Bascom, William Russell, 1912-1981

Alternative names
Birth 1912-05-23
Death 1981-09-11

Biographical notes:

William Russell Bascom was a UC Berkeley Professor of Anthropology and Director of Robert H. Lowie Museum of Anthropology.

From the description of William Russell Bascom papers, 1933-1981. (University of California, Berkeley). WorldCat record id: 26643530

Biographical Information

Education and Work History

William Russell Bascom was a pioneer in the field of African Studies and Folklore. He received his bachelor's degree at the University of Wisconsin and his PhD from Northwestern University in 1936. He taught at Northwestern, Cambridge University, and the University of California at Berkeley, where he was also director of the Lowie Museum of Anthropology. During World War II, he joined the O.S.S. and co-authored A Pocket Guide to West Africa.

Work among the Yoruba People

Bascom was the first American anthropologist to do field work among the Yoruba people of Nigeria. He made his first trip to Nigeria in 1937 at the age of 25. Over the next 23 years he spent a total of 5 years among the Yoruba, learning their culture and folklore and describing in detail all aspects of their life. During his many periods of residence in Nigeria, he and his wife Berta Montero Bascom assembled one of the foremost collections of books and art of the Yoruba people, their folklore, and history.

Professional Activities, Awards, and Major Works

A one-time president of the American Folklore Society, Professor Bascom was awarded the prestigious Giuseppe Pitre International Folklore Prize for one of his 10 books, Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa. Other major works include: The Sociological Role of the Yoruba Cult-Group (1944), Ponape: A Pacific Economy in Transition (1947), The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria (1969), African Art in Cultural Perspective: An Introduction (1973), and Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World (1980).

From the guide to the William R. Bascom papers, 1933-1981, (The Bancroft Library)


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Ark ID:


  • Kiowa Apache Indians
  • Gullahs
  • Yoruba (African people)
  • Santeria


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  • Pohnpei (Micronesia) (as recorded)