Short Portrait: Leonhard Adam

Leonhard Adam
Leonhard Adam

Leonhard Adam was born in Berlin in 1891. There he spent his childhood and youth. His father was a mercer. Adam had an early contact with the local Ethnological Museum (formerly: Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde) and one of its assistants, Walter Krickeberg.

In 1910 Adam became member of the Berlin Society of Anthropology, Ethnology and Early History (Berliner Gesellschaft für Anthropologie, Ethnologie und Urgeschichte, BGAEU). The same year he took up his studies in Berlin. Adam not only attended courses and lectures on Economics and Law but also on Anthropology and Sinology. In 1914 he took up an internship at the Berlin Supreme Court.

During World War I Adam joined the military service but was able to continue his studies. He finished his Ph D thesis (Dr. jury.) in 1916. A year later he took up his anthropological research on the nepalese Gurkha people, who fought as british soldiers and had became prisoners of war.

In 1923 Adam completed his Second State Examination and eventually worked at the arbitral court. In 1928 he became district judge in Berlin-Charlottenburg. Moreover, Adam began lecturing on Anthropology and Law at the university in 1930. He also was part of the expert body responsible for the collections of the Berlin Ethnological Museum (formerly: Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde).

After the takeover by the Nazi regime Adam was retired for "reasons of race". After a first visit to England in 1933/34, Adam and his brother emigrated to the UK in 1938. Throughout the following years he worked as a librarian.

In 1940 Adam was interned as an "enemy alien" and brought to a detention camp in Australia. There he lectured on Anthropology and taught Chinese. Due to the advocacy by renowned anthropologists like Bronislaw Malinowski, Adam was released in 1942. He resettled in Melbourne and married.

In 1947 Adam took up a position at the University of Melbourne, where he lectured on Anthropology. Moreover, he began to establish an ethnographic museum at the university. In 1955 he was rehabilitated in Germany and announced head of the state court off duty.

In 1957 Adam retired but kept working as custodian for the ethnographic collection of the Melbourne University. He also traveled to Germany and gave lectures in Bonn the same year. Moreover, Adam eventually finished his Ph D thesis (Dr. phil).

On a journey leading him to a congress in Paris, Adam died while visiting Bonn in 1960.

(Text based on BAA Prof. Riese; photo source: