Anthropology Department Founder Dies at 94

Gabriella Fleischman

Founder of UCSD Department of Anthropology Melford Spiro died at age 94 on Oct. 18.

Spiro was known for his contributions to “the study of unconscious motivation in religion and social life,” according to an Oct. 30 UCSD News Center article. Spiro came to UCSD in 1968, recruited the first six anthropology professors and taught the department’s graduating class in 1969. Two of those professors — David Jordan and Shirley Strum — still are at UCSD. The cause of death was not reported.

According to the News Center article, Spiro was born in 1920 in Ohio and earned degrees from the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University. He taught at four universities prior to teaching at UCSD: Washington University, University of Connecticut, University of Washington and University of Chicago.

Spiro published papers that, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research’s online encyclopedia page, “stress the need to consider both psychoanalytic and cultural forces in attempting to understand human behavior.” He conducted research in locations such as Micronesia, Burma and Israel, working among a wide variety of people including North American Ojibwa Indians and kibbutz residents.

He was appointed as the first President Chair at UCSD in 1982 and retired as a professor emeritus in 1990. According to the News Center article, he served as the president for both the Society for Psychological Anthropology and the American Ethnological Society and “published hundreds of articles and more than a dozen books.”
Among the many awards that Spiro won throughout his career — including two Guggenheim fellowships and the Einstein fellowship at the Israel Academy of Sciences — he was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Chancellor’s Associates at UCSD