Robert Lowie

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Robert Harry Lowie (born Robert Heinrich Löwe; June 12, 1883 – September 21, 1957) was an Austrian-born American anthropologist.

Early life and education[change | change source]

He was born on June 12, 1883 to an Austrian mother and Hungarian father in Vienna. He lived there until he was ten years old then moved to New York City. In New York he surrounded himself with German friends and family and even continued to speak Viennese at home. For the rest of his life he felt like a member of both American and German-Austrian cultures.[1] He studied Latin, Greek, philosophy, and science at the City College of New York until he graduated in 1901. Then he worked as a teacher in New York City public schools for three years. In 1904 he started to go to Columbia University for graduate school and it was there that he met Franz Boas, a famous anthropologist. Boas became Lowie's teacher and role model. Lowie liked Boas because of their shared German background and similar interest in details rather than abstractions about human cultures. As a student of Boas, Lowie was tasked with writing a thesis about the Native American Crow tribe, which is what ended up sparking his interest in other tribes. He graduated from Columbia with his Ph.D in 1908 and worked at the Natural History Museum in New York City from then until 1921. He enjoyed researching and writing, so he continued to do those things throughout his life. He did extensive ethnographic field work during this time and studied more than nine Native American tribes throughout his lifetime. He was a teacher at UC Berkeley from 1921 to 1950.[2]

Emphasis on individual variation[change | change source]

One of Boas's main interests and most passionate arguments was that of individual variation. As Stefan Bargheer writes, "the notion of individual variability in the work of Lowie […started] in the 1910s […]. Lowie's argument was initially directed against race scholars […] who argued that the Nordic race displayed a higher range of variation than other races and could thus be assumed to produce a particularly high number of exceptional individuals, which ensured the superiority of the culture produced by this race."[3] Instead he argued that there really were no differences in the range of variation between races.

Critique of race and racism[change | change source]

Although the popular belief in the early 20th century was that the white race was better than all others, Lowie argued against racism, saying that all races had individual variation present within them and that no one race was superior. He used statistics to argue that "the differences in cultural achievements between groups was a function of their population size and thus of the total number of outstanding individuals-not of the rate at which such individuals occurred."[3]

He realized that because bigger populations have more people they are more likely to have a higher number of very smart individuals. He also applied his beliefs to primitive societies, arguing that they too had individual variation. In Primitive Society (1920) he argues "that mental processes are not only comparable but identical in the simpler and the higher civilizations."[4] His interests were always primarily in culture and psychology. He specifically studied issues in race, environment, nature, and relationships. He believed that people were different, but he did not believe that one race was superior to others even though this belief was common during WWII when he was alive.

He fought for German scientists during the war, and against scientific racism, which is when scientific evidence is used to try to justify the discrimination against certain peoples. He also argued against the belief that cultures create people with identical personalities, spread by his two peers Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Mead and Benedict thought people within the same culture had very similar personality traits and that at least primitive cultures were more or less invariant.[3]

Books[change | change source]

His most famous books are Primitive Society (1920), Culture and Ethnology (1917), History of Ethnological Theory (1937), Primitive Religion (1924), Are We Civilized (1929), Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (1934), The German People (1945), and Toward Understanding Germany (1954). He even contributed 33 papers to Selected Papers in Anthropology (1960) between the years 1911 and 1957.[5]

References[change | change source]

  1. ?. "American Ethnography Quasimonthly | Death". American Ethnography Quasimonthly. Retrieved 2018-01-24. {{cite web}}: |last= has numeric name (help)
  2. Gale, Thomson. Lowie, Robert H. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. and-law/anthropology- biographies/robert-harry- lowie
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bargheer, Stefan (2017-03-01). "ANTHROPOLOGY AT WAR: ROBERT H. LOWIE AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE CULTURE CONCEPT, 1904 to 1954". Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. 53 (2): 133–154. doi:10.1002/jhbs.21845. ISSN 1520-6696. PMID 28199024.
  4. Harry., Lowie, Robert (2013). Primitive society. [Place of publication not identified]: Theclassics Us. ISBN 978-1230207148. OCLC 923394248.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. Steward. "Robert Harry Lowie, 1883—1957" (PDF).

Further reading[change | change source]

  • Spiro, Jonathan P. (2009). Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant. Univ. of Vermont Press. ISBN 978-1-58465-715-6.

Other websites[change | change source]