Ralph Linton  

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Ralph Linton (Philadelphia, 27 February 1893 - New Haven, 24 December 1953) 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 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, where he earned his masters degree studying with Frank Speck while undertaking additional archaeological field work in New Jersey and New Mexico. He was admitted to a Ph.D. program at Columbia University thereafter, but did not become close to Franz Boas, the doyen of anthropology in that era. When America entered World War I, Linton enlisted and served in France. Shortly after his return to the United States, he transferred from Columbia to Harvard, where he studied with Earnest Hooton, Alfred 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 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 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, 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, Marvin Opler, Philleo Nash, and Sol 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), 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 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, a center for anthropologists such as George Murdock 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 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 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, working with Robert Redfield 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 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.

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