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Biography & Autobiography Social Scientists & Psychologists

Edward Sapir

Linguist, Anthropologist, Humanist

introduction by Regna Darnell

Nebraska Paperback
Initial publish date
Jul 2010
Social Scientists & Psychologists
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2010
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This first full-scale biography of Edward Sapir (1884–1939) does justice to the life and ideas of the most distinguished linguist of Boasian anthropology, who contributed substantially to the professionalization of linguistics as an independent discipline. Sapir was the first to apply comparative Indo-European methods to the study of American Indian languages, pursuing fieldwork on more than twenty of them. His theoretical work on the relationship between the individual personality and culture remains a major part of culture theory in anthropology, as does his insistence on the symbolic nature of culture and the importance of culture as understood and articulated by its members. The first professional anthropologist in Canada and teacher of a whole generation of North American linguists and anthropologists at Chicago and Yale, Sapir also wrote poetry and literary criticism. He insisted on the humanistic nature of anthropology and was the most articulate spokesman for the interdisciplinary social science of the late 1920s and 1930s. All the richness and diversity of Sapir’s relatively short life are conveyed by Regna Darnell in an engrossing narrative that combines profound knowledge of her subject with historical reconstruction.

About the author

Regna Darnell is Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology Emerita at the University of Western Ontario. She is coeditor of The Franz Boas Papers, Volume 1: Franz Boas as Public Intellectual—Theory, Ethnography, Activism (Nebraska, 2015). Darnell is the general editor of the multivolume series The Franz Boas Papers: Documentary Edition and co-editor of the Critical Studies in History of Anthropology series. 

Regna Darnell's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“[Darnell has] drawn a fine, full picture of Sapir, dissolving a mythic image in a real life. It is an excellent biography and a major contribution to the history of the profession.”—Richard J. Preston, American Ethnologist

“A revealing account of Sapir’s professional career and, from that perspective, his role in the history of linguistics and anthropology in North America.”—Ward H. Goodenough, American Anthropologist

“This complex biography of Edward Sapir’s life and ideas offers fresh insights, opens up further avenues of inquiry, and challenges us to ask new questions.”—Barrik Van Winkle, American Indian Quarterly

“Darnell has made a major contribution to the history of anthropology, and her work is likely to remain the definitive one.”—L. Kimball, Choice

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