Short Portrait: Wilhelm Koppers

Wilhelm Koppers
Wilhelm Koppers

 Wilhelm Koppers was born in Menzelen in 1886. In his early years he joined the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) and was ordained a priest. Since 1913 he closely cooperated with Wilhelm Schmidt, who established the theoretical school of Kulturkreislehre (also see Glossary and short portrait Wilhelm Schmidt). Koppers was joint author of Schmidt`s Völker und Kulturen, which was published in 1924.

In 1922 Koppers did field research among the Yamana people in the Tierra del Fuego region in South America. Moreover, Koppers was editor in chief of the anthropological journal Anthropos between 1923 and 1931. In 1928 he was announced assistant professor for Anthropology at the University in Vienna. Seven years later he took up a full professorship at this very university. 
He was amongst the founding members of the Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde (1929), which later became Deutsche Gesellschaft für Völkerkunde (GAA).

Due to his growing critic concerning the Nazi regime, Koppers was deprived of his professorship in 1938. He eventually went to Central India, where he did field research among the Bhil people. After his return to Europe in 1940, Koppers was located in Fribourg, Switzerland. Until the end of Wolrd War II he evaluated and published the ethnographic data collected in India.

After the end of World War II Koppers was rehabilitated and returned to Vienna, where he took up his professorship again and became head of the Institute for Ethnology. Clyde Kluckhohn, Helmut Petri and Masao Oka were among his students.

Koppers retired in 1957. Throughout his career he had published more than 200 writings on Anthropology. After first being strongly influenced by the Vienna Cultural-Historical School, his later work achieved more scientific neutrality.

Wilhelm Koppers died in 1961.


(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in February 2012, based on information provided by the Anthropos-Institute and Ingrid Kreide-Damani (2010) Ethnologie im Nationalsozialismus - Julius Lips und die Geschichte der "Völkerkunde". Wiesbaden: Reichert, pg 56; photography by courtesy of J.Piepke/Anthropos-Institute)

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