Gregory Bateson

1904 (Grantchester, England) – 1980 (San Francisco)

Bateson, something of a maverick polymath, was an influential synthesist of multi-disciplinary ideas. With his then wife Mead, he helped invent visual anthropology. With McCullough, he helped found the influential Macy conferences, the intellectual forge for cybernetics; Shannon, von Neumann, Wiener, Pitts, Licklider and von Foerster all participated. He corresponded with Deren, was on a panel with Duchamp and Milhaud, recruited Ginsberg into research on LSD, influenced Capra and loved Malinowski. He wished he’d filmed Lorenz. Brand, who helped spread his ideas, described him as dishevelled.

Gregory Bateson knew…

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

1752 (Gotha, Germany) – 1840 (Göttingen)

Blumenbach effectively invented anthropology and (with Vicq d’Azyr) comparative anatomy; some later followers ignored his increasingly enlightened ideas about racial classification. As a student he was employed by Heyne (his future brother-in-law) to organise his natural history collection. Haller was a mentor, Goethe and Kant friends (Blumenbach refuted Kant’s ideas of European superiority), as were Lichtenberg and Forster (who together published important work of his). He taught Humboldt, Sömmering and Lawrence; Coleridge also met him and attended his lectures. Banks, another friend, sent him skulls for his collection.

Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring

Samuel Thomas von Soemmerring

1755 (Thorn, Prussia, now Toruń, Poland) – 1830 (Frankfurt am Main)

Blumenbach (a real friend) and Lichtenberg taught Sömmerring; Heyne was another long-term Göttingen connection. His work on cranial nerves as a 23-year-old remains valid, two centuries later. Sömmerring met Forster (becoming close friends) and Hunter in London, and Camper in Friesland. Forster, now in Kassel, arranged a professorship in anatomy for him there (they later fell out as neighbours in Mainz). Sömmerring got to know his lifelong correspondent Goethe through a shared interest in comparative anatomy, and famously sent him an elephant’s skull. Kant, ignoring its philosophical discrepancies, wrote an afterword for his essay on the soul.

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russell Wallace

1823 (Usk, England, now Wales) – 1913 (Broadstone, England)

Bates, met in a library, introduced him to insect-collecting; they separated two years into their Amazon expedition. Wallace corresponded with Darwin from the East Indies, sending him animal specimens; a paper he sent a startled Darwin from Sarawak, setting out his case for natural selection, was passed on to Lyell, who with Hooker worked out a form of tandem publication to clarify Darwin’s priority (Darwin later lobbied for a government pension for Wallace). Wallace was in touch with a wide network of scientists (Galton a particular friend), discussed spiritualism with Tennyson, and was invited by Mill to argue for land-tenure reform.

Ruth Benedict

1887 (New York) – 1948 (New York)

Dewey taught Benedict first; then Boas, who became a strong influence on her work, an academic colleague, and as ‘Papa Franz’ a father-figure. Benedict persuaded her student (and then lifelong friend and probable lover) Mead to switch from psychology to anthropology. A close friendship with Sapir started when he read her dissertation, but waned as she became closer to Mead; their complicated three-way relationship embraced the love of poetry. Mead’s affairs with men may have fuelled a famous quarrel she and Benedict had over Michelangelo’s Sybils in the Sistine Chapel. Maslow found her inspirational.

Ruth Benedict knew…

Margaret Mead

1901 (Philadelphia) – 1978 (New York)

Boas (who was hugely influential) and Benedict taught Mead, Benedict in particular becoming a lifelong friend and, it is now accepted, sometime lover. Sapir, Benedict and Mead shared a love of poetry, reading and commenting on each others’ verse. Hurston was also a professional colleague, while Baldwin collaborated on a book about race. Bateson was her third husband, whose photo she kept by her until death; Lévi-Strauss (then lesser-known than her) met her when he exiled himself in New York; Maslow regarded her as his mentor.

Margaret Mead knew…

Marcel Griaule

1898 (Ainsy-sur-Armençon, France) – 1956 (Paris)

Mauss taught and inspired him. Both Rouch and Dieterlen were students of his as well as of Mauss; Dieterlen became his collaborator, and published the work he left unfinished at death. Amadou worked with him in Paris, while Leiris joined an ambitious African expedition he led, published his travel diary, and accordingly fell out with him – they ended up violently at odds with one other.

Marcel Griaule knew…

Franz Boas

1858 (Minden, Germany) – 1942 (New York)

A notably influential teacher, Sapir, Benedict, Mead, Freyre, Hurston and Kroeber were among his students. He himself studied with Bastian and Virchow. Jakobson got to know him on arrival in exile in New York, DuBois invited him to speak to his students, Dewey corresponded about academic freedom, while Washington and Cattell were other correspondents. Lévi-Strauss described his meeting with Boas as definitive, was impressed by his clarity even after drinking “important” amounts of alcohol, and was sitting beside him at a banquet when Boas, giving a speech about Nazi anti-semitism, suddenly died.

Franz Boas knew…

Claude Lévi-Strauss

1908 (Brussels) – 2009 (Paris)

He was impressed by Jakobson’s clarity even after imbibing “important quantities” of alcohol. Their friendship helped define stucturalism, while that with Boas (who died beside him at a banquet) was also influential. He discussed exogamous relations with Mauss, took Nizan’s suggestion to teach philosophy in São Paulo, and was a long-term friend of Merleau-Ponty. He sailed to Martinique with his friend Masson, Lam, Brauner, and Breton. He shared a bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village with Breton, Ernst and Tanguy; Perrin was a fellow academic in exile. De Beauvoir praised his accounts of female rôles in non-western societies.