Herskovits, Melville Jean

Herskovits, Melville Jean

(hûrs`kəvĭts), 1895–1963, American anthropologist, b. Bellefontaine, Ohio; educated at the Univ. of Chicago (Ph.B., 1920) and Columbia (Ph.D., 1923). After teaching at Columbia and at Howard Univ. he went to Northwestern Univ., where he taught anthropology from 1927. He did ethnographic research in Suriname, Haiti, Trinidad, and Brazil, but his most important work was done in Africa. Herskovits pioneered in the application of the principles of modern cultural anthropology to black ethnology. Among his works are The American Negro: A Study in Racial Crossing (1928), Dahomey (1938), The Myth of the Negro Past (1941), Man and His Works (1949; reissued 1955 as Cultural Anthropology), Franz Boas (1953), Dahomean Narrative: A Cross-Cultural Analysis (1958, with his wife, Frances S. Herskovits), and The Human Factor in Changing Africa (1962).


See study by G. E. Simpson (1973).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Herskovits, Melville Jean


Born Sept. 10, 1895, in Bellefontaine, Ohio; died Feb. 25, 1963, in Evanston, 111. American anthropologist.

Herskovits’ chief works deal with the general anthropology and cultures of the African peoples and the Negroes of America. Beginning in 1930, Herskovits conducted anthropological studies of areas along the Guinean coast of Africa and in Latin America. He studied the problems of acculturation and the economy and culture of primitive societies, emphasizing the independent value of the cultures of all the peoples (the theory of cultural relativism).


Acculturation: The Study of Culture Contact. New York, 1938.
Economic Anthropology. New York, 1952.
Cultural Anthropology. New York, 1955.


Artanovskii, S. N. “‘Kul’turnyi’ reliativizm v amerikanskoi etnografii.” In Sovremennaia amerikanskaia etnografiia. Moscow, 1963.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.