Short Portrait: Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann

Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann
Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann

Anthropologist, Sociologist. Born Düsseldorf (Germany) 1 October 1904, died Wiesbaden (Germany) 11 may 1988. From 1925-31 Mühlmann studied physical anthropology with the then leading anthropologist Eugen Fischer [1874-1967], philosophy and sociology at various German universities, receiving a Ph.D. in 1932 and a "Habilitation" in 1938 from Berlin University under Richard Thurnwald [1869-1954]. He worked for short terms as curator of anthropological museums in Berlin, Hamburg and Breslau (today Wroclaw), but lived most of the time in Berlin where he held courses as Privatdozent and published prolifically on topics of physical anthropology (Rassen- und Völkerkunde, 1936) and political anthropology (Krieg und Frieden, 1940), however, not completely in the mainstream of Nazi ideology. His Methodik der Völkerkunde (1938) was a major contribution introducing concepts of 'intentionality' into anthropological thinking and reasoning, thus aplying contemporary philosophical theory, mainly of the phenomenological school (Edmund Husserl [1859-1938]).

During the Second World War Mühlmann was almost continuously freed from active military service and detached to pursue his anthropological studies, the scope of which are not clear. His apologetic diary (Dreizehn Jahre) covering those years is not of great help in shedding light on his public and political activities drning this period of his life. Also during his Berlin years he engaged in a historical case study in political anthropology focussing on Tahitian secret societies (several publications since 1932, culminating in his Arioi und Mamaia (1955).

He participated at the first meeting of German anthropologists after WW II (Frankfurt/Main, 19.-21.09.1946).

His Geschichte der Anthropologie (1948, 2nd. ed. 1968, 3rd ed. 1984) is outstanding for its comprehensiveness including not only traditional anthropological disciplines (ethnography, physical anthropology, anthropological theory) but also psychology, philosophy and political theory. This unusually comprehensive view is also reflected in his programmatic essay Umriß und Probleme einer Kulturanthropologie (1966). In 1950 Mühlmann was appointed professor of Anthropology ("Völkerpsychologie") and Sociology at Mainz and later Heidelberg universities. He pursued his long standing interest in political anthropology focussing on chiliastic movements (Chiliasmus und Nativismus 1961, 2nd ed. 1964) and interethnic relationships (Rassen, Ethnien, Kulturen, 1964). His concepts of "interethnisches Gefälle" and "interethnischer Druck", which he adapted from publications of Sergej Shirokogorov [1887-1939], testify to his innovative perception of social processes, although ethnographic data do not always bear out his theories as Wolfgang Rudolph pointed out in 1972.

His last major publications (Die Metamorphose der Frau 1981 and Pfade in die Weltliteratur, 1984) apply in a tour de force anthropological concepts (mainly from the domains of shamanism and psychology) to the personalities and writing of two major authors of world literature, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra [1547-1616] and Annette von Droste-Hülshoff [1797-1848]. Mühlmann's importance for German anthropology lies in the fact that he was the first leading anthropologist in post-war Germany to reintroduce a socially, psychologically and philosophically founded discipline on the lines of his Berlin teachers Thurnwald and Alfred Vierkandt [1867-1953], when most anthropologists in Germany were adherents of "Kulturhistorische Völkerkunde" in the tradition of Leo Frobenius [1873-1938], Fritz Graebner [1877-1934], and Wilhelm Schmidt [1868-1954]. Mühlmann thus greatly stimulated the re-integration of German anthropology into the international scholarly discourse.

(Text by courtesy of Berthold Riese)