Anthropology Margaret Mead
Paul Shankman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0014


Margaret Mead (1901–1978) was the best-known anthropologist of the 20th century. At the time of her death, she was also one of the three best-known women in the United States and America’s first woman of science. Born in Pennsylvania, Mead attended college at DePauw and Barnard before receiving her PhD from Columbia University, where she studied under the direction of Franz Boas. After completing her dissertation, Mead conducted fieldwork in American Samoa (1925–1926) and published her best-selling book Coming of Age in Samoa in 1928. In 1926, she became a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, her professional home for her entire career. Between 1928 and 1939, Mead conducted fieldwork in seven more cultures, including five in New Guinea—Manus, Arapesh, Tchambuli, Mundugumor, and Iatmul—as well as in Bali and on the Omaha reservation, publishing professional and popular work on almost all of these cultures. Mead pioneered fieldwork on topics such as childhood, adolescence, and gender and was a founding figure in culture and personality studies. She advanced fieldwork methods through the use of photographs, film, and psychological testing, as well as the use of teams of male and female researchers. Her books from this period, such as Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies and Growing up in New Guinea, continue to be read today. During World War II, Mead supported the war effort by working on several applied projects, including national character studies and, later, the study of culture at a distance. She would become a founding member of the Society for Applied Anthropology and spent much of her career addressing important domestic issues in America. Mead was also an interdisciplinary scholar, networking broadly across disciplinary boundaries and organizing conferences. She became the head of the American Anthropological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As the public face of anthropology for much of the 20th century, she appeared in popular magazines like Redbook and on radio and television, as well as authoring books such as Male and Female and Culture and Commitment. Mead’s ethnographic work has been subject of criticism, especially as the result of anthropologist Derek Freeman’s critique of her Samoan research. Her reputation was tarnished as a consequence, despite flaws in that critique. Nevertheless, Mead’s pioneering research and writing laid the foundation for work by other anthropologists; her tireless efforts on anthropology’s behalf put the discipline on the map; and her ability to reach the public remains unparalleled among anthropologists.


Joan Gordan’s bibliography, compiled near the end of Mead’s life, is the essential reference for all of Mead’s published professional and popular work, as well as her appearances on film, TV, and other recordings through 1975 (Gordan 1976).

  • Gordan, Joan, ed. 1976. Margaret Mead: The complete bibliography, 1925–1975. The Hague: Mouton.

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    This bibliography contains over fourteen hundred entries and includes name and subject indices, as well as a useful introduction by Mead herself. It illustrates just how prolific Mead was an author.

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