Friday, May 22, 2015

Cat's Cradles from Many Lands

Kathleen Haddon - Cat's Cradles from Many Lands (1911)

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As a child I had a book that was about cat's cradles but not completely how to make them (the reason I chose it) than an anthropological study (which I didn't understand then).  I'm not entirely positive but think it was Caroline Jayne's 1961 String Figures and How to Make Them.

This book from earlier in the century is much the same, describing cradles from a variety of cultures each with a note about the source.  There's not much in the way of analysis though she does sometimes point out similarities in cradles from separated cultures.  The illustrations are only of the finished cradle but I find the written instructions difficult to follow (though that's probably just me since it's the kind of physical action that eludes my competency).

Haddon was the daughter of anthropologist A.C. Haddon and wrote a couple of other books on string figures.  She earned a degree in zoology from Cambridge in 1911 (working on glow-worm larvae) but it wasn't awarded until 1948 when the university started allowing women to receive them.  She worked as a photographer and researcher on some of her father's trips to Papua and the Torres Straits.  There's an interesting piece by Joshua A. Bell in Photography, Anthropology and History that uses the accidental appearance of her thumb in a field photograph as the starting point to explore issues of ethnography, attribution and gender.