International Encyclopaedia
of the Histories of Anthropology

Kroeber, Alfred Louis (1876–1960)

Coordinated by Herbert S. Lewis

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Alfred Louis Kroeber (1876–1960) was considered the “Dean of American Anthropology” from the 1940s until his death. A New Yorker from a German immigrant family, Kroeber began his higher education at Columbia University. He studied English literature and received an M.A. degree in that field but he left literature for anthropology and became Franz Boas’ first PhD at Columbia University in 1901. In the same year Kroeber left New York for a life in California. He was founder and the predominant intellectual force in the University of California-Berkeley Department of Anthropology from 1901 until his retirement in 1946, and beyond. He published more than 550 works—books, monographs, papers, reviews—on a wide range of topics in ethnology, linguistics, history, and archaeology. His subject was the whole world of humans and their cultures, their pasts and their interconnections. His works ranged from the micro to the macro level. On the one hand, he collected texts in Indian languages, recorded songs, and engaged in participant observation. On the other, he published works at the highest plane of theory, generalization, and worldwide cultural comparison. Kroeber’s Handbook of the Indians of California is the foundation for the study of the indigenous peoples of that state. The legacy of his linguistics, ethnography, and recordings are invaluable to many California Indian groups and individuals. Kroeber ‘s testimony and his research were central to the success of California and other Indian groups in their Land Claims cases against the United States government. His book, Anthropology (1948), is a remarkable compendium of facts and ideas about the world’s peoples and cultures, and his massive edited enterprise, Anthropology Today (1953), encompassed the vast range of the field at that time. Kroeber became known outside of anthropology as a result of Theodora Kroeber’s book Ishi in Two Worlds (1961), published soon after her husband’s death. Despite their serious intellectual disagreements, Kroeber was the heir to Boas’ reputation as the master of the field.

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