International Encyclopaedia
of the Histories of Anthropology

Steinen, Karl von den (1855-1929)

Coordinated by Céline Trautmann‑Waller

Université Sorbonne nouvelle / IUF

A doctor by training, German ethnologist Karl von den Steinen (1855-1929) undertook two expeditions to the Xingu river basin in Central Brazil in 1884 and 1887-1888, an experience that enabled him to found the modern ethnography of the South American lowlands, and to place this region at the centre of anthropological attention. His works Durch Central-Brasilien (1886) and Unter den Naturvölkern Zentral-Brasiliens (1894) set the standard for ethnographic writing adopted by German Americanists, and the book Die Bakaïri-Sprache (1892) was the forerunner of studies of non-Tupi indigenous languages. Between 1897-1898, he undertook an ethnographic journey in the Marquesas Islands, which resulted in his trilogy on native art, Die Marquesaner und ihre Kunst (1925-1928). Von den Steinen was head of the Americanist section of the Berlin Museum of Ethnology, professor at Berlin University and president of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory. His descriptions and insights have been inspirational among anthropologists specializing in lowland indigenous peoples.

Keywords: Ethnography | Ethnographic expeditions and missions | Second half of the 19th century | First quarter of the 20th century | Germany | Brazil | Amazonia | Polynesia | Marquesas Islands | Polynesian studies | Xingu | Mythology | Material culture | Language | Myths | Art | Adolf Bastian | Ethnologisches Museum Berlin | Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte | Berlin University

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