Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Letter from Spencer to Howitt

Physical Description

Letter from Spencer to Howitt


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Alma Rd, E. St Kilda
Feb 23-98

My dear Howitt,
Since coming back from Sydney I have had a real 'grind' at our work - that is Gillen's and mine - and now it is practically done. On Friday I go to Adelaide with the object of getting a map to illustrate it. M Winnecke & H.Y.L. Brown have kindly offered us the use of a map which they are drawing of the central area & upon which with the help of Winnecke I hope to be able to lay down all the important places mentioned.

I have been pondering over the names to give the divisions Purula,

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Panunga etc & their equivalents in the various tribes & it seems to me that the only thing which we can do is to use the terms 'class' & 'subclass'. I don't altogether like phiatry & subphiatry. "Class' is a vague term which is a great advantage. Clan & phiatry have such meaning in regard to other parts of the world that I do not like them. Roth's terms are hideous & misleading. I have had a letter from him with regard to totems which I will show you when we meet. He seems to me to have no idea of what a totem is & to have formed certain theories which will lead him astray. His main idea is that the origin of totems was the deliberate intention

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of regulating the food supply. The main object however of this letter is to ask your permission on behalf of Gillen & myself to dedicate our work to you and & Fison.

I have already spoken to the latter & perhaps he may have mentioned it to you. If you will allow us to do so we shall be very glad indeed as we want to express our appreciation of the debt which Australian Anthropologists owe to you and trust that the work will be worthy of the dedication. The latter will be a very simple one & after thinking it over have decided (with you & Fison's permission) that it shall be as follows "To A. W. Howitt & Lorimer Fison, who laid the foundation of our knowledge of Australian

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Anthropology, this work is dedicated by the authors". This I think expresses the exact truth & will serve to show, or at least is intended to do, our appreciation of the fact that you were the first to really understand the Australian native.

In two weeks I hope to send the ms. home to Macmillan & as Dr Tylor and Mr Frazer have most kindly offered to correct the proof we shall not see it until it is published.

Yours very sincerely

W Baldwin Spencer

Rights: State Library of Victoria

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Document Details

Letter To
Howitt, Alfred William
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State Library of Victoria