Zora Neale Hurston was an author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. As an African American woman, she often depicted racial issues in the films she made. Her works also reflected her struggles as a black woman. In her early career, she conducted anthropological and ethnographic research and focused more on writing and film-making in her later years.
One of the most celebrated anthropologists to have ever existed, Margaret Mead is remembered for his research on a broad range of topics, such as sexual conventions in Western society. Of her 23 books, the most talked-about was the bestseller Coming of Age in Samoa.
Remembered for his research on cultural relativism, German-born American anthropologist Franz Boas is often referred to as the Father of American Anthropology. The son of a merchant, he was a sickly child who grew up reading a lot. He also studied folklore and developed it as an academic discipline.
Chris McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp, was made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which was later made into a movie. The adventurer had hitchhiked through Alaska, and later took shelter in an abandoned bus, where he eventually died of starvation and poisoning, cut off from civilization.
Clifford Geertz was an anthropologist who strongly supported and influenced the practice of symbolic anthropology. He attended Harvard University, where he completed an interdisciplinary program. He then embarked on an academic career and wrote several theoretical pieces and essays on symbolic anthropology. He has left a strong influence on modern anthropology and communication studies.
Peruvian-American author and anthropologist Carlos Castaneda was born to unwed parents. He lived a mysterious life, and though believed to be married, he later denied the claim. An expert on shamanism, he was a disciple of sorcerer Don Juan Matus and later penned books such as The Teachings of Don Juan.
Ruth Benedict was an American folklorist and anthropologist. Benedict, who played an important role in the American Folklore Society, also served as the American Anthropological Association's president; the association gives away an annual prize named after Ruth Benedict. In 2005, she was made an inductee of the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Edward Sapir was an anthropologist-linguist. He played a pivotal role in the development of the discipline of linguistics in USA. He studied Germanic linguistics at Columbia and later researched Native American languages. He was an expert in the study of Athabascan languages and Chinookan languages. He also worked with Yiddish, Hebrew, and Chinese languages.
10 Paul Farmer
Paul Farmer is a medical anthropologist and physician, currently serving as the chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is a co-founder of Partners In Health (PIH), an international non-profit organization. He is a proponent of liberation theology and writes extensively on health and human rights.
Lewis Henry Morgan was a 19th-century lawyer, anthropologist, and social theorist. A contemporary of the European social theorists and philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, he was interested in studying what holds societies together. He originated several theories of social evolution. He was made the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1880.
David Graeber, who was a well-known name in the fields of social and economic anthropology, is best remembered for his bestselling book Bullshit Jobs. A lifelong anti-capitalist, he spoke against bureaucracy and also led the Occupy movement. He died abruptly of necrotic pancreatitis, while vacationing in Venice.
John Wesley Powell was a geologist and explorer of the American West. He undertook a series of adventures as a young man and later joined the military. He is best known for the three-month-long geographic expedition he undertook down the Green and Colorado rivers. He was made the director of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1881.
Twentieth-century American political scientist and historian Lothrop Stoddard was a Ku Klux Klan and believed in eugenics, a theory that promoted the superiority certain races based on genetics. His book The Revolt Against Civilization introduced neo-Nazi concepts. He also covered World War II as a journalist.
Born to a Russian immigrant doctor father in Chicago, Marshall Sahlins grew up to be one of the most celebrated cultural anthropologists of the world. The University of Chicago professor is also known for his books such as The Use and Abuse of Biology and Stone Age Economics.
16 Talal Asad
Sociocultural anthropologist and City University of New York professor Talal Asad is best known for his research on nomads, postcolonialism, and the culture of nations such as Sudan. He has also taught at the universities of Khartoum and Hull, and penned books such as On Suicide Bombing.
Edward S. Curtis was an American ethnologist and photographer whose work focused on the Native American people and American West. He is credited with photographing the first portrait of a Native American. Edward S. Curtis' work aimed at preserving the traditional life of Native Americans.
Robert Ripley was a cartoonist and an amateur anthropologist best known for creating the newspaper panel series Ripley's Believe It or Not! The series was later adapted for radio and TV. He lost his father when he was young and began working as a cartoonist at the age of 16. Over the years, he became extremely successful and wealthy.
A lawyer and a zoologist, Madison Grant is best remembered for his belief in eugenics and white supremacy, which he expressed through his best-selling book The Passing of the Great Race. He played a crucial role in the passing of immigration regulations in the U.S. He was also an avid conservationist.
Edward T. Hall was an anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher best known for developing the concepts of proxemics, monochronic time, and polychronic time. He explored cultural and social cohesion in his research and described how people behave and react in different types of culturally defined personal space. Hall was a colleague of philosopher Marshall McLuhan and architect Buckminster Fuller.
William Graham Sumner was an American social scientist who held America's first professorship in sociology; he served as a professor of social sciences at Yale. Sumner, who wrote several essays and books on American history, political theory, sociology, and economic history, was one of the most popular and influential teachers at Yale. He also had an influence on American conservatism.
22 Kathy Reichs
Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist, academic, and crime writer. She has been certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and is an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina. She is the author of numerous technical books and has also written many novels. She also produced the TV series Bones, based on her works.
23 Gayle Rubin
Gayle Rubin is a cultural anthropologist known for writing on a wide range of topics, such as feminism, sadomasochism, prostitution, homosexuality, pedophilia, and pornography. She studied at the University of Michigan and was part of early feminist groups. After earning her Ph.D. in anthropology, she began her academic career. She is also associated with several feminist journals.
Benjamin Lee Whorf was a linguist cum fire prevention engineer. Along with his mentor Edward Sapir, he developed what is frequently called the “Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.” Even though he was a chemical engineer by profession, he developed an early interest in linguistics and presented several papers at linguistics conferences. Unfortunately, he died at the relatively young age of 44.
Donald Johanson is a paleoanthropologist. He collaborated with Yves Coppens and Maurice Taieb to discover the fossil of a female hominin australopithecine in the Afar Triangle region of Hadar, Ethiopia. This fossil was named “Lucy". As an academician, he established the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley. He is the recipient of several awards and honors.
Carleton S. Coon was an anthropologist who originated several theories on race. He had a successful academic career and served as the president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. He was awarded the Viking Medal in Physical Anthropology. Even though he was a famous anthropologist of his time, his racial theories are dismissed as pseudoscientific in modern anthropology.
Earnest Hooton was a physical anthropologist. He worked extensively in the field of racial classification and used comparative anatomy to divide humanity up into races. He studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and took up a teaching career. A popular public figure, he was a co-founder of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. He also published poems and drawings.
29 Dell Hymes
Dell Hymes was part of some of the pioneering studies on linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics, and later focused on ethnopoetics and the SPEAKING model. He also founded the journal Language in Society and served as its editor. In his later career, he was accused of sexual harassment.
Napoleon Chagnon was a cultural anthropologist considered a pioneer of scientific anthropology. He did long-term ethnographic fieldwork among the Yanomamö indigenous people, in which he used an evolutionary approach to understand social behavior. This work received both praise and criticism, making him a controversial figure. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012.
Apart from being an anthropologist and folklorist, Harold Courlander was also a skilled author. After a trip to Haiti to conduct studies for his new novel, Courlander became attached to the country’s culture and preserved it in his books. Parts of his novel The African were later plagiarized by another author.
32 Ralph Linton
Renowned population geneticist Spencer Wells is best known for his study of human diversity. His analysis has led him to believe that all humans have descended from a single man from Africa, the Y-chromosomal Adam, who lived around 60,000-90,000 years back. He has also headed National Geographic’s Genographic Project.