Edmund Ronald Leach was born on 7 November 1910 at Sidmouth. He attended Marlborough College, and won an Exhibition to Clare College, Cambridge, matriculating in 1929. He studied mathematics for the first year, then engineering, achieving a First in 1932.
After Cambridge, Leach worked initially as a commercial assistant for Butterfield and Swire in Shanghai, spending his holidays travelling around the country. He undertook anthropological field research in Botel Tobago, (Orchid Island, Taiwan) in 1938, before returning to England as a graduate student at the London School of Economics, where he studied under Malinowski. This was followed by further research in Kurdistan. From 1939-45 Leach was an army officer stationed in Burma, where he carried out more field work. He married Celia Joyce Buckmaster in 1940, and they had a daughter, Louisa.
After the war Leach returned to LSE to complete his PhD, and, after a brief spell in Borneo, became a lecturer, later a Reader, in Social Anthropology. In 1953 he moved to the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University as a lecturer, then Reader, and was given his own chair in 1972. Leach's final piece of field work was undertaken in 1954-5 in Ceylon, where he studied the village of Pul Eliya.
Leach was made a Fellow of King's College in 1960 and was elected Provost in 1966. Alongside his work within Cambridge University, Leach was a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University (1961); a member of the Social Science Research Council (1968); Vice President and then President of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1964-6, 1968-70), and an Honorary Fellow of the School of Oriental and African Studies. He won the Curl Essay Prize in 1951 and 1957 and the Rivers Medal in 1958, and delivered a controversial series of Reith Lectures in 1968.
Leach retired from the Provostship in 1978 and moved to Barrington. He died on 6 January 1989.
His publications include: 'Social and Economic Organization of the Rowanduz Kurds' (1940), 'Social Science Research in Sarawak' (1950), 'Political Systems of Highland Burma' (1954), 'Pul Eliya: A Village in Ceylon' (1961), 'Rethinking Anthropology' (1961), 'A Runaway World?' (1968), 'Genesis as Myth' (1970), 'Levi-Strauss' (1970), 'Culture and Communication' (1976), 'Social Anthropology' (1982), and 'Structuralist Interpretations of Biblical Myth' (1983).
For further biographical and bibliographical details, the reader is referred to:
Stephen Hugh-Jones 'Edmund Leach 1910-1989: A Memoir' (King's College, Cambridge, 1989).
'Edmund Leach: a bibliography' (Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Occasional Papers No. 42, 1990).
The collection contains Leach's published and unpublished writings, research papers relating to his fieldwork in China, Botel Tobago, Burma, Ceylon, India and Nepal, and papers concerning his academic career.
The papers of Edmund Leach were presented to King's College Library by his widow, Lady Celia Leach, and his daughter, Mrs Louisa Brown, in 1989. The catalogue was completed in 1996. Additional papers were given by Mrs Brown in January 2001, and this catalogue was updated in September 2001.
The majority of the Leach papers are readily available to scholars in the Archive Centre. Record consultation is by appointment only. In view of its sensitivity, some material is reserved. There is no access to such material for the time being.
Permission to quote in print from the published or unpublished writings of Edmund Leach, or to reproduce any photographs taken by him, must be obtained from the copyright owner. Please contact the Archivist for further information at The Archive Centre, King's College, Cambridge, CB2 1ST.
Please cite as King's College Archive Centre, Cambridge, The Papers of Edmund Ronald Leach, ERL