Anthropology and the Berkeley Tradition

Kroeber, who became professor of anthropology at Berkeley in 1919, was instrumental in bringing Carl Sauer (1889–1975) to the University of California, to found its department of geography in 1923. Yet Sauer's early signature publication, The Morphology of Landscape (1925), focused on an ongoing discourse in German geography and does not yet reveal the close connection that had developed between Sauer and Kroeber. But Kroeber's long term preoccupation with the indigenous peoples of California and his interest in archaeology did have a major impact on Berkeley geography. Sauer and his students turned to Latin America, however, where they established a durable tradition of Latin Americanist geography. That focus continued to evolve with sophistication and complexity among several generations of students, and Sauer's own views and emphasis on material culture are in part exemplified in The Personality of Mexico. The new Berkeley school diverged from the North American orientation of its 'midwestern' counterpart, and was critical in defining the legitimacy of American geography as a field oriented, international discipline.

While Kroeber did not share Boas' intellectual cap acity, 'Berkeley geography' was partly rooted in Boas' empirical penchant and his non Eurocentric perspective. This served to give American geography, as a whole, its multicultural credentials. Sauer's enthusiasm for diffusion, a process he never explicated, was directly or indirectly indebted to Ratzel, who did give considerable thought to the agents of information exchange. Several deductive papers on human prehistory and its landscape implications reveal Sauer's abiding interest in archaeology, and he encouraged his students to pursue archaeological questions. Here the exchanges between Sauer, Kroeber, and other anthropologists at Berkeley must have been important, although Sauer's strong historical bent was evident long before he went to California.

Sauer's vague concept of culture has been criticized as 'superorganic' or sui generis, but most American anthropologists before the 1950s also did not delve into the nature of culture. Sauer's notion of 'culture hearth' (roughly equivalent to culture core or culture area), as a center of clustered and interconnected material phenomena, from which traits were dispersed, goes back to Ratzel, via Kroeber's essay on Clark Wissler.

A critique of the Berkeley tradition by Harold Brookfield is symptomatic of an impending sea change. Brookfield had spent years on New Guinea working with indigenous people, in collaboration with the British social anthropologist Paula Brown and several US anthropologists. He faulted the absence of participant observation and protracted interaction with indigenous groups by the Berkeley students. The trajectories of Brookfield's own PhDs from the New Guinea project, including Larry Grossmann and Eric Waddell, bear out that a new era of cultural and political ecology was dawning.