Carl E. Guthe

Carl Eugen Guthe (1893–1974) was the first director of the Museum of Anthropology. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Michigan in 1914. He went to Harvard University and received an M.A. in 1915 and a Ph.D. in 1917 in Anthropology. While at Harvard he was hired by A.V. Kidder to excavate at Pecos, NM, and he became Associate Director in 1917. His interest in Middle America heightened when he became affiliated with the Carnegie Institution of Washington as a Research Associate from 1920 to 1922.

In 1922 he was hired as the first anthropologist on the faculty at Michigan as Associate Director in charge of Anthropology in the Museum of Zoology where the anthropology collections were then housed. He became the Director of the Museum of Anthropology in 1928 when the new University Museums building opened. From 1922 to 1925 he headed the Philippine Expedition supported by Horace H. Rackham to survey and excavate archaeological sites in the Philippine Islands. These collections were returned to the Museum and became a major component of its new Asian Division.

Guthe organized the Museum of Anthropology along the four fields of anthropology with emphasis on Divisions of The Great Lakes, Asia, Ethnology, Archaeology, and Physical Anthropology. He was unable to hire permanent curators in each position but he did arrange for temporary employees or research associates to fill them all by 1929. Guthe developed a “hands-on” museum education program for undergraduates and employment for them through federal relief programs in the Museum. He received funding from Eli Lilly of Indianapolis to support graduate students conducting archaeology, physical anthropology and ethnohistory in the Eastern United States. Three graduate students from his research program received special Rackham Ph.D. degrees before Anthropology offered one.

In 1928 Guthe became the first chair of the Department of Anthropology. Guthe hired Julian H. Steward in 1928 and Leslie A. White to replace him in 1930. He added Mischa Titiev to the small faculty in 1934. Guthe remained a Lecturer in Anthropology until 1943 when he was appointed full Professor in the Department of Anthropology. By 1936 he was Director of the University Museums while continuing as Director of the Museum of Anthropology. He resigned from Michigan in 1944 to become Director of the New York State Museum.

Guthe was active to professionalize American archaeology and to make it accountable to the public. In 1927 Guthe became chair of the Committee on State Archaeological Surveys of the National Research Council (NRC). This committee worked to systematize state archaeological site surveys and to provide a forum for archaeologists to discuss common problems. Guthe organized a series of revolving regional conferences to review archaeological problems in various eastern states. By 1934 Guthe’s annual archaeology summaries were no longer accepted by the American Anthropologist and NRC was withdrawing support for the survey. Guthe, following a mail survey of archaeologists, devoted time to create the Society for American Archaeology and the journal he named, American Antiquity.

Carl Guthe left a lasting legacy with the Museum of Anthropology. Its organization into Divisions, its specialized analytical laboratories, its spatial organization, the emphasis on undergraduate education in a museum context, high quality and original graduate student research, and gift and grant support for the museum are the foundation that Guthe built.

The Bentley Historical Library archives the papers of Carl E. Guthe and references about him can be found in various other archived collections. For access to these materials please contact the Bentley Library.