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Walter Rochs Goldschmidt


Walter Rochs Goldschmidt

Professor Emeritus of Anthropology

UC Los Angeles

1903 - 2010


Walter Rochs Goldschmidt, 97, died in Pasadena, CA on September 1, 2010. He made major, pioneering contributions to theory, ethnology, applied anthropology, anthropology education, and service to UCLA and the profession. His distinguished life and career spans six generations of US anthropology. He studied with Alfred Kroeber, Robert Lowie, Edward Gifford, Paul Taylor, George Foster (fellow student) and other founders of US anthropology at UC Berkeley (PhD 1942). Goldschmidt helped found of the UCLA anthropology department and was chair (1964–69). He was dedicated to anthropology as a profession, and particularly to the American Anthropological Association, serving as editor of American Anthropologist (1956–61) and AAA president (1975–76). He was the founding editor of Ethos: The Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, along with Douglass Price-Williams. He also was a key player in establishing organizations including the Society for Psychological Anthropology, African Studies Association, and the American Ethnological Society, among others. He received the Malinowski Medal of the Society for Applied Anthropology in 2001, and the Society for Psychological Anthropology’s career achievement award.


Goldschmidt first conducted fieldwork with the Hupa and Nomlaki Native American communities in Northern California in the late 1930s. He also did fieldwork among the Tlingit and Haida in southeast Alaska. His PhD research compared two farming communities in the San Joaquin Valley, one heavily influenced by industrialized agriculture and large agribusiness farms, the other based on family farms of smaller size. Goldschmidt wrote about the impacts of these farm communities on farm workers in “an impassioned and humane way” (Robert Edgerton, “Walter R. Goldschmidt: An Introduction” in Loucky and Jones, eds, Paths to the Symbolic Self: Essays in Honor of Walter Goldschmidt, 1976. ). The resulting book, Three Studies in the Social Consequences of Agribusiness (1947), is still widely read and cited. He did this work while a social science analyst at the Bureau of Agricultural Research in Berkeley (1940–46). He was attacked by corporations and conservative interests in Congress and California due to this work; this pressure caused the Bureau of Agricultural Research to disband soon after his study was completed.


He worked with the Sebei of Uganda from 1953 through the 1970s, publishing three books on the Sebei: Kambuya’s Cattle (1969); The Culture and Behavior of the Sebei (1976); and The Sebei: A Study in Adaptation (1985). He led the Culture and Ecology Project, a path-breaking comparative study of four East African tribes. The project field teams compared influences of culture and subsistence ecology on human development, mental life, religion, social organization and values. Goldschmidt also brought his holistic vision of anthropology to the general public with his Ways of Mankind radio series in the 1950s and book, Ways of Mankind, widely used as anthropology introductory texts.


Walter Goldschmidt advocated passionately for an anthropology that integrates biological, cultural, sociolinguistic and historical-archaeological evidence and concepts. In his numerous books and scores of articles and chapters, he emphasized empirical research and conceptual frameworks that moved across levels of analysis, methods and data. Goldschmidt’s Comparative Functionalism (1966) focused on the importance of the systematic comparison of cultural processes and institutions linked to modes of subsistence as a core conceptual and empirical project for anthropology and the social sciences. His more recent books, The Human Career: The Self in the Symbolic World (1992) and The Bridge to Humanity: How Affect Hunger Trumps the Selfish Gene (2006), are both calls for the continuing integration of anthropology, with no single final cause determining either culture or human evolution.  Wally, as he was known to friends and colleagues, was, in training and in stance, completely committed to holism, or as he put it, “to exploring all variables as a first principle.” He continued to be engaged in contemporary intellectual concerns of the 21st century, retained his vigorous mind and never let go of his exacting standards. He wrote, blogged, argued and engaged with others on these topics to his final days.


Walter Goldschmidt was born and raised in San Antonio, TX, went to the University of Texas Austin (BA 1933, MA 1935), and married Beatrice Gale in 1937. He is survived by son Mark, daughter-in-law Michele, and granddaughter Natalie. Walter and Gale’s son Karl died in 2001.


Thomas S. Weisner, James Loucky, Hilarie Kelly and Martin Cohen