Behold, a timeline of the history of anthropology!

(Update 11 Dec 2016: Up-to-date timeline files are now hosted on github and there is an interactive version of the timeline as well -Rx)

I am extremely happy to announce today that I’m making open access my timeline of the history of anthropological theory. This timeline has over 1,000 entries, beginning with the birth of Lewis Henry Morgan on 21 Nov 1818 and the latest is the death of Roy D’Andrade on 20 Oct 2016. It includes details from the careers of roughly 118 anthropologists from England, France, and the United States. It is designed to be viewed in Aeon Timeline, but I’ve also provided a dump of the data so you can play with it however you like.

History of Anthropology Timeline (98K .zip file on google drive)

The lives of George Hunt, Franz Boas, and Zora Neale Hurston. You need to scroll around the full database to see all the dates.

I started this timeline five or six years ago, when I first started teaching history of theory courses. I felt that there was a tremendous gap between the stories told in theory courses, what history of anthropology as a speciality revealed about the history of the discipline, and the standard average potted history of the discipline ensconced in the heads of anthropology professors. Rather than teach the standard narrative that I had received from my teachers, I wanted to figure out what really happened.

This eventually grew into a book project that I’ll publish one day down the road… long down the road… but to prevent myself from going insane I’ve given the project some very basic parameters. First, I am focusing on French, English, and American anthropology (mostly American at this point 🙁 ). Second, this is a timeline of sociocultural anthropology. Sorry I know that excludes a lot. Third, I am defining ‘anthropology’ here as the modern discipline which institutionalized in the 1920s. So there is a chronological restriction. Finally, I tried to locate people who seemed most institutionally and intellectually central, as well as people that I was just personally interested in. So your favorite people will definitely not be on there. In general I’ve tried to recover the people who were important to the discipline but who were erased (particularly in the US) during the great WASP Scientization of the discipline in the 1950s, or who just plain never made it in their in the first place. In sum, I’ve had national, temporal, and intellectual limits to this project to keep from going crazy, but I’m sure you will be outraged at my omission of your favorite person. But just let me know who you think should be in here and I (or you) can add them.

Eric Wolf and Ernst Gellner had overlapping lives but were rarely in dialogue with each other, iirc.

At this point the timeline is too too rich in dates to actually just look at. You pretty much need to filter it to decide what you want to see. This is a work in progress designed for my use, not an outward facing, user-friendly tool. But I still think it will be helpful for many people. Hopefully you think it’s useful! I’ll keep updating as I continue to work on this project.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

9 thoughts on “Behold, a timeline of the history of anthropology!

  1. You can open the .csv file in excel and it should be viewable without too much tweaking. Feel free to remix or adapt. Unfortunately, other then that you need Aeon Timeline. Sorry 🙁

  2. Thank you so much! I teach 2 intro to anthro theory and this is very helpful! I’ll have my students read you next semester.

  3. I do not think that you – or anyone else – have necessarily not noticed it, but since it is very likely that at least some people haven’t, I just want to point out that combinations of the numbers 4 and 7 appear frequently įn the section of your timeline devoted to Ernest Gellner.

  4. Hi Alex, Is it possible to translate them also to other languages? Or would that be too out of scope for now? In any case, I was thinking in terms of translating to Spanish and I could volunteer also for some articles if there is someone who can oversee the work. This can be another great volunteer opportunity.

  5. Excelent job, Alex. I’ll have to find a friend who has Aeon Timeline since I was unable to go through the .csv file in Excel. Anyway, the reason I write to you is another one. I teach Anthropological Theory here in Brazil (University of Brasília), and there are some metropolitan trends that we do not capture entirely. In the post you mention “the great WASP Scientization of the discipline in the 1950s”, that happened “particularly in the US”. Would you mind clarifying that or redirect me to sources where I can go into it? Best regards.

  6. I’m not really sure that someone has written explicitly on this topic, but I think if you look at the timeline you can see that in the 20s and 30s famous anthropologists had names like Kroeber, Boas, Sapir, Lowie, Radin. There were non-famous students who were American Indian, African American, etc. After World War II, the people who rose to prominence were Kluckhohn, Linton, Steward, Goodenough, Mudock, White, Redfield. Ruth Benedict’s AAA address “Anthropology and Humanism” was in the late 1940s, and imho signaled a temporary end to a humanistic approach to anthropology. The 1950s were a time of large team projects and attempts to make anthropology more scientific, in the sense of abstract, generalizing, and quantitative. Componential Analysis and HRAF were all part of this. This moment is rarely taught in theory courses because it was eclipsed by more ‘interpretive’ turns of Geertz, Turner, and others (to make a long story short). Their point of view was much easier to assimilate to baby boomer counter-cultural enthusiasm. Even the descendants of White and Steward — Wolf, Mintz, Sahlins, Harris — were leftist, anti-collaboration with the US government, and Jewish. Hope that gives you some help!

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