Eric Wolf
Eric Robert Wolf was an anthropologist, best known for his studies of peasants, Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

, and his advocacy of Marxian perspectives within anthropology.

Early life

Wolf was born in Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, but his Jewish family moved first to England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and then America
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 to avoid persecution, and Wolf was raised largely in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. He fought overseas in WWII
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 and saw action in Italy with the 10th Mountain Division
10th Mountain Division
The 10th Mountain Division is a light infantry division of the United States Army based at Fort Drum, New York. It is a subordinate unit of the XVIII Airborne Corps and the only division-sized element of the U.S. Army to specialize in fighting under harsh terrain and weather conditions...

. Like many returning soldiers he took advantage of the newly-minted G.I. Bill to get a college education and developed an interest in other cultures. Wolf began studying anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...



Columbia had been the home of Franz Boas
Franz Boas
Franz Boas was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the "Father of American Anthropology" and "the Father of Modern Anthropology." Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in physics, and did...

 and Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict was an American anthropologist, cultural relativist, and folklorist....

 for many years, and was the central location for the spread of anthropology in America. By the time Wolf had arrived Boas had died and his anthropological style, which was suspicious of generalization and preferred detailed studies of particular subjects, was also out of fashion. The new chair of the anthropology department was Julian Steward
Julian Steward
Julian Haynes Steward was an American anthropologist best known for his role in developing "the concept and method" of cultural ecology, as well as a scientific theory of culture change.-Early life and education:...

, a student of Robert Lowie
Robert Lowie
Robert Harry Lowie was an Austrian-born American anthropologist. An expert on North American Indians, he was instrumental in the development of modern anthropology.-Biography:...

 and Alfred Kroeber. Steward was interested in creating a scientific anthropology which explained how societies evolved and adapted to their physical environment.

Wolf was one of the coterie of students who developed around Steward. Older students' leftist beliefs, Marxist in orientation, worked well with Steward's less politicized evolutionism. Many anthropologists prominent in the 1980s such as Sidney Mintz
Sidney Mintz
Sidney Wilfred Mintz is an anthropologist best known for his studies of Latin America and the Caribbean. Mintz studied at Brooklyn College earning his B.A in 1943. He got his doctoral degree from Columbia University under the supervision of Julian Steward and Ruth Benedict...

, Morton Fried
Morton Fried
Morton Herbert Fried , was a distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University in New York City from 1950 until his death in 1986. He made considerable contributions to the fields of social and political theory.Fried attended Townsend Harris High School and then the City College of New...

, Elman Service
Elman Service
Elman Rogers Service was an American cultural anthropologist.- Biography :He was born on May 18, 1915 in Tecumseh, Michigan and died on November 14, 1996 in Santa Barbara, California. He earned a Bachelors Degree in 1941 from the University of Michigan. He earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from...

, Stanley Diamond
Stanley Diamond
Stanley Diamond was an American poet and anthropologist. As a young man, he identified as a poet, and his disdain for the fascism of the 1930s greatly influenced his thinking....

, and Robert F. Murphy
Robert F. Murphy (anthropologist)
Robert Francis Murphy was a distinguished anthropologist and professor of anthropology at Columbia University in New York City, from the early 1960s to 1990...

 were among this group.

Wolf's dissertation research was carried out as part of Steward's 'People of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

' project. Soon after, Wolf began teaching at the University of Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

. He held a joint position as a Distinguished Professor at both Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center
CUNY Graduate Center
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York brings together graduate education, advanced research, and public programming to midtown Manhattan hosting 4,600 students, 33 doctoral programs, 7 master's programs, and 30 research centers and institutes...

 beginning in 1971, where he spent the remainder of his career. In addition to his Latin American work, Wolf also did fieldwork in Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...


Wolf's relevance to anthropology lies in the fact that he focused on issues of power, politics, and colonialism during the 1970s and 1980s when these topics were moving to the center of disciplinary concerns. His most well-known book, Europe and the People Without History
Europe and the People Without History
Europe and the People Without History is a book by anthropologist Eric Wolf. First published in 1982, it focuses on the expansion of European societies in the Modern Era. It argues that this expansion affected both the societies that Europeans encountered in their expansion and European societies...

, is famous for unveiling the fact that popular European history largely ignores as being attention-worthy citizens other than monarchs or members of the ruling classes. It also demonstrates that non-Europeans were caught up in global processes like the fur
Fur trade
The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of world market for in the early modern period furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued...

 and slave trades and so were not 'frozen in time' or 'isolated' but had always been deeply implicated in world history.

Towards the end of his life he warned of the 'intellectual deforestation' that occurred when anthropology focused on high-flown theory instead of sticking to the realities of life and fieldwork. Wolf struggled with cancer later in life, and died in 1999.

Published works

  • The Mexican Bajío in the 18th Century (Tulane University, Middle American Research Institute, 1955)
  • Sons of the Shaking Earth (University of Chicago Press, 1959)
  • Anthropology (Prentice-Hall, 1964)
  • Peasants (Prentice-Hall, 1966)
  • Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century
    Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century
    Written in 1969 by Eric Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century, is a comparative view of the peasant revolutions of Mexico, Russia, China, Vietnam, Algeria, and Cuba....

    (Harper & Row, 1969)
  • The Hidden Frontier: Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley (with John W. Cole) (Academic Press, 1974)
  • Europe and the People Without History
    Europe and the People Without History
    Europe and the People Without History is a book by anthropologist Eric Wolf. First published in 1982, it focuses on the expansion of European societies in the Modern Era. It argues that this expansion affected both the societies that Europeans encountered in their expansion and European societies...

    (University of California Press, 1982)
  • Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Power (University of California Press, 1999)
  • Pathways of Power: Building an Anthropology of the Modern World (with Sydel Silverman) (University of California Press, 2001)

External links

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