Alfred Louis Kroeber

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Alfred Louis Kroeber

Birthplace: Hoboken, NJ, United States
Death: October 05, 1960 (84)
Hotel du Quai Voltaire, Paris, France (Heart Attack)
Immediate Family:

Son of Florence Martin Kroeber and Johanna Kroeber
Husband of Theodora Kroeber and Henrietta Kroeber
Father of Karl Kroeber and Ursula K. Le Guin
Brother of Edward Florence Kroeber; Johanna Kate Mosenthal and Elsbeth Kroeber

Occupation: Professor, Anthropologist
Managed by: Louise Mae Kurshan
Last Updated:

About Alfred Louis Kroeber

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

Kroeber was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. He 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. Changing fields to the new study of culture, he received his Ph.D. in anthropology under Franz Boas at Columbia University in 1901, basing his 28-page 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 California, primarily at the University of California, Berkeley. He was both a Professor of Anthropology and the Director of what was then the University of California Museum of Anthropology (now the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology). The anthropology department's headquarters building at the University of California is named Kroeber Hall in his honor. He was associated with Berkeley until his retirement in 1946.

Kroeber married twice. He and his second wife Theodora had two children Karl Kroeber, later an academic, and Ursula, who achieved a reputation as the writer Ursula K. Le Guin (primarily for her fantasy and science fiction.) He adopted Theodora's sons by her first marriage, Ted and Clifton; the latter became a historian. Clifton and Karl Kroeber 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 Native Americans.

Kroeber died in Paris on October 5, 1960.

Although he is known primarily as a cultural anthropologist, he did significant work in archaeology and anthropological linguistics, and he contributed to anthropology by making connections between archaeology and culture. He conducted excavations in New Mexico, Mexico, and Peru. 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 the Indians of California (1925). He is credited with developing the concepts of culture area, cultural configuration (Cultural and Natural Areas of Native North America, 1939), and cultural fatigue (Anthropology, 1963).

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 to be the last California Yahi Indian; however, this claim has been disputed. 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 many years, and was one of ten books required for all students during their first year at Columbia in the late 1940s. His book, Configurations of Cultural Growth (1944), had a lasting impact on social scientific research on genius and greatness.

Kroeber served early on as the plaintiffs' director of research in Indians of California vs the United States. His associate director and 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 may 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.


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Alfred Louis Kroeber's Timeline

June 11, 1876
Hoboken, NJ, United States
November 26, 1926
October 21, 1929
Berkeley, Alameda County, California, United States
October 5, 1960
Age 84
Hotel du Quai Voltaire, Paris, France
University of California, Berkeley