Hortense Powdermaker

Hortense Powdermaker (December 24, 1900 - June 15, 1970) was an anthropologist best known for her ethnographic studies of African Americans in rural America and of Hollywood. Born to a Jewish family, Powdermaker spent her childhood in Reading, Pennsylvania and in Baltimore, Maryland. She studied history and the humanities at Goucher College. After she graduated in 1921 she took an unusual career path for most Goucher graduates, becoming a labor organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers. After becoming dissatisfied with the prospects of the U.S. labor movement amid the repression of the Palmer Raids, she took courses at the London School of Economics, then became a graduate student under anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski, who convinced her to embark on a course of doctoral studies. While at the LSE, Powdermaker also worked under and was influenced by other well-known anthropologists such as A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, E. E. Evans-Pritchard and Raymond Firth.

Powdermaker completed her PhD on "leadership in primitive society" in 1928. Like her contemporaries, Powdermaker sought to identify her anthropological work with a "primitive" people and conducted fieldwork among the Lesu of New Ireland in present-day Papua New Guinea (Life in Lesu: The Study of a Melanesian Society in New Ireland. Williams & Norgate, London 1933).

After returning to the United States, Powdermaker was given an appointment at the new, Rockefeller Foundation supported, Yale Institute of Human Relations. Director Edward Sapir encouraged her to apply ethnographic field methods to the study of communities in her own society. Powdermaker conducted anthropological fieldwork in an African American community in Indianola, Mississippi (After Freedom: A Cultural Study In the Deep South. Viking, New York 1939) and in Hollywood, the Dream Factory (1950), the first and still the only substantial anthropological study of the film industry.

Her final book, Stranger and Friend: The Way of an Anthropologist (1966), was a personal account of her anthropological career, from the beginning as a labor movement leader to her last field work in an African copper mining community. In 1968, Hortense Powdermaker retired from Queens College, where she had founded the department of anthropology and sociology, and moved to Berkeley, where she remained engaged in ethnographic fieldwork. She died two years later of a heart attack. The building on the Queens College campus that houses the anthropology and sociology departments (along with other social science disciplines) is named in her honor.

Read more about Hortense PowdermakerLegacy, Copper Town: Changing Africa

Other articles related to "hortense powdermaker, powdermaker":

Hortense Powdermaker - Copper Town: Changing Africa
... effects of the cinema on African people, and Powdermaker was one among many who published works about it ... Powdermaker describes that the concept of acting was not understood for the most part, and as a result whenever an actor “died” in one film and reappeared in another, the lack of continuity was upsetting ... Powdermaker looks into the content of the films and explains how some of the content was often critiqued by Africans as the difference in culture and misunderstandings of ...