Jack Goody interviewed by Eric Hobsbawm, filmed by Alan Macfarlane, 18th May 1991

0:00:05 Background: parentage, education; grew up in Welwyn Garden City; went to school in St Albans and then parents moved there;  father technical journalist, then advertising manager; mother worked in post office administration in London before marriage, but then a housewife;

0:03:51 Pre-war Cambridge; read English, much influenced by a schoolmaster of Leavis school; English faculty; Socialist club; political activity; Leavis’s seminars; Hugh Sykes-Davis was supervisor;  influence of Marx; Left Book Club

0:09:10 Hobsbawm’s similar background at Cambridge; English was the subject to do at that time though JG better at History; influenced by slightly senior people, including Hobsbawm; much more mutual education

0:13:18 Contact with colonial students pretty minimal; came to anthropology through notes in “Waste Land”, references to Frazer, Leavis’s references to Lord Raglan; later in prison camp in Germany, Stalag 7B, had good library run by Tim Munby, later of King’s, read Frazer there and Chamber’s “Mediaeval Stage”; contact with Indian students during and after the war

0:15:55 War years a great influence, went to the Middle East for the first time, then Cyprus, and in villages seeing the use of the Mediterranean plough and the same thing in museum used 4000 years before; became interested in works of Gordon Childe; Egypt, camped under the pyramids, all aroused interest in ancient Middle East; remembered Sir Mortimer Wheeler excavating the hypocaust in Verulaneum as a child, so interested then in archaeology, but being in the Middle East was the great stimulus

0:18:20 Interest in anthropology came in Italy after being captured at Tobruq in 1942; in camp arranged university course, and taught modern English literature with Stuart Hood, a friend; got interested in social interaction of small groups;  later escaped and spent time in the Ubruzzi in the hills with peasants, and later in Rome after escaping again; not initially interested in Africa

0:21:10 On return to England after the war, finished degree in English and then did a year’s diploma in anthropology; if there had been sociology, would probably have taken that; Evans-Pritchard lecturing in Cambridge at the time, a very influential figure at the time; after certificate wanted to do something active so became an adult education officer in Hertfordshire; would have liked to have done sociological work at the Tavistock Clinic in London and the adjustment of returning prisoners of war; applied for job at Dartington Hall but needed more qualifications so decided to take a PhD in anthropology, partly because there was government funding through the Colonial Social Science Research Council; knew a lot of Africans by then and wanted to work in Ghana; decided to go to Oxford and work in African Studies

0:25:38 Hobsbawm quotes from JG’s autobiography about post-war Britain; stimulated by Army Board of Current Affairs to go into adult education; period of independence movements throughout the world, which gave openings for educationalists

0:29:40 Ghana field work gave a two-year period for observing and thinking on all aspects of life and the productive process; a revelation; interested in sociology of literature, oral cultures and literate cultures; Ghana a culture without reading and writing; interest in property relations

0:34:30 Never thought about how going to Borneo or Ceylon would have affected intellectual interests but had considered how it would have been to go to Italy; at that time worried at people going to places with written culture and history who were ignorant about both; Ghana allowed him to read all the historical documents and do all the work on the area within own research; since then have ventured to write  about literate societies

0:38:49 At the time felt Africa a most exciting place; most of the academic anthropologists at the time were Africanists and did highly professional work

0:40:00 Hobsbawm suggests he is a rare anthropologist who works with people in other disciplines but was formed as an anthropologist in Britain and in Cambridge, who influenced him? Evans-Pritchard, Meyer Fortes, and Max Gluckman; no American influence apart from Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, Geoffrey Gorer, and Gregory Bateson initially; some hostility here towards American anthropologists at that time; more influenced by French, training Durkheimian, “L’Annee Sociologique”, but only French anthropology of interest was that of Levi-Strauss, suspicious of those who went to Africa without understanding native languages and speculated on such deep subjects as myth; now very good work is done in France as their government is prepared to fund it well

0:47:13 Functionalism fading in importance at that time and historical methods were being adopted

0:49:24 Early on took view that British social anthropology held the keys and that those trained in America were inferior; Association of Social Anthropologists only included those trained in Britain, then the Commonwealth, but never America; Americans can only join if they had spent time here; against some of the culture and personality work being done in U.S., seemed rather superficial; not wholly anti-structuralist

0:52:00 Polanyi had some influence in ‘50s but later became unhappy about radical revisions and the concept of the ancient economy and the ideas of reciprocity; Davidson’s work on Africa showed the importance of commercial exchange for many years; cowries; mediaeval gold trade

0:56:17 Interests in comparative studies between Africa and Asia; Childe ‘What Happened in History’ one of the important books read; helpful in understanding Africa; Nkrumah wanting to import tractors but Goody thought they should introduce plough first and effect slow change through understanding the technology; contrast between Africa and Eur-Asian societies underlies all work

1:02:35 Don’t bring in American societies as stretched already and would require much more work; also see Eur-Asia and much more similar as opposed to Africa;

1:05:40 Work seen as materialist history; literacy; questions on Africa about how a school population can be supported; after independence didn’t ask how universities etc. could be supported economically so now teachers are part-time farmers; where are the African Koreas and Taiwans? Educated people leave as nothing for them at home

1:12:38 Against fashion for pure relativism, insist on the difference between simple and primitive and further advanced societies; too difficult to jump from one sort of society to another; example of the wheel in Ghana which is imported and not made there, no carts so no wheelwrights, thus dependence on the outside world; no change in the social organization of production

1:16:21 Three strands in writing: family and marriage, literacy, cultures of food and flowers; also interested in modes of destruction; Portuguese in West Africa sold guns to the Africans, but Africans have never made them, but did copy Portuguese guns on the Malabar coast and in Japan; Africa always dependent on import of guns

1:20:50 State and state power; interested in cities in Africa but never compared; have concentrated on certain areas – the three strands – because of personal biography and interest, not because of the importance of the subject

1:26:14 Next hope to continue with comparison of East and West with Joseph Needham’s work; accounting systems; rethinking Weber and the concept of oriental society; knowledge systems in late eighteenth century East and West; prompted by huge changes in the East now which build on knowledge systems which are not there in Africa

1:30:20 Thoughts on own contribution to anthropology; recording unrecorded myth, gives great satisfaction at local ethnographic level; pointing out the value of historical facts for anthropology and the comparison of  societies now and in the past.