Leopold Pospisil, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus, Anthropology

The following was announced at the meeting of the Faculty of the Graduate School on Thursday, May 20, 1993:

Leopold Jaroslav Pospisil was born in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia in 1923 and received his undergraduate education in that city before moving to Prague to obtain a degree in law. After a year of studying philosophy in Germany, he immigrated to the United States where his interest in the social sciences led him to complete a second undergraduate degree in Sociology at Willamette University and a Master’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Oregon. Finally, in 1952 he arrived at Yale University where he obtained a Ph.D. in Anthropology four years later.

Leopold Pospisil pioneered the anthropological study of law and his three books Kapauku Papuans and Their Law, Anthropology of Law, and The Ethnology of Law, along with the students he trained at Yale, are largely responsible for establishing this area of research as a flourishing subfield of anthropology. Deeply committed to developing a scientific approach to ethnography, he carried out a quantitative study of highland New Guinea agriculture, published under the title of Kapauku Papuan Economy, that set new standards for research in economic anthropology. Pospisil, like Malinowski, studied a range of the world’s cultures. Besides his distinguished fieldwork in Melanasia, he also worked among the Hopi people of Arizona, the Nunamiut Eskimo of Alaska and the Tirolean peasants of Obernberg Valley in Austria.

An unforgettable lecturer, Leopold Pospisil has influenced generations of students in the Department of Anthropology and Law School and, as Curator of Anthropology in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, he helped to create many outstanding exhibits. As Director of the Division of Anthropology in the Peabody since 1966, he labored tirelessly to protect, preserve, and expand Yale’s unique collections. The energy, dedication, and insight that Professor Pospisil brought to his four decades at Yale have left an indelible imprint on this institution, just as his groundbreaking research has shaped the character of contemporary anthropology.