Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Volume 6, Issue 1
fall 2015
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Moe Gardner
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

In Memorium - Professor Harold (Hal) Scheffler (1932-2015)

by William Kelly
Department of Anthropology, Yale University

Professor Harold Scheffler (1932-2015)

Harold W. Scheffler, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, 1963-2008, died peacefully at his home in New Haven, CT, on July 24. He was 83. He was one of modern anthropology’s most important scholars of kinship and sexuality, and his 45 years as professor of anthropology on the Yale faculty (1963-2008) are the longest faculty service in the department’s history. He was particularly proud to have been an early and steadfast advocate for the growth of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale and served on its council for many years. His much loved courses on kinship, on human rationality and modes of thought, and on sexual meanings reached generations of Yale undergraduates.

Kinship and descent have always been at the core of anthropological knowledge, and Hal Scheffler was one of the progenitors of its theory, in a distinguished line of descent from Lewis Henry Morgan, W.H.R. Rivers, Meyer Fortes, and others. With his fieldwork in the Solomon Islands and in Vanuatu and later work in aboriginal Australia, with sweeping comparative knowledge, and with elegant and penetrating formal analyses, he deeply enriched our appreciation of the intricate patterns by which the most foundational of human social relations are crafted from genealogical connections. His collaborations with his Yale colleague Floyd Lounsbury on structural semantics were pioneering, his own monumental work on Australian Kin Classification (1978) was definitive, and his synthetic account of Filiation and Affiliation (2001) clarified for a new generation of scholars what is so compellingly at stake in understanding the principles of human social organization.

Scheffler taught at the University of Connecticut (1961-1962) and Bryn Mawr College (1962-1963) before joining the Yale University faculty in 1963. He remained with the Department of Anthropology throughout his career, retiring to emeritus status in 2008. He is survived by his wife, Jan Simpson, his daughter, Mary Lindholm, and his sister, Joan Wiesehan. His many students will be holding a commemoration of his life at the American Anthropological Association meeting in Denver in November.

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