Ralph Linton
Ralph Linton was a respected American anthropologist of the mid-twentieth century, particularly remembered for his texts The Study of Man (1936) and The Tree of Culture (1955). One of Linton's major contributions to anthropology was defining a distinction between status and role.

Early life and education

Linton was born into a family of Quaker restaurant entrepreneurs in Philadelphia in 1893 and entered Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College is a private, independent, liberal arts college in the United States with an enrollment of about 1,500 students. The college is located in the borough of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia....

 in 1911. He was an indifferent student and resisted his father's pressures to prepare himself for the life of a professional. He grew interested in archaeology after participating in a field school in the southwest and took a year off of his studies to participate in another archaeological excavation in Guatemala. Having found a strong focus he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1915.

Although Linton became a prominent anthropologist, his graduate education took place largely at the periphery of the discipline. He attended the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

, where he earned his masters degree studying with Frank Speck
Frank Speck
Frank Gouldsmith Speck was an American anthropologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in the Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples among the Eastern Woodland Native Americans of the United States and First Nations peoples of eastern boreal Canada.-Early life and...

 while undertaking additional archaeological field work in New Jersey and New Mexico. He was admitted to a Ph.D. program 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...

 thereafter, but did not become close to 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...

, the doyen of anthropology in that era. When America entered World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Linton enlisted and served in France. Shortly after his return to the United States, he transferred from Columbia to Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

, where he studied with Earnest Hooton
Earnest Hooton
Earnest Albert Hooton was a U.S. physical anthropologist known for his work on racial classification and his popular writings such as the book Up From The Ape...

, Alfred Tozzer
Alfred Tozzer
Alfred Marston Tozzer was an American anthropologist, archaeologist, linguist, and educator. His principal area of interest was Mesoamerican, especially Maya, studies. He was the father of figure skating champion Joan Tozzer....

, and Roland Dixon.

After a year of classes at Harvard, Linton proceeded to do more fieldwork, first Mesa Verde and then as a member of a research team led by E.S.C. Handy under the auspices of the Bishop Museum
Bishop Museum
The Bishop Museum , is a museum of history and science in the historic Kalihi district of Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu...

 to the Marquesas. While in the Pacific, his focus shifted from archaeology to cultural anthropology, although he would retain a keen interest in material culture and 'primitive' art throughout his life. He returned from the Marquesas in 1922 and eventually received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1925.

Academic career

Linton used his Harvard connections to secure a position at the Field Museum of Chicago after his return from the Marquesas. His official position was as Curator of American Indian materials. He continued working on digs in Ohio which he had first begun as a graduate student, but also began working through the museum's archival material on the Pawnee and published data collected by others in a series of articles and museum bulletins. While at the Field Museum he worked with illustrator and future children's book artist and author Holling Clancy Holling. Between 1925 and 1927, Linton undertook an extensive collecting trip to Madagascar for the field museum, exploring the western end of the Austronesian
Austronesian people
The Austronesian-speaking peoples are various populations in Oceania and Southeast Asia that speak languages of the Austronesian family. They include Taiwanese aborigines; the majority ethnic groups of East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Madagascar, Micronesia, and Polynesia,...

 diaspora after having studied the eastern end of this culture in the Marquesas. He did his own fieldwork there as well, and the book that resulted, The Tanala: A Hill Tribe of Madagascar (1933), was the most detailed ethnography he would publish.

On his return to the United States, Linton took a position at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...

, where the Department of Sociology had expanded to include an anthropology unit. Linton thus served as the first member of what would later become a separate department. Several of his students went on to become important anthropologists, such as Clyde Kluckhohn
Clyde Kluckhohn
Clyde Kluckhohn , was an American anthropologist and social theorist, best known for his long-term ethnographic work among the Navajo and his contributions to the development of theory of culture within American anthropology.-Early life and education:...

, Marvin Opler
Marvin Opler
Marvin Kaufmann Opler was an American anthropologist and social psychiatrist. His brother Morris Edward Opler was also an anthropologist who studied the Southern Athabaskan peoples of North America. Morris and Marvin Opler were the sons of Austrian-born Arthur A. Opler, a merchant, and Fanny...

, Philleo Nash
Philleo Nash
Philleo Nash was a government official, educator, anthropolologist, and Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin from 1959-1961 as a Democrat.-Early life and family:...

, and Sol Tax
Sol Tax
Sol Tax was an American anthropologist. He is best known for his studies of the Meskwaki, or Fox, Indians, for "action-anthropological" research titled the Fox Project, and for founding the academic journal Current Anthropology. He received his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1935.Tax...

. Up to this point, Linton had been primarily a researcher in a rather romantic vein, and his years at Wisconsin were the period in which he developed his ability to teach and publish as a theoretician. This fact, combined with his penchant for popular writing and his intellectual encounter with Radcliffe-Brown (then at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

), led to the publication of his textbook The Study of Man (1936). It was also during this period that he married his third wife, Adelin Hohlfeld, who worked as his secretary and editor as well as his collaborator—many of the popular pieces published jointly by them (such as Halloween Through Twenty Centuries) were in fact entirely written by Adelin Hohlfield.

When World War II
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...

 broke out, Linton became involved in war-planning and his thoughts on the war and the role of the United States (and American Anthropology) could be seen in several works of the post-war period, most notably The Science of Man in the World Crisis (1945) and Most of the World. It was during the war that Linton also undertook a long trip to South America, where he experienced a coronary occlusion that left him in precarious health.

After the war Linton moved to Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, a center for anthropologists such as George Murdock
George Murdock
George Peter Murdock was a notable American anthropologist. He is remembered for his empirical approach to ethnological studies and his landmark works on Old World populations.-Early life:...

 who had collaborated with the US government. He taught there from 1946 to 1953, where he continued to publish on culture and personality. It was during this period that he also began writing The Tree of Culture, an ambitious global overview of human culture. Linton was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 1950. He died of complications relating to his trip in South America on Christmas Eve, 1953. His wife, Adelin Hohlfield Linton, completed The Tree of Culture which went on to become a popular textbook.


The Study of Man established Linton as one of anthropology's premier theorists, particularly amongst sociologists who worked outside of the Boasian mainstream. As a result, Linton was invited to succeed Boas as the chair of the department of anthropology at Columbia in 1937. His appointment was contentious—the Boasian heir-apparent was Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict was an American anthropologist, cultural relativist, and folklorist....

 and Linton's appointment by the president met considerable resistance within the department. Throughout this early period Linton became interested in the problem of acculturation
Acculturation explains the process of cultural and psychological change that results following meeting between cultures. The effects of acculturation can be seen at multiple levels in both interacting cultures. At the group level, acculturation often results in changes to culture, customs, and...

, working with Robert Redfield
Robert Redfield
Robert Redfield was an American anthropologist and ethnolinguist. Redfield graduated from the University of Chicago, eventually with a J.D. from its law school and then a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, which he began to teach in 1927...

 and Melville Herskovits on a prestigious Social Science Research Council subcommittee of the Committee on Personality and Culture. The result was a seminal jointly-authored piece entitled Memorandum for the Study of Acculturation (1936). Linton also obtained money from the Works Progress Administration
Works Progress Administration
The Works Progress Administration was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects...

 for students to produce work which studied acculturation. The volume Acculturation in Seven American Indian Tribes is an example of the work in this period, and Linton's contributions to the volume remain his most influential writings on acculturation. Linton's interest in culture and personality also expressed itself in the form of a seminar he organized with Abraham Kardiner at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute
New York Psychoanalytic Society
The New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute — founded in 1911 by Dr. Abraham A. Brill — is the oldest psychoanalytic organization in the United States....


External links

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