This online portal was created by Prof. Dieter Haller (Ruhr-University-Bochum) as part of his research project on "The History of Federal German Anthropology from 1945 to 1990" (Fachgeschichte der bundesdeutschen Ethnologie von 1945 bis 1990), which was kindly supported by the Volkswagen Foundation and by the DFG (German Research Foundation). 

Hallers project's overall goal was to compile a history of anthropology in the Federal Republic of Germany spanning the period from 1945 until Reunification. In order to do so, the major historical trends and constitutents (subject matter, research questions, methodology) of German anthropology were traced out. Particular attention was payed to the history of ideas, social networks and milieus, and socio-political influences.

Apart from closing a significant research gap, the project's innovation potential lies in the recovery of hitherto unaccounted particularities of the development of anthropology in Federal Germany. These specifics could contribute to the international anthropological discussion in the sense of a «world anthropologists network»; and this could cast a new light on anthropology's main objects of study: culture, ethnicity, and otherness.


History of German Anthropology 1945 to 1990

Germany's role in the history of the internationalization of anthropology is an ambiguous one. On the one hand, certain German contributions to the development of an international anthropology are often acknowledged. A random consultation of American textbooks or introductions to anthropology reveals that German Kulturkreislehre or diffusionism receive some attention as well as the German roots of Boasian anthropology, or Clifford Geertz' inspiration by Wilhelm Dilthey. On the other hand, the recognition of the German contribution is rather limited: it either features as a past phenomenon of the 19th and early 20th century, or in terms of its relation to the American tradition of thought – but not, for instance, to the Italian, Indian, or Chilean tradition. Furthermore, the acknowledgment only extends to German philosophical work – to Dilthey, Nietzsche, Benjamin –, or to the old works of German Völkerkunde until the 1920; however, it does not extend to impulses coming from contemporary German Ethnologie

Silence is all we find when searching beyond the early 20th century. During a conversation in Berlin in 1995, I once asked Clifford Geertz which contemporary German anthropologists he was familiar with. He proposed somewhat astutely (and also rather typical for the perception overseas): «Father Wilhem Schmidt?»

On the international scene very little is known about the specifics of German anthropology since 1945. This lack of knowledge is not only an overseas but also an inland phenomenon. The problem is twofold: Firstly, German Ethnologie is hardly present in German media, politics, educational policy making – nor in society (except in museums). Secondly, up to this day German students of anthropology are socialized more or less exclusively in the American, British, and French traditions – but rarely in the old traditions of Völkerkunde, or in contemporary German Ethnologie

These are the underlying thoughts which led me to delve more deeply into the history of anthropology in Germany. From this emerged a research project, which was generously supported in 2010 and 2011 under the opus magnum program of the Volkswagen Foundation and by the DFG (German Research Foundation). The project blends in with the idea of the "World Anthropologies Network" (WAN) established around the turn of the millennium. WAN was motivated by the observation that the history of anthropological theories is mainly a matter of the North Atlantic – with lines of traditions and ancestors that go back predominately to the USA, Great Britain and France.  

With WAN, Lins Ribeiro and Escobar want to detect the many lines of anthropological traditions in other countries in order to achieve three goals:

• First, recognition of the plurality of local/national traditions of knowledge in a globalized world, and thus – in a manner of speaking – the culturalization of the respective theories;

• Secondly, recognition of unequal power relationships inside the intellectual world system – with the USA and, at most, Great Britain at its center and all the other countries at the periphery; 

• Finally, criticizing these unequal power relationships and trying to expose the mechanisms of power in order to give a voice to all traditions (thereby complying with the truly postmodern demand for a plurality of voices and objectifiability).

In this regard, the project is inspired by the idea that modern Ethnologie, which is largely unknown outside of Germany, could contribute to the international debate.

The research output is manifold:

• First of all, a comprehensive German monograph on the history of anthropology in Germany (Haller 2012, Campus);

• Secondly, a compact English version of the monograph (in progress);

• Thirdly, this internet platform, which provides public access to the video recordings of several of the expert interviews. Also on this website, additional interviews with German anthropologists (in German language) that have been collected during the project can be accessed as PDF-files. It also provides biographical information on anthropologists who worked in Germany before 1990 (and also before 1945). Some of them are foreign nationals (esp. Austria and Switzerland), but did work in Germany at least for some part of their life. Please alert me to mistakes and errors.

The idea for this online platform was inspired by Alan Macfarlanes video project "filmed interviews with leading thinkers" ( Like Macfarlane, I would like to make accessible the voices of German anthropologists, their professional life-ways and their engagement with anthropology to a national and international audience of scholars and students.

Without the work of the project staff funded by the DFG the realization of the online platform would have been impossible. The tasks are manifold. Claire Spilker, Wencke Jäger, Klaus Schmitt, Lutz Jablonowsky, Andrea Nolting and Silvia Schöneck were in charge of the transcription of the interviews; Vincenz Kokot undertook the task of editing; Agnes Brandt was responsible for the translation from German to English, and for the editing and subtitling of the videos; Ivo Hartz and his staff Patric Wehlmann, Matthias Meissler and Jörg Noack attended to the technical implementation and Bernd Rodekohr and his staff Katja Casper and Anthea Swart to the design of the video platform; the Rechenzentrum of Ruhr-University-Bochum and its staff kindly provided assistance in setting up and hosting this platform. My thanks go to all of them for their great help.

New videos interviews with more anthropologists and more short portraits will be added frequently, if funding is assured in the future (e.g., the desireable inclusion of anthropologists post 1990 and GDR-anthropologists would be possible then). Please alert me to any errors in the transcripts that accompany the films, in the interviews or in the short portraits. Any help and further information is welcome, especially regards the short portraits.



Prof. Dr. Dieter Haller
Chair for Social Anthropology
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
GB 04/147
44780 Bochum

Tel: (++49) (0)234 3227690
       (++49) (0)234 3223192
Fax: (++49) (0)234 3214915