Short Portrait: Ulrich Köhler

Ulrich Köhler
Ulrich Köhler

Prof. Dr. em Ulrich Köhler was born in 1937 in Budapest, where his father worked as a journalist and attaché at that time. During World War II the family had to flee in 1944. At first they resettled in Bremen but eventually came to Frankfurt/Main. When his father took up a position at the German Foreign Office in Bonn, the family moved again.

In 1957 Köhler finished school and began to study Economics at the Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main. After three semesters he continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he not only attended lectures on Economics but also on Political Science. Georges Ballandier was among his teachers. Furthermore, Köhler developed a growing interest in african cultures and the liberation movement.

After being active in the international student association (ISSF) for a year, Köhler moved to Kiel and eventually to Freiburg. Besides graduating in economics in 1962, he visited lectures on Political Science by Arnold Bergstraesser and attended courses on Anthropology by Rüdiger Schott.

In 1962 Köhler moved to the US in order to study at the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He not only deepened his knowledge on Cultural Anthropology but also attended lectures by the Africanists Bohannan and Herskovits. Furthermore, Köhler began to collect data for his graduation thesis about Applied Anthropology. He did research on this topic in Mexico, where he visited several development aid projects of the Instituto Nacional Indigenista.

After his return to Freiburg Köhler graduated and took up an assistant position at the Bergstrasser-Institute in 1964. He began lecturing and kept doing research on development aid methods.

In 1965 Köhler took up an assistant position at the newly founded Department of Anthropology and African Studies in Mainz, where Rüdiger Schott held a full professorship. Throughout the next years he not only helped establishing the new department and its library but also began to work for the renowned anthropological journal »Zeitschrift für Ethnologie« (ZfE), where he was responsible for the review section.

Köhler completed his PhD thesis in 1968. During the following years he did field researches in Bolivia and Mexico, for example on Cosmology. Based on the data collected, Köhler began to write his habilitation thesis after returning to Germany in 1972. Furthermore, he began lecturing not only in Münster but also at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology in Hamburg in 1973/74.

In 1976 Köhler completed his habilitation thesis. Besides lecturing on a wide range of topics (e.g., Economic Anthropology) and regions (e.g., Meso-America), he also published a number of essays and books.

In 1987 Köhler took up a full professorship at the Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology in Freiburg, where he lectured not only on general anthropological topics but also on contemporary Meso-America.

Furthermore, Köhler was head chairman of the German Association of Anthropologists (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde, DGV) between 1979 and 1981 as well as head chairman of the expert body for anthropology of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) between 1988 and 1992. He retired in 2003.

Köhler passed away 4 August 2016.