Short Portrait: Wilhelm Schmidt

Wilhelm Schmidt
Wilhelm Schmidt

Wilhelm Schmidt was born in Hoerde near Dortmund in 1868. He joined the Steyler missionaries (SVD) at early age. After finishing school in 1888 he studied Theology. Schmidt was ordained a priest in 1892. The same year he became an austrian citizen.

After studying Oriental Languages, Schmidt took up a professorship at the seat of his missionary society in St. Gabriel near Vienna in 1895. He lectured on anthropological and linguistic topics as well as on Religious Studies. Moreover, Schmidt did several research trips throughout the following years (e.g., to the Phillipines). In 1906 Schmidt founded the renowned journal »Anthropos«.

Since 1921 Schmidt held a position at the University in Vienna, where he lectured on Anthropology. Between 1927 and 1938 he was head of the Pontifical Ethnological Museum in Rome. Moreover, Schmidt was the first chairman of the Anthropos-Institute, which was founded in Mödling near Vienna in 1931.

After the annexation of Austria by the Nazi-regime in 1938, the Anthropos-Institute and its members moved to Fribourg, Switzerland. Between 1941 and 1948 Schmidt was lecturing at the University an Fribourg. He died in 1954.

Wilhelm Schmidt is known as the founder of the Vienna School, an anthropological tradition which advocated a historical-cultural approach. Its research interest lay on the so called Kulturkreislehre claiming several cultural areas. Schmidt postulated, that cultural units (Kultureinheiten) like totemism and matriarchy were established by ancient societies (Altvölker) and eventually distributed (and mixed) by migration. Nonetheless original elements of a given culture can still be found and analyzed. These theories were given up in the mid-fifties of the 20th century.

(This text based on the »Ethnologenverzeichnis«, by courtesy of Weißensee-Verlag and Sibylle Alsayad; photo by courtesy of Anthropos Institute,


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