The American anthropologist Ralph Linton (1893-1953) developed theoretical positions that helped to unify cultural anthropology.
Ralph Linton was born on Feb. 27, 1893, in Philadelphia, Pa., into an old Quaker family. While attending Swarthmore College, he came under the influence of Spencer Trotter, a teacher of general science who inspired him to look beyond his own culture to understand the behavior and points of view of peoples in other parts of the world.
Linton did fieldwork in prehistoric archaeology in New Mexico and Colorado in 1912; in Guatemala in 1912 and 1913; near Haddenfield, N. J., in 1915; at Aztec, N. Mex., in 1916; in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado in 1919; at the Hopewell site in Ohio in 1924; and in Wisconsin in 1929 and 1933. He did ethnological fieldwork in the Marquesas Islands of the Pacific (1920-1922) and in Madagascar (1925-1927); in the summer of 1934 he was in charge of the Laboratory of Anthropology's training expedition to the Comanche Indians of Oklahoma.
Linton left the Field Museum of Chicago to join the faculty of the University of Wisconsin in 1928. In 1937 he went to Columbia University, and in 1946 he moved to Yale to become Sterling professor of anthropology, a chair he occupied until his death.
During World War I Linton served at the front with the rank of corporal and was gassed; from these experiences he produced one of his earliest publications in social anthropology, "Totemism and the A. E. F."
Aside from several important contributions to the knowledge of certain cultures outside Western civilization, Linton helped to break down certain stances which tended to separate the historical approach to culture from the functional, the study of "primitive" cultures from civilizations, and the psychological aspects of culture from other features. Linton did much to unify cultural anthropology, which at one time was becoming a series of "sects."
Linton's writings not only contributed importantly to present knowledge of human culture but were models of English style. His most influential book and the one he regarded as his best, The Study of Man (1936), is readable by laymen and high school students as well as by specialists. The Cultural Background of Personality is of interest to the general reader as well as to the specialist. With his wife, Adelin, he published several books mainly for readers not trained in anthropology.
Linton was an inspiring teacher who usually approached advanced students as well as informants in the field on a "man-to-man" basis. He was elected president of the American Anthropological Association in 1946, was awarded membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1951, and won the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1954. He died in New Haven, Conn., on Dec. 24, 1953.
Further Reading on Ralph Linton
A biography of Linton by Clyde Kluckhohn is in National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs, vol. 31 (1958). There is an analysis of Linton's work in Hoffman R. Hays, From Ape to Angel: An Informal History of Social Anthropology (1958). See also Thomas Kenneth Penniman, A Hundred Years of Anthropology (1935; 3d ed. 1965).