Wolf, Eric R., 1923-1999

Alternative names
Birth 1923-02-01
Death 1999-03-06

Biographical notes:

Anthropologist; professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and the City University of New York.

From the description of Eric R. Wolf papers, 1946-1999. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 85778527

From the description of Eric R. Wolf videotape. 1987. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 51215262

From the description of Eric R. Wolf papers, 1946-1999. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 77805374

Anthropologist Eric Wolf is known for having brought a historical perspective into the field of anthropology, integrating also prehistory, ethnohistory, and ethnology into his writings. He explored the topics of ethnicity and ecology, and his book, Peasants (1966), established the topic as one for international and interdisciplinary research.

Born in Vienna in 1923, Eric Wolf grew up in the midst of radical changes throughout Europe. In 1933, his family moved to the Sudetenland, where his father was a manager for a textile factory and where interethnic conflict had been exacerbated by the rise of Nazism. In 1938, after the German army occupied Austria, Wolf was sent to England, where he was rounded up in 1940 and sent to an internment camp near Liverpool. In 1940, the Wolf family escaped from England to the United States, settling in Queens, New York.

After serving in the U.S. Army's Tenth Mountain Division in World War II, Wolf graduated from Queens College in 1946 and entered the Ph.D. program at Columbia University that fall. There, Wolf and his cohort -- including, Sidney Mintz, Morton Fried, Elman Service, Stanley Diamond, Daniel McCall, Robert Manners, Rufus Mathewson, and John Murra -- formed the Mundial Upheaval Society, a group interested in expanding the boundaries of anthropology, and with many of whom he maintained contact over his lifetime.

Wolf received his doctorate from Columbia in 1951, and after a number of short teaching appointments, including positions at the University of Illinois, the University of Virginia, Yale University, and the University of Chicago, Wolf taught in the University of Michigan's Anthropology Department from 1961 to 1971, where he served as chair for two years. He left the University of Michigan for the City University of New York's Graduate Center, where he taught until his retirement in 1992.

As students, Wolf and Sidney Mintz conducted fieldwork Puerto Rico as part of Julian Steward's Puerto Rico Project, the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Also during his graduate school years, Wolf worked on Ruth Benedict's Research in Contemporary Cultures Project, interviewing Austrians in the New York City area.

In the 1950s, Wolf received several research grants, allowing him to conduct fieldwork in Mexico, resulting in the publication of his first book, Sons of the Shaking Earth, in 1959. In the 1960s, Wolf and his student John W. Cole conducted fieldwork in the Italian alpine towns of St. Felix and Tret, leading to the publication of The Hidden Frontier: Ecology and Ethnicity in an Alpine Valley in 1974.

Other noteworthy books written by Wolf include Europe and the People without History (1982), and Envisioning Power: Ideologies of Dominance and Crisis (1999).

As a lecturer, Wolf was in demand throughout his lifetime. He received a number of awards, including a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in 1990, and a number of honorary degrees.

Wolf passed away on March 6, 1999 at age 76. At the time of his death, he had just completed Pathways of Power: Building an Anthropology of the Modern World, which was published in 2001.

From the guide to the Eric R. Wolf papers, 1939-2011, (Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)


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  • Anthropology--Study and teaching
  • Anthropologists
  • Anthropologists--United States


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  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)