Alison Richard interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 21st August 2008 and continued on 28th September and the 18th December 2008

0:09:07 Born in 1948 in Bromley, Kent; remember nothing of grandparents one reason being that my father was sixty-two when I was born and mother thirty-seven; grew up not knowing the date of my father's birth as it was kept secret from my sister and brother and me; thought we would find it weird to have such an old father; he had not married until fifty-five; he was born in Scotland and went off to South America in 1911 inspired by reading Darwin's 'Voyage of the Beagle', wanting to see the Falkland Islands; he spent eleven years in Chile sending nitrate and then grain back to England; returned to England in 1922; was working in the Royal Observer Corps in Bromley in 1941 and my mother was a volunteer cook there; they fell in love and married; result was that I grew up with a father who was a wonderful story-teller; a man of deep happiness who had lived more than half his life unmarried but when he died at ninety-three, in 1979, had both children and grandchildren; I had not known about his interest in Darwin until after he died, but when I announced at twenty-one that I was going off to Madagascar for eighteen months my parents didn't blench; possibly have a genetic predisposition to wandering inherited from my father; in South America he first worked for the Nitrate Corporation and then for Balfour Williams; when my elder brother was a little boy his headmaster told my mother that he was a pathological liar as he kept saying that his father was a cowboy; the next day he went to school with a picture of my father on horseback; mother died in 1998 aged eighty-seven; she was a strong, very intelligent person who nowadays would have had a stellar career of some sort; she had been at LSE and did an almonry degree and loved working as an almoner (now medical social worker); she gave up work to look after her ill mother until she died in 1938; she married my father three years later

7:18:03 Interesting that today one views students whose parents did not go to college as under-privileged; neither of my parents went to university and for our generation that was often more the case than not; however there were many books in the house and there was a love of learning and appreciation of education; I was the youngest and always viewed as the brainy one, but I was supported in everything I did; think that this is the most important role of a parent to give a child the confidence to dare to dream; my mother, particularly, gave me the courage to do things; my first school was a private girls' day school called Kinnaird Park; I was there from four and a half to thirteen; I remember a headmistress who was very unpleasant to me over a period of time; it was a forceful education where we were drilled, tested, but also learned poetry which I can still remember; when I am bored in Madagascar when the animals are asleep I just recite poetry to myself; think it a shame that our children did not grow up to learn poetry; the teachers at school were all larger than life ladies who impressed themselves upon me positively and negatively; one of the pleasures coming back to the UK after thirty years in the United States is that I have reconnected with some of the women who were at school with me; every year we lunch together and I remember why I liked these girls; I ended up doing what I have done through the influence of a succession of teachers; the fearsome headmistress, Miss Forth, taught me Latin and she obviously inspired me at some level; amusing to find my friends remembering what she was like

14:18:01 When I was thirteen I was awarded a scholarship to go to a girl's boarding school called Queenswood, Hertfordshire; when I went I skipped a year and it was very difficult as I was a slow developer and was with girls a year older; actually it was a fine school and I had a succession of good teachers whose inspiration led me to continue with Latin, English and French and to do Russian; at 'A' level did 'S' level Latin and English but had no idea what I wanted to do; I did no science or mathematics at 'A' level; the first chapter of Catherine Bateson's book 'Composing a Life' was a revelation; it describes how we live with the increasing fiction that lives are linear whereas as life is actually more akin to a patchwork quilt; I think I must look like a person who has led a linear life; to me it seems a large series of contingencies built around a fundamental interest in more or less everything; if you have broad interests how do you decide or do your teachers inspire you to do a particular thing; when I got to Cambridge and was inspired by David Pilbeam to be a biological anthropologist, then I asked myself over and over why I had not done calculus, statistics or biology at ‘A’ level; I played the bassoon in the school orchestra and it has given me a lifelong love of the instrument and bassoon music; I also sang in the school choir; Queenswood was one of the schools which sang at the Royal Albert Hall in Ernest Read's concerts; sang all the great choral works which I enjoyed at the time but didn't understand what a gift for a lifetime the experience would be; I am not a great athlete but used to win such novelty races as the egg and spoon and slow bicycle; I played hockey, but not well; now as Vice Chancellor I don't have much time to listen to music; when I met the man who became my husband in 1976, his father had been involved in the development of the Michigan Opera Theatre; as a result we became great opera lovers; when I do listen to music is it more likely to be opera than anything else - Mozart, Verdi, Monteverdi

24:27:12 Came to Cambridge to read archaeology and anthropology; had been wondering what to read but in the previous summer had been on an archaeological dig on an Iron Age fort which I found really interesting; I read a bit about the  course, decided I didn't really want to be a lawyer or do English, but decided in a totally feckless way to do archaeology and anthropology; having applied and got in I then went to north-west Greece with Eric Higgs who was digging in Epirus; I spent the summer there and decided I would be an archaeologist; when I got to Cambridge and started the course I met David Pilbeam who was teaching physical anthropology there; David inspired me with an absolute fascination in human evolution and the evolution of complex social systems; another person who inspired me was Robert Hinde, and then Alison Jolly; Alison came to teach at Cambridge as her husband, Richard, was a visiting professor in the economics faculty; she taught primate social behaviour in the autumn of 1968; I had just come back from the Panama Canal zone where I had been studying howler monkeys; I had decided to do this research as a project rather than having to do a Part II paper; David Chivers, then a graduate student, told me to go to BCI (Barro Colorado Island); being too young and proud to know what he was talking about said what a good idea, thinking  it was an island off the north-west coast of Scotland; subsequently found he was suggesting I spent the summer in Panama by which time it was too late to back out; I loathed it as it rained all the time, I couldn't see the animals, and there were poisonous snakes everywhere; I came back all ready to write it up for Robert Hinde; told Alison Jolly of my experience and she said that I should go to Madagascar as there were no poisonous snakes, there was dry spine forest and really interesting questions about the animals; she showed me slides of the southern spiny forest and I was entranced with the amazing animals; David Attenborough had done his 'Zoo Quest to Madagascar' series but otherwise it was an unfamiliar other-world that had evolved independently from the mainland

29:27:14 Robert Hinde was absolutely terrifying; I remember vividly the first time that I met him he asked me to tell him what I knew about territoriality in birds; he realized that I did not know much at all; when I was named as Vice Chancellor I got a letter from him; I was thrilled; he said he remembered me as a student for two reasons; one was that I was the only person he knew who had been on an owner-driver Land Rover maintenance course in Solihull; the second was that I was the only student who left for Madagascar to do field work in a full length fur coat; sadly I didn't leave much of an academic impression on him; he, like others of my teachers, made me want to be ambitious; the paper that I wrote on Barro Colorado Island was subsequently published; I wanted it to be really good to impress Robert Hinde which I see as a striving to produce something really worthwhile; at that time in social anthropology I was lectured by Meyer Fortes and S.J. Tambiah; I don't remember the supervisions I had there whereas those I had with David Pilbeam I remember vividly

33:37:24 On religion: my mother grew up in the Church of England, but we went to the Presbyterian church in Bromley every Sunday; Queenswood was a Methodist school and there was chapel every morning and twice a day on Sunday; I can't say it meant a lot to me and once I had left school I didn't go to church again; when our son died as a baby - a cot death - it was the minister of the church in our village who comforted us and performed the burial service - his flickering of faith was important in helping me to survive that; at the time I thought that whether I believed or not there was comfort at the darkest moment in my life, and there was a familiar relationship with a church; after that we started taking our daughters, then seven and five, to church every Sunday; we wanted them to have the possibility of what had made a difference to me, should it befall them, would make a difference to them; I go to Great St Mary's occasionally in my role as Vice Chancellor; the other aspect of this is the role of religious studies but also engaged scholarship and outreach in the life of a university; there is an argument that in a post-enlightenment world there is no room in a university for it; I don't accept for a moment that a university is entirely based on rational, empirical endeavours; if universities don't engage in a really serious way with matters of faith and spirituality one will leave it to the crystal-gazers and zealots; at Yale, the Divinity School there and the Department of Religious Studies were an important part of the landscape with which as Provost I worked to renew and support;  at Yale I was told that the Department of Religious Studies had to be a mile away from the Divinity School; when I got to Cambridge found that there is a mix of secular and engaged scholars, believers and possibly non-believers, but they all seemed to get on; very interesting that there isn't this very clear schism that has developed in the United States; at Cambridge the boundaries are not drawn in that way; I would classify myself as an agnostic; don't think that Dawkin's argument that science makes belief impossible is sustainable; there is a multitude of scientists who are believers; I don't find Dawkin's hypothesis terribly interesting as a line of argument

42:27:12 I was at Newnham College and a few weeks ago I did an interview with some graduates from there who are making a series on memories of Newnham as far back as they can find; I did not have a lot to say to them about Newnham per se; it is curious looking back because there is one girl for every seven to eight boys here, but I didn't experience it that way because I was in an all-women's college, and had plenty of women friends; I suspect we led more normal lives than the men did; there were plenty of men for us to be friends with but that was not true for them in reverse; we also had a rich array of wonderful and remarkable women living in Newnham; it was important for me both as a maturation experience personally and also providing the basis of friendships for a lifetime

45:19:00 I am not sure why I didn't stay here to do a PhD; the students I have taught and trained I think have been given a far more rational and systematic framework for thinking about what they do; I think career counselling is a relatively recent thing; I knew that Madagascar would be interesting but then I thought I wanted to do functional morphology and John Napier was one of my heroes; I decided I wanted to study with him for a PhD, but how I imagined I could do that with no training in anatomy to speak of, looks ludicrous; I went off to meet him in London and he said he would take me on as a student; I gave him my proposal to study comparative functional morphology of jaw mechanics of leaf-eating lemurs in Madagascar; I applied for money from the Royal Society and the Explorers Club of America; I got a NATO scholarship and went off to Madagascar; on the plane I changed my mind about what I was going to study; what I ended up doing in Madagascar was a comparative study of this one species Propithecus verreauxi, a big white lemur living in the spiny forests of Southern Madagascar and in a much wetter, greener forest in the north-west of the country; the question was, if environment determines social behaviour, how do these two very different environments shape the behaviour in this single species, and that was the subject of my PhD; the subject has moved a long way since then, not least due to the work of Tim Clutton-Brock who was a year ahead of me when I was an undergraduate; we used to write to each other when he was studying red colobus in Tanzania and I was in Madagascar; John Napier continued as my supervisor and at my PhD defence he said he would let John Crook ask the questions while he poured the sherry

49:56:24 I had intended to go to Alaska to study the behaviour of musk oxen with Paul Wilkinson who had been a graduate student of Eric Higgs; I had met him when I went digging in Greece as an undergraduate; he was undertaking an interesting project with, I think, the support of the Kellogg Foundation; he is an archaeologist with an interest in the domestication of wild animals and was working on a project to domesticate musk oxen and harvest their wool which is of high quality; this could be done by plucking rather than sheering by Eskimos as an alternative to working for oil companies; they were interested in having someone with knowledge of the social dynamics of these animals; I was interested in doing this as I thought it had some value in doing something good for people rather than just from the research point or view; in the middle of that I got a phone call from David Pilbeam, who had moved to Yale as Professor of Anthropology, inviting me to apply for a post as an assistant lecturer there; I flew over and gave a job talk in the spring of 1972 and was offered the job and took it; went to Connecticut in the autumn of 1972 never imagining that it was going to be the next thirty years of my life; my husband's name in Dewar; he was from the side of the family that didn't fight with the Campbells and as a consequence got thrown off the Highlands; they went to Canada then drifted down to northern Michigan where my husband grew up; he was a graduate student at Yale in archaeology and his supervisor, Chang Kwang-Chih, was the Chairman of the department when I was recruited and claimed the credit for our marriage; Bob was married at that time but he went to do his PhD work in Taiwan and they decided to separate; Bob came back single in 1974; after his PhD he was offered various jobs but managed to get one at the University of Connecticut; we got married and bought a house at the mid-point of the shortest route, so each commuted forty minutes in different directions; he is an archaeologist and human ecologist and did his PhD on the origins of agriculture in Taiwan; as it turns out the provisions for preservation of organic remains in Taiwan are not good; he found a lot of pottery but did not find the grains and organic remains he was looking for; at that time it was not possible to work in mainland China so was thinking about Indonesia; I kept saying that Madagascar was really interesting so around 1975 he started working there and still has major research projects there and in New England; he is here in Cambridge as a Fellow of the McDonald Institute of Archaeology when he is not being consort to the Vice-Chancellor, another of his duties

57:41:15 I met Keith Hart at Yale; he was an enormously important intellectual influence on me and on Bob because he had a deep belief in the intellectual coherence of anthropology, which is rare; he came to Yale driving an agenda of intellectual engagement among the sub-fields of anthropology; he would come to our house and we would argue into the night, and there was brilliance amidst this cascade of ideas; we have remained good friends; in terms of giving me a sense that anthropology does have as much sense as a discipline as many did, Keith drove that into my brain in an uncompromising and cogent way