A century of anthropology at Berkeley
Doe Library exhibit highlights faculty, research achievements of world-renowned department

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


Anthropologist Alfred Kroeber poses for this 1911 photo.
Photo courtesy of the Bancroft Library

07 November 2001 | On the first day of class in 1901, a new Berkeley professor named Alfred Kroeber addressed his three students and made history in the process. It was the first lecture on anthropology ever given on the Berkeley campus — and in the entire western United States.

Since that watershed event 100 years ago, Berkeley’s Department of Anthropology has grown in prominence and today is world-renowned for its innovations and achievements.

A new exhibit in Doe Library, “Anthropology at Berkeley: A Century of Pathbreaking Scholarship,” chronicles the ascent of the department with photographs, maps and texts drawn from the George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library. The exhibit continues through Jan. 31, 2002.

Many credit Kroeber, the anthropology department’s first faculty member, with laying the foundation for Berkeley’s future prominence in the field.

He came to campus — with a newly minted PhD from Columbia University — at the behest of UC benefactor Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who wanted the area’s rapidly disappearing Native American traditions documented.

Kroeber set to work immediately and over the next 60 years wrote many papers and books illuminating the beauty and ingenuity of California native cultures.

One of the best known aspects of Kroeber’s work was his association with Ishi, a Yahi Indian found naked and starving near Oroville in 1911. When discovered, this “last wild human” was locked up by the local sheriff for his own protection.

Kroeber read of this event in a local newspaper and left immediately to spring Ishi from jail. Over the next five years, Ishi shared his culture with Kroeber and other scientists, showing them how he made spearheads from flint and obsidian, weaving baskets and explaining his language and philosophy. Ishi died in 1916 of tuberculosis.

Saddened by the death of Ishi and of his first wife just three years earlier, Kroeber briefly left the field of anthropology to study psychology. But his love of anthropology persisted. He returned to the field, remarried and continued his remarkable career at Berkeley. His reputation drew the country’s best and brightest to the department.

Great minds continue to populate Kroeber Hall, named for the man who began Berkeley’s anthropological legacy a century ago. Professors and students fan out across the globe — from the caves of France to the beaches of the Bahamas, jungles of the Amazon and deserts of Africa — to chronicle the world’s cultures, both extinct and extant.

Among the department’s faculty are Alan Dundes, one of the world’s leading authorities on folklore; Nancy Scheper-Huges, creator of Organs Watch, a center devoted to monitoring organ trafficking; and Katherine Milton, an expert on primate diets.

Visitors may view the exhibit from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.,Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

For information, call 642-5339.


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