Short Portrait: Paul Hambruch

Paul Hambruch
Paul Hambruch

Paul Hambruch was born in Hamburg in 1882. There he spent his childhood years. After finishing school Hambruch went to Göttingen in order to study Natural Sciences, Chemistry and Mathematics.

Eventually Hambruch moved to Berlin where he studied Geography, Anthropology and Ethnology. Ferdinand von Richthofen and Felix von Luschan were among his teachers. Hambruch finished his Ph D thesis in 1907.

In 1904 Hambruch had taken up an assistant position at the Ethnological Museum (formerly: Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde) in Berlin. Due to the support of Georg Thilenius, head of the Ethnological Museum in Hamburg, Hambruch participated in an anthropological expedition to Micronesia in 1909/10. After he had done some research on the Nauru island before, Hambruch now was able to continue his work and deepened his ethnographic knowledge on Nauru and several other islands (e.g., Ponape). He later published a number of books about these areas. Moreover, his collection of fairy tales and myths from this world region became widely known.

After his return to Germany Hambruch became head of the Department for Oceania at the Ethnological Museum in Hamburg. Besides working in the museum he finished his habilitation thesis in 1919/20 and eventually began lecturing at the university in Hamburg.

In 1922 Hambruch took up a professorship for Anthropology at the university in Hamburg, where he also lectured on Volkskunde, i.e., the study of traditional customs and folklore in rural Europe (also see glossary for: Volkskunde). 
He was amongst the founding members of the Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde (1929), which later became Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde (GAA).

Paul Hambruch died in Hamburg in 1933.

(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in January 2012, based on an article at, and Ingrid Kreide-Damani (2010) Ethnologie im Nationalsozialismus - Julius Lips und die Geschichte der "Völkerkunde". Wiesbaden: Reichert, pg 56; photo source: