not very much; I was beaten at prep school but not later; John Craig was not a great beater; looking back, there were housemasters who did have reputations for beating; my prep school was a bit more happy with the cane though I don't remember being traumatised by it; Geoffrey Boxall was my history teacher and he was a wonderful man; he was very young and taught modern history; I have to confess I chose the subject for 'A' level because he was also the coach for the cricket first eleven, and by then cricket was my passion; he was unusual in the school for being very left wing, and liked winding everybody up and challenging them; modern history was to some extent an introduction into modern political thought; this was 1968-9, and he encouraged me to read Marcuse, for instance; one looks back at that period with deep embarrassment now, but there was a sense for me of challenging, and he was a good historian; what he taught me was analysis; he told me not to describe things but to analyse them, and to come to conclusions on that basis; our history essays were geared toward taking facts then sifting and analysing them; he was also good at getting us to look for originality in our thinking, which Cambridge encourages, but I got it early; thus Geoffrey Boxall, who was also a good cricketer, was a bit of a hero when I was at school; a man called Chris Potter introduced archaeology 'A' level, and as I did not want to take French, I did that; I became interested in Persian and Mayan civilizations; I never did any music or drama, but was in the first fifteen for rugby and the first eleven for cricket, so for me that was the serious business; I did occasionally go painting with my father but he was too good, so I didn't go very often

31:21:16 As a high Anglican school, everybody was expected to be confirmed; I did lessons with the chaplain and at the end he told us to go away and think deeply about why we were being confirmed; I did so and told him that I was only doing it because if I did so I would get an extra Sunday out; as this was the only reason I did not feel I should be confirmed; I was about fourteen at the time and I did not give much thought to religion after that time; I love going to church, and my wife, who was brought up a Catholic, is horrified by my aesthetic enjoyment of it; like many English people I like the sounds, the familiarity, the rhythms, and music; I go to Chapel but technically I am an agnostic in the Huxley sense, that one cannot be absolutely certain, but for all practical purposes I am an atheist; I don't remember ever having a great deal of anxiety about that; religion for me is a nice social backdrop; obviously, being interested in human evolution I have then thought much about the nature of religion; I am fairly convinced that religion plays a major role in human evolution, which has nothing to do with whether it is true or not; Pascal Boyer's ideas are very sensible, that religion plays an important role in forming communities, forming largely antagonistic relationships between groups, in providing mechanisms for coercion or conformism - all those things work better with religion; there is a tendency to believe, and to believe what others believe - very few of us think in ways different to those immediately around us - suggest there are strong conformism genes; this is also true of politics and other things, not just religion; on the actual content of religion, I would say that most religions allow you to increase your self belief; I think that Darwinism is one of the least adaptive beliefs in the world as it is basically saying that we are not important in the big scheme of things; one of the reasons that it is not widely accepted is that it is too simple, and this goes against the grain of much of social science; the second is that as a system of belief it downplays the egocentric view; if I want a reason to dominate the world, Darwinism is not going to give it to me; for me, religious belief is a very interesting thing, and I diverge from someone like Dawkins who I think has a very old-fashioned, Frazerian, notion of religion, that magic, witchcraft, religion, science, are somehow a progressive system of thought; I did give a sermon in the Chapel when George Patterson was Dean, in a series called 'Origins'; my theme was that scientists don't make good martyrs; the one thing we know about Galileo it that as soon as he was shown the instruments of torture he retracted, whereas religious people don't; that tells me that science is a different system of thought; on the issue of religious people having more children, it is not that they are Catholic, or anything like that; it is just that the religious trait, however it is inherited, leads to reproductive success; for most of history it has been one type of religion versus another type rather than non-religion; there is a study by Voland showing from historical records of the Dutch-German border that the more godparents that you had the greater your chances of surviving; being involved in a religion has a significant effect on how you build your social network, how you bring resources to you and enhance your ability to bring up your children, and for them to have opportunities, and how many grandchildren they produce; for me science and religion compete on cosmology; I have a theory on the origins of humans which has absolutely nothing to do with any religious theory, whether Christian or some particular set of tribal beliefs; I would like to think that my theory is a lot better than the Garden of Eden theory, and is better supported by the evidence; it is the same with physics, where cosmological physical theories compete with the first bit of 'Genesis'; I don't think science as such competes with religion in other areas; for me the biggest strength of religion is the way in which it builds up in community and group solidarity, that we all believe the same thing; science will never do that; what science and evolutionary biology can do it can explain, either mechanistically or functionally, it has been selected for, so science can explain aspects of religion; I think the problem with having an Anglican background is that one has a very benign view of religion; we have learned throughout history as well as our own immediate experiences that religion can be very brutal and nasty; that would make me much closer to Dawkins' position; one can see in Islam with the oppression of women; I am fanatically opposed to capital punishment, so in Saudi Arabia and so on, what is done in the name of religion is appalling; there have been times when religion has made the world a better place, at others, worse, so we have to make ad-hoc decisions; what I would fight very strongly against is the creeping back of religion into governance; I am a child of the Enlightenment, and would not want to see us go back

44:49:24 I came to Cambridge to read history but switched to archaeology and anthropology before I arrived; I went to Peterhouse and was very influenced by David Clarke; I had done archaeology for 'A' level, part of which had been a dissertation; Chris Potter had suggested I look at the work of David Clarke, who was just finishing his PhD, and was publishing a book on the Belgic or Beaker people; as the book had not appeared, I wrote to him; he was then a tutor at Peterhouse, and I got back a delightful letter and a proof copy of the appendices of his massive book on the Beaker people of Great Britain; it included a list of all the sites in Sussex that had beakers in, and this became the basis for my dissertation; he added that although archaeology was not a subject to embark on lightly, if I were thinking of doing so I might consider Peterhouse; my school was horrified because they thought Peterhouse has such a reputation for history that I was unlikely to get in, and should try Fitzwilliam; I was firm in my intention, applied to Peterhouse, and took the scholarship exams; I got an Exhibition and started Arch & Anth with David; Grahame Clark was there; he retired in 1974 but I went up in 1971; I did not really see him at all in my first two years, but in the third year saw much more of him as he had become Master of Peterhouse; I always thought of him as rather austere and terrifying; I thought David Clarke was wonderful; for people who didn't know him, he was a very charismatic man who had broken the mould of archaeology; he had written a book called 'Analytical Archaeology' which was hated by the old men of archaeology, but I thought was wonderful; he was introducing science into archaeology, also theory - intellectually, he was dynamite; personally I found him very witty, with a rich use of language, and inspirational; supervisions with him were wonderful; he was a small, round man, with glasses, and his feet would hardly touch the ground; what Geoffrey Boxall really made me think about in history was providing a theoretical framework for what you wanted to do; it was no good just describing the French Revolution, but you needed a coherent framework to tackle it, and think consistently; thus, I was almost pre-adapted to David's way of thinking because that is how he thought; my thinking is characterised by being fairly theoretical and I owe that to both of them, but David in particular

50:53:15 Meyer Fortes was Head of Department in anthropology; he lectured me on kinship and I thought he was fantastic; the keen social anthropologists did not bother to turn up for his lectures as they thought him old fashioned, so the lecture was full of archaeologists and medics; we loved him because he was crystal clear and straightforward, whereas with Edmund Leach I still, to this day, haven't the slightest idea what he taught us; Tambiah gave very good lectures and Ray Abrahams gave terrific lectures on linguistics, I still remember them; I didn't understand a word of Jack Goody but have since read his books and they are very original; I thought of doing physical anthropology but did not in the end, preferring archaeology; Jim Garlick and Alan Bilsborough taught it, and Alan's lectures were terrific; of all the people who lectured me in all of Arch & Anth, he was the only one who really lectured without a note, and he hadn't even finished his PhD then; I was supervised by Peter Gathercole and Chris Fuller, who was very good; at the time there was a strong feeling of community in archaeology, and it was dominated by a few powerful figures; David Clarke was not even a lecturer then but only a college Fellow; the personally dominant figure of Eric Higgs and that drew the students in; the Palaeolithic was taught by Charles McBurney; there was much more involvement between the students and the lecturers at that time than there is now; there were fewer of us and there was more time; if you did the Palaeolithic, then you would have Sunday lunch with the McBurneys a couple of times a term, and got to know all his children just having been a student with him; they were very different times; in the archaeology community, people like Clive Gamble, John Gowlett, Colin Haselgrove, Graham Barker, are contemporaries I have stayed friends with; the archaeology department from 1965 to 1975 was something quite special; Stephen Shennan and Ian Hodder were working with David Clarke, Higg’s students were the so-called Higglets, and they are now the professors around the world to some extent