Anthropologist, teacher, collector.
Charles Gabriel Seligman (1873-1940) is one of the pioneers of modern anthropology. He began his career in medicine, branching to physical anthropology and eventually discovering his vocation in cultural anthropology to which he made a significant contribution.
Through his fieldwork in places such as Papua New Guinea, Borneo, Sri Lanka and Sudan he developed a strong appreciation of empirical studies. He had wide interests, ranging from ancient civilisations of India and China through to tribal societies in Melanesia and Africa, as well as subjects such as race, psychology, symbolism and art.
Seligman was a member of the renowned Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait in 1898. He was actively involved in what is recognised as one of the milestones in anthropological studies. Early in his career, associated with the London School of Economics, he later became Chair of Ethnology of the University of London. He was President of the Royal Anthropology Institute and a Visiting Professor at Yale University.
As an educator Seligman had a significant influence on the new crop of anthropologists, including Bronislaw Kasper Malinowski (1884-1942), Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard (1902–1973), Raymond William Firth (1901–2002) and Meyer Fortes (1906–1983) – to name just a few.
Charles Seligman had connections with the Australian Museum as well. As early as 1899 he donated about 30 artefacts from Borneo, collected during his fieldwork - an extension of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait, including British Papua and Borneo in 1898-99. Subsequently he corresponded with Robert Etheridge – the Museum’s Director and Curator (1887-1919), who helped Seligman with the logistics of collecting specimens and arranging transport in New Guinea.
Between 1900 and 1906 Seligman donated to and exchanged with the Australian Museum some Papuan artefacts. His 1899 donation is one of the earliest Southeast Asian material and virtually the first from indigenous Austronesian-speaking people of Borneo in the Museum.