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Oration honouring Robert Patrick Barten Paine

May 26, 2009, 10 a.m.




Robert Paine is a far-farer, his work reaches across vast areas of the earth; he stands a kind of playwright on the theatre of the world – a figure in Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum – and reads it to us, sets down the lines of latitude and longitude, reads its contours across the footlights. This holds true whether he is among the Saami of Northern Scandinavia, or fostering studies of the Inuit and other Northern peoples in the creation of North Atlantic studies. But this is also true of his work in Israel – a very confined area but one whose gulfs of cultural and political difference are so great that bridging them requires a massive effort. And, too, it is true of another less stereotypically anthropological aspect of his work – the study of political rhetoric where he tried not to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality but to visualize that gap and discern the abutments at either side.

This is then a curious career in which he brings together the locative and the logocentric. Allow, Chancellor, examples to provide the explanation. Hunting around for a doctoral topic after he finished at Oxford, Robert Paine decided to do preliminary research among the Saami who range across Norway, Sweden and Finland into Russia and who are best known for being reindeer pastoralists. Being persistent and adaptable – essential qualities in any anthropologist – he eventually got to work on his topic but only after two years and learning both Norwegian and Saami. He spent 14 years listening to and observing the Saami. The place had taken him.

And the place took to him for in 1965 he was offered the headship of anthropology at Oslo, a major post for a young scholar. But an academic raider was on the horizon. The redoubtable Mose Morgan, then our dean of Arts, phoned Robert to tell him we were looking for someone to head both Sociology and Anthropology and join the Institute of Social and Economic Research. Robert demurred saying he had committed to Oslo; Mose persisted suggesting a fall term at Memorial. Robert came and has not left. But he has left a remarkable contribution to anthropological studies in Newfoundland and internationally. In 1968 he put together a research team that received one of the first Killam awards from the Canada Council, a grant that was then the largest in the Arts at Memorial. He was also responsible for developing ISER publications, the venture that brought Memorial’s scholarship into the public arena. This was most important in the case of the resettlement work done by ISER researchers which ended up in the Evening Telegram. A strong argument can be made that these publications affected the outcome of the 1971 provincial election and brought an end to the Smallwood regime. ISER also played a critical role in developing the idea of the North Atlantic as a research area. By supporting and publishing international research on key issues – notably the fisheries and offshore development, community studies and social problems, and aboriginal studies – it helped put social science in and of Newfoundland and Labrador into a transatlantic framework. In making our Anthropology Department one of the most active and most important in Canada, and through his own very considerable scholarly work, Dr. Paine’s has had a very significant impact on Memorial’s international reputation. This is the locative of which Robert speaks in essay he wrote for a symposium on the future of the university a dozen years ago: the sense of place which was so palpably present when he came here in the 1960s and which drove so much of the extraordinarily influential research of that period. He may have been caught by the place but it is quite clear that he was one of those who made this place.

And the locative became logocentric when he took an analytic look at the rhetoric of Joseph Smallwood the man who word-wove his way to Confederation. This is all part of his capacity to listen, learned while in his early fieldwork but it also may be a matter that is in his bones for if, Chancellor, you note his name it is derived from the Latin for “pagan” and can refer to a simple rustic – a guise he certainly put on when playing the role of a Saami herder in the 1950s – but also refers to one whose beliefs are undefined or suspect. This latter trait can be useful to the listener because he may be told and be open enough to hear what to others would not be revealed and so allow him to extract information from place and word. One of the builders of this university, he has brought it great distinction – Fellow of the Royal Society, member of the Order of Canada, Henrietta Harvey Professor – Chancellor, I present to you for the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa, Robert Patrick Barten Paine.

Shane O’Dea
Public orator
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