Jane Hubert (1935-2019)

With the death of Jane Hubert on 21 June WAC lost one of its founding members. Jane was the partner of Peter Ucko, the main protagonist in the WAC story, but it is no exaggeration to say that WAC would not exist were it not for Jane’s contribution. In his chronicle of the creation of WAC in 1986 Peter wrote “Almost all of the readers [of the draft of his 1987 book Academic Freedom and Apartheid: the story of the World Archaeological Congress[1]] have complained about the lack of substance that I have given to Jane Hubert… In my perception, however, she is there on every page… For me much of WAC is Jane and vice versa”.

At Oxford, Jane did a degree in Psychology and Philosophy, and then took a diploma in Anthropology. Her first role after graduating was as a member of the team studying kinship in London organised by Raymond Firth, then Professor of Social Anthropology at LSE, it was also where Jane met her soon-to-be husband Anthony Forge.  This was a pioneering research project led by one of the pre-eminent anthropologists of his time. Firth, from New Zealand, had worked with Maori and other Pacific Islander groups and brought the same anthropological approaches to a study of European society for the first time. Jane’s inclusion on the team is an indication of how highly she was already regarded as a young graduate.

Jane then worked with husband Anthony in Bali, where they examined art in a stratified society in an attempt to unravel and understand the role of symbolic systems in the maintenance of hierarchy, while at the same time bringing up her two young children, Tom and Olivia. The family then moved to Australia where Jane joined the staff of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and (later) Torres Strait Islander Studies. She initially worked in a research capacity in the Institute Library, before taking up a newly created position as head of the Institute’s Resource Centre.  The Centre was responsible for non-print material, including films and many thousands of tapes, cassettes, discs, photographic slides, and prints documenting aspects of Australian Aboriginal culture and the life of Aboriginal people. Although not fully recognised at the time of her appointment, this was, and is, perhaps one of the most contentious and controversial collections of anthropological material on the planet. In the following four years Jane managed the Centre, ensuring that the material was kept in conservation conditions optimum to its preservation. She also quickly realised the collection’s significance and began to grapple with the increasingly complex issues of copyright and access to the material, much of which had been collected without permission and with little regard for the rights or beliefs of the communities depicted and discussed. The role brought Jane into contact with an increasing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and developed and cemented her belief in, and commitment to, the rights of indigenous peoples everywhere.  

This experience was fundamental to the decisions taken to include non-academic, indigenous voices in the whole concept of WAC and its management structure, and in the adherence to the UN’s total academic and cultural boycott of Apartheid South Africa that led to the banning of South African and Namibian participants at WAC-1 in 1986[2]. Jane had moved back to the UK with new partner, Peter Ucko, in 1981, and while Peter was credited, or attacked, for the ban and the revolution in the study and practice of archaeology, WAC simply would not have happened without Jane. She was Peter’s closest academic, political, and ethical collaborator. WAC is as much Jane’s legacy as Peter’s.

Building on her experience in Australia, Jane’s seminal contribution to WAC and to world archaeology was, primarily with Peter, and Cressida Fforde, to highlight the injustice of the relationship between archaeologists and indigenous peoples and in particular to address the archaeological treatment of human remains and the broader repatriation issue. This was always going to be discussed at WAC-1 but was given a significant boost by the late arrival, following the banning of South African colleagues, of a session including Larry Zimmerman (later WAC Secretary), and Native Americans Jan Hamil (later a member of the steering committee that set-up WAC) and Robert Cruz. At WAC-1 Jane interviewed many of the Indigenous participants and these first recordings formed the basis of her emerging research in the area. Jane helped Larry and Peter organise, and contributed academically to, the first WAC Inter-Congress in South Dakota in 1989 that focussed on the archaeological treatment of human remains and which resulted in the first major publication in this field, the edited volume, by Bob Layton, entitled Conflict in the Archaeology of Living Traditions. Jane later co-convened three days of discussion at WAC-4 in Cape Town in 1999, from which she co-edited, with Cressida Fforde and Paul Turnbull, what has become the seminal text on this topic: The Dead and Their Possessions: repatriation in principle, policy, and practice. Jane had already co-edited Sacred Sites, Sacred Places (1997), which explored the concept of ‘sacred’ and its significance to people in different cultures, and which stressed the essential need to accommodate the beliefs of local populations in managing sites as a vital part of ongoing cultural identity.

However, Jane’s contribution to WAC went far deeper than the events around WAC-1. As part of the voluntary WAC Secretariat, in the 1980s and 1990s, she dedicated much of her spare time to the creation of the organisation and took an active role in mitigation of some of the ‘interesting’ events that surrounded the Congresses in Venezuela (WAC-2 was moved from Venezuela, because of economic collapse, to Colombia and then finally back again, to a different region of Venezuela, because of the government-declared war with the drug barons in Colombia); India (where the organisers had to cope with outbreaks of malaria and plague and then the chaos surrounding the Indian organising committee’s decision to ban discussion of the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya); and South Africa (where street protests, sparked by the presence of Tony Blair, then UK Prime Minister, in Cape Town, against the US/UK imposition of the no-flight zone in Iraq that led to the death of one protestor and fears for the safety of US/UK nationals at the Congress) – any one of which might have been enough to strangle the fledgling organisation in its formative years.

A less well-known fact is that Jane helped with the editing of all 15 of the One World Archaeology books coming from WAC-1 (and a number of later volumes). Many of these would simply not have appeared without her contribution. I know a number of editors, myself included, who pressed her, without success, to allow us to acknowledge her contribution. Such was her self-deprecation.

Jane’s contribution to WAC is all the more amazing in that it was all done alongside her having a full-time career as an academic where she spent much of her time challenging the medical establishment’s norms for treating marginalised groups, frequently institutionalised for much of their lives, with head injuries, severe learning disabilities, and/or autism. She combined her two worlds in sessions at WAC-4 which led to her editing Madness, Disability and Social Exclusion: The Archaeology and Anthropology of ‘Difference’ (2010) that brought together a number of disciplines, including archaeology, anthropology, disability studies, and psychiatry to create a new perspective on social and physical exclusion from society.

Jane was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by WAC in 2012. She was a remarkable, pioneering, brave, woman who was not at all afraid to take on authority when she saw that it was wrong – as with the UISPP over the academic boycott of South Africa, the archaeological treatment of indigenous communities, or the medical establishment over the treatment of marginalised groups in society. She was inspirational, completely committed to justice, with a determined humanity in all aspects of her work, but never losing her mischievous sense of humour and fun. One colleague wrote: “Sitting in my hotel room gives me the opportunity to reflect deeply on some of the good things this world has given us and the role Jane played in making it even better.”

Hei aha tak-oto mai e ha-kui Jane (rest, Jane)  

Tak-oto, tak-oto, tak-oto (rest)

Tak-oto rang-imarie (rest in peace)

moe mai e hoa  (sleep dear friend)

moe mai, moe mai, moe mai (sleep)

An obituary appears in The Guardian newspaper https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/jul/22/jane-hubert-obituary-anthropologist?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR2VYReLAlUasZfHkwDygXU81UrBAXNvEMM-jc291DFxpdCEGA5uqf_Wbpg

and the BBC Radio 4 obituaries programme, Last Word discussed Jane’s life (with an interview with Peter Stone) available on the BBC site at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00076v4

[1] Available as a free pdf download elsewhere in the WAC website.

[2] The conference in Southampton that became known as WAC-1, was originally going to be the 11th Congress of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP). When the organisers of the Southampton Congress decided to follow the UN’s total academic and cultural boycott of Apartheid South Africa and banned the participation of 26 South Africans and one Namibian who had registered, the UISPP withdrew its support for the meeting. While the ban was very divisive within academic archaeology, it allowed archaeologists and others from across Africa to attend WAC-1 and also attracted, for the first time, partially because of the ban and partially because of the scope of the discussion, large delegations from the Soviet Union and China and individuals from across the globe.

If you would like to share a memory of Jane or give your condolences please do so in the comments section below.

  1. I first met Jane at WAC-3 in India. There were some last-minute problems with the program. Jane and Clare Golson went around the hotels with copies of the revised program, late at night. I was really impressed by their dedication – senior people doing what needed to be done for the conference to run smoothly. I stayed with Jane and Peter in London a couple of times. It was a honour.

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