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Alfred Louis Kroeber (June 11, 1876 – October 5, 1960) was one of the most influential figures in Americanmarker anthropology in the first half of the twentieth century.

Kroeber was born in Hoboken, New Jerseymarker and attended Columbia College at the age of 16, earning an A.B. in English in 1896, and an M.A. in Romantic drama in 1897. He received his doctorate under Franz Boas at Columbia University in 1901, basing his 28 pages long dissertation on decorative symbolism on his field work among the Arapaho. It was the first doctorate in anthropology awarded by Columbia. He spent most of his career in Californiamarker, primarily at the University of California, Berkeleymarker where he worked as both a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of what was then The University of California Museum of Anthropology (now the Phoebe A.marker Hearst Museum of Anthropologymarker). The anthropology department's headquarters building at the University of California is known as Kroeber Hall. He was associated with Berkeley until his retirement in 1946.

Although he is known primarily as a cultural anthropologist, he did significant work in archaeology, and he contributed to anthropology by making connections between archaeology and culture. He conducted excavations in New Mexicomarker, Mexicomarker, and Perumarker. Kroeber and his students did important work collecting cultural data on western tribes of Native Americans. The work done in preserving information about California tribes appeared in Handbook of Indians of California (1925). He is credited with developing the concepts of Culture Area and Culture Configuration (Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America, 1939).

His influence was so strong that many contemporaries adopted his style of beard and mustache as well as his views as a social scientist. During his lifetime, he was known as the "Dean of American anthropologists". His anthropological paradigms have introduced the word Kroeberian into the English language. Kroeber and Roland B. Dixon were very influential in the genetic classification of Native American languages in North America, being responsible for groupings such as Penutian and Hokan. He is noted for working with Ishi, who was claimed (though not uncontroversially) to be the last California Yahi Indian. His second wife, Theodora Kroeber, wrote a well-known biography of Ishi, Ishi in Two Worlds. Kroeber's relationship with Ishi was made into a film The Last of His Tribe (1992), starring Jon Voigt as Kroeber. His textbook, Anthropology (1923, 1948), was widely used for years, and was one of ten books required for all students during their first year at Columbia in the late 1940s.

Kroeber was father of the academic Karl Kroeber and the writer (primarily of fantasy and science fiction) Ursula K. Le Guin by his second wife, Theodora. He adopted the two children of Theodora's first marriage, Ted and historian Clifton Kroeber. Clifton and Karl recently (2003) edited a book together on the Ishi case, Ishi in Three Centuries. This is the first scholarly book on Ishi to contain essays by Indians.

Kroeber died in Paris on October 5, 1960.

Indian Land Claims

Kroeber served early on as the plaintiffs' director of research in Indians of California vs the United States. His associate director as well as the director of research for the federal government had been his students –- Omer Stewart, of the University of Colorado, and Ralph Beals, of the University of California, Los Angeles. Kroeber's impact on the Indian Claims Commission might well have established the way expert witnesses presented testimony before the tribunal. Several of his students also served as expert witnesses–– e. g., Stewart directed the plaintiff research for the Utes and for the Shoshones.

Partial list of works

  • Indian Myths of South Central California (1907), in University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 4:167-250. Berkeley (Six Rumsien Costanoan myths, pp. 199-202); online at Sacred Texts.
  • The Religion of the Indians of California (1907), in University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 4:6. Berkeley, sections titled "Shamanism", "Public Ceremonies", "Ceremonial Structures and Paraphernalia", and "Mythology and Beliefs"; available at Sacred Texts
  • Handbook of the Indians of California (1925). Washington, D.C: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78
  • The Nature of Culture (1952). Chicago.
  • with Clyde Kluckhohn: Culture. A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952). Cambridge.
  • Anthropology: Culture Patterns & Processes (1963). Harcourt: Brace & World, Inc.


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