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Guide to the A. L. Kroeber Papers, 1869-1972
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note on Microfilm
  • Biographical Sketch
  • Scope and Content

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: A. L. Kroeber Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1869-1972
    Collection Number: BANC FILM 2049

    BANC MSS C-B 925
    Creator: Kroeber, A. L. (Alfred Louis), 1876-1960
    Extent: Originals: 40 boxes, 21 cartons, 14 volumes, 9 oversize folders (circa 45 linear feet) Copies: 187 microfilm reels: negative (Rich. 1840) and positive (BANC FILM 2049 and BANC FILM 3431)
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Kroeber conducted field work with several Klamath River groups, including the Karok, Wiyot, and Yurok Indians; the Yokuts Indians of Central California; with Ishi, the last member of the Yahi band of the Sacramento Valley; the Mohave Indians of the Colorado River region; and the Zuni Indians of New Mexico, among many other groups. He also carried out archaeological field work in Mexico and Peru. He published more that 500 books and articles on anthropological topics, and served as an expert witness in the Indian land claims cases Clyde F. Thompson et. al. v. United States, Docket No. 31, and Ernest Risling et. al. v. United States, Docket 37.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    RESTRICTED ORIGINALS. USE MICROFILM COPY ONLY WITH CALL NO. BANC FILM 2049. Use of originals only by permission of the Curator of the History of Science and Technology Collection.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], A. L. Kroeber papers, BANC FILM 2049, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Related Collections

    Title: Samuel A. Barrett Papers,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 86/172 c
    Title: Theodora Kroeber Papers,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 80/44 c
    Title: Robert Fleming Heizer Papers,
    Identifier/Call Number: BANC FILM 2106, Series 3, Indian Land Claims
    Title: Records of the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley,
    Identifier/Call Number: CU-23
    Title: Ethnological Documents of the Department and Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley,
    Identifier/Call Number: CU-23.1
    Title: Indian Stocks and Tribes of...California,
    Identifier/Call Number: G4361.E1 1939.T34 Case XD
    Title: Robert Fleming Heizer [Collection of miscellaneous maps],
    Identifier/Call Number: G9990.H4

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Selected printed materials have been removed from the collection.
    • Photographs have been transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library (BANC PIC 1971.001, BANC PIC 1978.169--PIC, and BANC PIC 1978.128--PIC).
    • Selected maps have been transferred to the Map Collection of The Bancroft Library.
    • Philip S. Sparkman's writings on Luiseño grammar have been transferred to the Ethnological Documents of the Department and Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, CU-23.1.
    • Thomas T. Waterman's Yurok and Diegueño field notebooks have been transferred to the Ethnological Documents of the Department and Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, CU-23.1.

    Administrative Information

    Acquisition Information

    The A. L. Kroeber Papers were given to The Bancroft Library by Theodora Kroeber and Robert F. Heizer, and were originally cataloged as BANC MSS C-B 925. The current collection, also cataloged as BANC MSS C-B 925, is a consolidation of the following collections:

    BANC MSS 71/83 c

    BANC MSS 78/22 c

    BANC MSS 83/109 c

    BANC MSS 88/45 c


    The archival processing and microfilming of the A. L. Kroeber Papers have been made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Title II-C, Strengthening Research Library Resources Program. The project was jointly carried out by the Library Conservation Department of the University of California, Berkeley, and The Bancroft Library.


    It would not have been possible to complete the archival processing and microfilming of the A.L. Kroeber Papers without the generous assistance of various colleagues at BMI Imaging Systems, in Sunnyvale, California, and the University of California, Berkeley.
    Bay Microfilm, Inc. staff members Meg Cudal, Jan Hawley, Muoi Huynh, Dennis Jefferson, Robert Piercy, and Dody Van Dyke did an outstanding job with every aspect of an exceedingly challenging microfilming project.
    Our colleagues in the U.C. Berkeley Library Conservation Department, including Nancy Harris, Lynn Jones, Barclay Ogden, Cameron Olen, Wendy Partridge, and Ann Swartzell, obtained the grant funding, handled the accounting, and performed the necessary preservation treatments with skill and dispatch.
    William Roberts, University Archivist, gave us the benefit of his expert curatorial judgment.
    We had exceptional help from our dedicated and willing student assistants, Erica Boyd, Susana Franco, Janet Lee, Brian C. Pierini, and Sierra Van Borst.
    Beverly Ortiz, California Indian expert and doctoral student in the U.C. Berkeley Anthropology Department, and long-time staff editor for the Anthropology Department, Grace Buzaljko, each aided us immeasurably with anthropological terminology and the identification of correspondents. Joan Berman, Native American Studies bibliographer at Humboldt State University, Sherrie Smith-Ferri, curator at the Grace Hudson Museum, and F. Alex Long helped a great deal by providing information on when and where Kroeber conducted his field work, and by critiquing earlier drafts of this finding aid. We are also most grateful for the interest and support of Dr. Karl Kroeber, Professor of English at Columbia University.
    Dr. Leanne Hinton of the Linguistics Department made extraordinary efforts to successfully locate and donate eight additional Kroeber field notebooks to The Bancroft Library.

    Note on Microfilm

    The A. L. Kroeber Papers have been microfilmed in order to preserve the original manuscripts and to make the wealth of information contained in them more readily available to researchers. Great care has been taken in the filming of these papers to ensure that the microfilm is an accurate and complete copy of the originals. There are instances, however, when the originals are not legible or are incomplete or contain anomalies, and these defects are reflected in the microfilm. Because the microfilm must be black and white in order to satisfy archival standards, colors shown on the original documents are not entirely discernible on the microfilm.
    The microfilming technicians have made every effort to capture all the text shown on each document. At times, they have made intentional retakes of documents. The filmers have photographed a document a second (or even third) time at a different exposure rate or at a different angle to ensure that all the information on the face of the document is captured on the microfilm. Retaken images are designated on the microfilm itself by the use of an in-frame target that reads "Note to researcher: retake of preceding frame." The reverse side of a page is indicated on the microfilm by an in-frame target that reads "Verso."
    For oversize documents, the filmers have adjusted the reduction ratio and have filmed the document in its entirety, to give an overview of the whole document. Then they have filmed the document in sequential segments, using the standard exposure rate, moving from left to right, top to bottom, so that the details are captured on the microfilm.
    Certain items have not been filmed because of their fragile physical condition. These items are noted on the container listing and on the microfilm. If you wish to see any of these unfilmed items, please consult with the Curator of the History of Science and Technology Program at The Bancroft Library.
    The following notes pertain to specific series of documents within this collection:
    Series 1, Correspondence: Kroeber often sent out the fair copies of his letters and retained only informal drafts or notes of his letters for his own records. Because he sometimes used light or colored pencil on colored paper, some of these letters are very difficult to read in the original, and also on the microfilm. He also retained some very poor carbon copies of some of his letters, which are also barely legible in the original and hard to read on the microfilm.
    Series 2, Publications, Monographs, and Speeches: Some published works were bound with pages out of order, and these documents have been filmed as they stand.
    Series 3, Field Notes: The field notebooks have been filmed to follow the pages in sequence, either as Kroeber himself paginated them, or as closely as can be determined to their original logical sequence. Please note that the phonetic tracings in this series have not been filmed, because of their delicate physical condition.

    Biographical Sketch

    Alfred Louis Kroeber was a renowned professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a keen intellect who played a major role in shaping the study of anthropology into the academic discipline that it is today. His magnetic personality and generous spirit endeared him to his students and colleagues. Kroeber's voluminous scholarly output as well as his lengthy and influential teaching career earned him a place among the most respected anthropologists of all time.
    A. L. Kroeber was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, on June 11, 1876, to Florence Martin Kroeber, a German immigrant, and his wife Johanna Muller, a first generation German-American. The family moved to New York City when Alfred was very young. He was schooled by tutors and attended private secondary schools there and in Connecticut, beginning his studies at Columbia University at the age of 16. He displayed a wide range of interests, from natural history to languages to aesthetics. He was an independent thinker, and his strong work ethic and intense desire to learn helped him to overcome his shyness.
    Kroeber entered Columbia as an English major, and received his bachelor's degree in 1896, and his master's degree in 1897. His interest in anthropology was sparked while taking anthropology, linguistics, and statistics classes taught by Franz Boas. He spent two summers in Wyoming, doing field work with the Arapaho, and visiting the Ute, Shoshone, Bannock, and Atsina (Gros Ventre) peoples. Kroeber was awarded his doctorate in anthropology in 1901. His dissertation, published in the American Anthropologist, was entitled Decorative Symbolism of the Arapaho.
    In 1900, Kroeber accepted a job as curator of Indian artifacts for the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and made collecting trips to the Klamath River region. The Academy job was a temporary one, but during his first stay in the Western United States, he met the President of the University of California, Benjamin Ide Wheeler. In 1901, Wheeler offered Kroeber a position in the new department of anthropology, and he moved west permanently. The department was entirely funded by Phoebe A. Hearst for the first seven years of its existence, as was the University of California Museum of Anthropology. Frederic Ward Putnam, curator of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, was named head of the advisory committee for the department and later, between 1903 and 1909, professor of anthropology and director of its museum. Since Putnam meanwhile retained his position at Harvard, Kroeber in effect became the day-to-day administrator of the Berkeley department and museum, then located in San Francisco. After 1909, Kroeber headed both the museum and the department.
    Kroeber was promoted to full professor in 1919, and taught at Berkeley for 45 years until his retirement in 1946, after which he accepted visiting professorships at Columbia, Harvard, Brandeis, and Yale Universities, as well as the University of Chicago. During all his years of teaching he worked to establish anthropology as a distinct discipline, with its own scientific method and intellectual rigor. During World War II, he and one of his former students, Samuel A. Barrett, co-directed the Army Specialized Training Program, an intensive course in East and Southeast Asian Languages, on the Berkeley campus.
    Kroeber's research interests encompassed all of the disciplines which in the early years of the century fell under the rubric of anthropology, from ethnology to physical anthropology, from folklore to archaeology to linguistics. His primary interest was in ethnography, and he conducted extensive research on numerous native California groups, some of which was published in the ground-breaking Handbook of the Indians of California (1925). Other interests included Mexican and Peruvian archaeology, ethnography and ethnogeography of California and the Southwestern United States, linguistics, culture area studies, social organization, kinship, genetics, and psychotherapy.
    The authority with which he discussed anthropological issues in his books, articles, reviews, and lectures, and his congenial nature, won him the respect of his peers and students. He was a founding member of such organizations as the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology, and a member of the American Folklore Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Linguistic Society of America, and the Institute of Andean Research. Kroeber was also a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Huxley Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute in London in 1945, and the Viking Medal from the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 1946. He was awarded honorary doctoral degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Universities, and the Universities of California and Chicago. In 1959, the Regents of the University of California commemorated his great contributions to the university by naming the new anthropology and art building Kroeber Hall.
    Alfred Kroeber was as dedicated to his family as he was to his research and teaching. He married Henriette Rothschild in 1906, who she died of tuberculosis in 1913. In 1926, Kroeber married one of his graduate students, Theodora Kracaw Brown. They raised four children, Clifton and Theodore (Theodora's sons from a previous marriage), Karl, and Ursula.
    Kroeber died of a heart attack on October 5, 1960, while in Paris on his way home from the Anthropological Horizons conference, held at Burg Wartenstein, Austria. His career spanned the growth of anthropology from a "rather random [endeavor] of amateurs and self-trained men to a coherent, scientific, and academic discipline," and Alfred L. Kroeber will continue to be remembered for his significant role in bringing about that change.
    Beals, Ralph L. "Kroeber, Alfred L." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 8, 1968-1969, pp. 454-463.
    Heizer, Robert F., G. M. Foster, and T. D. McCown. "Alfred Louis Kroeber, 1876-1960, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus," In Memoriam, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1962.
    Hymes, Dell. "Alfred Louis Kroeber," Language, 37, 1961, pp. 1-28.
    Kroeber, Theodora. Alfred L. Kroeber, A Personal Configuration. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1970.
    Rowe, John Howland. "A. L. Kroeber," The Teocentli, 25, November, 1961, pp. 1-3.
    Rowe, John Howland. "Alfred Louis Kroeber, 1876-1960," American Antiquity, 27, 1962, pp. 395-415.
    Steward, Julian H. Alfred Kroeber, New York: Columbia University Press, 1973.
    Steward, Julian H. "Alfred Louis Kroeber, 1876-1960," American Anthropologist, 63, 1961, pp. 1038-1060.
    Steward, Julian H. "Alfred Louis Kroeber, 1876-1960: A Biographical Memoir," Biographical Memoirs, Vol. XXXVI, National Academy of Sciences of the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962.

    Scope and Content

    The A. L. Kroeber Papers document the remarkably influential career of one of the most distinguished American anthropologists of the 20th century. Through more than 40 years of teaching at the University of California, extensive field work, and the publication of over 500 articles, books, and reviews, Kroeber simultaneously shaped future generations of anthropologists, and brought the field to the attention of the general public. A scholar who taught and published in all the important subfields of anthropology, he presided over the diversification and increasing specialization of the field, and took part in the creation of archaeology, linguistics, and folklore as disciplines in their own right.
    The researcher will be impressed by the quantity and quality of correspondence, primarily professional in nature, which is found in the first series. Kroeber, an indefatigable letter-writer, corresponded with such prominent individuals as Franz Boas, Edward Sapir, Sol Tax, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Talcott Parsons, and among many others.
    Just as the correspondence series demonstrates Kroeber's close and long-lasting ties with his wide circle of colleagues and friends, the series entitled Publications, Monographs, and Speeches shows the breadth of his scholarly interests. The collection contains only a fraction of his published works. Among his most influential works included in this collection are Anthropology, the first general textbook in the field (originally published in 1923, and revised in 1948); Configurations of Culture Growth (1944); Handbook of the Indians of California (edited and much of it written by Kroeber, and published by the Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, in 1925); and an incomplete draft of More Mohave Myths (1972). Other posthumously-published works found in the collection include Yokuts Dialect Survey (1963) and Yurok Myths (1976). A selective, decade-by-decade listing of other titles of works published during his lifetime sheds light on his wide-ranging areas of interest: Tales of the Smith Sound Eskimo (1899), Numeral Systems of the Languages of California (with Roland B. Dixon, 1908), Are the Jews a Race? (1913), Basketry Designs of the Mission Indians (1922), Functional Anthropology (1938), Los Métodos de la Arqueología Peruana (1942), The Novel in Asia and Europe (1951), and Evolution, History, and Culture (1960).
    For many researchers, the field notes will comprise the most fascinating and useful portion of the collection. They are a testament to the extraordinary amount of fieldwork that Kroeber was able to carry out in the midst of a busy schedule of teaching, museum work, writing, editing, and other professional commitments in the United States and abroad. The collection contains over 130 field notebooks. Kroeber's field notes are especially valuable because he visited widely separated native groups, with unrelated languages and differing material cultures; in some cases, he made return trips many decades after he did his original field work. He had close personal relationships with Ishi, the last member of the Yahi people, and with his Yurok informant, Robert Spott. These friendships helped him to understand and interpret Indian lifeways and belief systems to the non-native reader, anthropologist and layperson alike.
    The final three series are more narrowly focused in their subject matter, and show various facets of Kroeber's public persona. Series 4 (Indian Land Claims) exemplifies an aspect of Kroeber's working life which was separate from his teaching, writing, and field work. After he retired from the University of California, Kroeber served as an expert witness in the lawsuit entitled Docket 31-37, Indians of California vs. The United States of America. His testimony, along with that of Samuel A. Barrett, Sherburne F. Cook, Donald C. Cutter, Omer C. Stewart, and Robert F. Heizer, helped to establish the Indians' aboriginal title to the lands and win the case for them. (The final outcome was not the return of land to its original inhabitants, but a monetary settlement of $669 each for nearly 70,000 Native American individuals, paid in 1972.) While this series is incomplete and does not document all the legal actions of the hearings, it is useful in that it contains Kroeber's written statements and preparation for testimony.
    Unfortunately, only a handful of Kroeber's course notes are to be found in this collection. However, the research notes found in Series 5, Professional Activities, document Kroeber's life-long fascination with a wide range of topics in addition to anthropology, such as music, poetics, and art history. Also included in this series are his research notes concerning Ishi, whose arrival in San Francisco in 1911 captured the attention of the public and gave Kroeber the unique opportunity to study a man who had lived his life separated from white civilization. Other documents found in this series demonstrate Kroeber's wide-ranging professional commitments, which allowed him to exercise his formidable organizing, writing, and editing skills.
    Personal Files, the final series, will be of interest primarily to Kroeber's biographers. It contains biographical and career information, obituaries, diplomas, and awards.