Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS November 27, 1908âDecember 20, 2005 BY JONATHAN FRIEDLAENDER WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM DAVID PILBEAM, DANIEL HRDY, EUGENE GILES, AND ROGER GREEN W ILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS, ONE OF the most distinguished American anthropologists of the second half of the 20th century, and perhaps the most charming and elegant, died in Kittery Point, Maine, on December 20, 2005, at age 97. He brought anthropology to a wide audience through his general books and played a major role in transforming physical anthropology into a population-based biological sci- ence. From this perspective he helped free physical anthro- pology from its earlier preoccupation with typological classifications of human races. His work was marked by so- phistication in multivariate statistics, a great breadth of knowl- edge in all subfields of anthropology, and a lucid and direct literary style that engaged the reader in what ap- peared to be an informal conversation. Bill (to his friends) was born November 27, 1908, in New York City. He came from a family of prominent intel- lectuals. His father, John Mead Howells, was a successful architect, and his paternal grandfather was William Dean Howells, the distinguished 19th-century American novelist and man of letters. A brief anecdote: As a young baby, Bill was taken by his mother to visit his grandfather, who was being visited by his close friend Samuel Clemens. On being told by Billâs mother, âYou must see little Billy,â Clemens is 207
208 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS said to have retorted, âWhy must I?â This evidently was enough for Mrs. Howells; she had a distaste for Clemens forever after. In any case her son had what was once attributed to his grandfather, âthe friendly eye,â through which he saw life. Billâs maternal grandfather, Horace White, was a jour- nalist from an abolitionist background; he traveled with Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates and subsequently became an editor and co-owner first of the Chicago Tri- bune and later of the New York Post. Bill was very close to his aunt Amelia Elizabeth White, who after serving as a nurse in the First World War, moved in the 1920s to Santa Fe, where she became a passionate advocate for the Pueblo, promoting their public health and land rights and estab- lishing a museum of Native American arts. She and her unique estate, El Delirio, were the center of a circle of writers, musicians, artists, and anthropologists and she be- came a major supporter of the School of American Re- search. At Billâs urging she left El Delirio and the museum (now the Indian Arts Center) to the School, rather than to him (for more on his aunt and their relationship, see Stark and Rayne, 1998). As a boy, Bill was taken with cavemen and dinosaurs. He lived in New York and Kittery Point until going to boarding school first in Aiken, South Carolina, and then at St. Paulâs School in Concord, New Hampshire. From there he en- tered Harvard, where he planned to major in English. How- ever, after a look at the English Departmentâs overly long recommended summer reading list, he decided to major in anthropology on something of a last minute impulse. He subsequently became enchanted with the appeal, both in- tellectual and esthetic, of anthropologyâs great breadth; he later wrote that he regretted the growing gulf between bio-
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS 209 logical and cultural anthropology in recent decades, âa de- pressing factâ as he put it (1992). The Harvard Anthropology Department in the 1930s consisted of Roland B. Dixon, Alfred M. Tozzer, and Ear- nest A. Hooton, none of whom limited themselves to a par- ticular subdiscipline; for example, Hooton, the physical an- thropologist, taught a course in African anthropology. Howells relished his time at Harvard. In his memoir (1992) he re- membered Alfred Tozzerâs personality in words that fit Bill equally well. âIt is easy and pleasant to remember his face in action and the sound of his voiceâthe things that live on in the memory of one more generation after you die, before they are gone forever.â Howells hurried to finish his undergraduate require- ments in three years so that he could marry his sweetheart, Muriel Gurdon Seabury (her mother would not permit the marriage until he graduated). He continued on with gradu- ate study and received his doctorate under Hootonâs direc- tion in 1934, at age 25. If Howells gained intellectual breadth from his teach- ers at Harvard, he was not too awed by them to recognize their feet of clay. Dixonâs book, The Racial History of Man (1923), was devastatingly critiqued by Franz Boas (the best mathematical mind in American anthropology at the time). Dixon came to refer to it as âmy crime.â It was a typological reconstruction of human history, based on three simple ratios of cranial, nose, and face measurements. Hootonâs work suffered from a similar typological perspective. He tried to identify distinct elements of racial mixing within skeletal populations, diagnostic traits within series of head shapes of criminals, and reified types in body composition. Hooton was pilloried by statisticians for his poor sense of sampling and for not understanding how to construct a statistical test of an hypothesis. While Howellsâs early work
210 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS in Irish and Melanesian crania followed Hootonâs typologi- cal scheme, he realized early on that the variation in these cranial series was best described by a series of normal distri- butions. There were simply no discrete subsets or types to find. As he said in his typically self-effacing way, âI was du- bious about dissecting populations in this way, having some sense of normal variation. I take no credit for this; it seemed to be a limitation that seemed to enforce itselfâ (1992). This sense of normal population variation came to be the core of his perspective on human biology in subsequent years. He took up his first post (as volunteer assistant) at the American Museum of Natural History back in New York, with fellow Hooton product Harry Shapiro. As Shapiro wrote: It became quickly evident to me that Bill had a sharp critical sense that got to the core of a particular problem. . . In his quiet way, he could be very firm in his convictions and not easily shifted. But this determination never led to acrimony. Often, he could turn a discussion that threatened to become a bit tense into quieter channels by his delightful humorâ (Shapiro, 1976). Part of the museumâs appeal for Howells was its im- mense collection of 12,000 crania and particularly the re- cently acquired Von Luschan collection from Melanesia. Howells was looking for a large cranial sample that would provide statistical reliability and at the same time represent a single locale or population. The Tolai sample from East New Britain fulfilled his requirements and became the sub- ject of his first population study. It was also during this period that he met and collaborated with Harold Hotelling (Howells and Hotelling, 1936), a brilliant young statistician who had just returned to New York from Great Britain, where he had studied with Ronald A. Fisher. While their paper still dealt with simple ratios for sex discrimination,
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS 211 Howells must have learned something of the potential power of multivariate statistics from Hotelling, who was to become particularly creative in the development of principal com- ponents analysis. Before the Second World War, the American biologi- cal and social sciences generally and anthropology in par- ticular were very much behind their British counterparts in quantitative methods. Between them, R. A. Fisher and Karl Pearson were revolutionizing evolutionary biology with their quantitative perspectives. In the process they developed many statistical approaches and techniques still at the heart of quantitative methodology. Pearson developed regression analysis, the correlation coefficient, and the chi square test. Fisher formulated the analysis of variance, discriminant func- tion analysis, and the method of maximum likelihood, as well as a remarkable amount of population genetics theory. Alone in his cohort of American anthropologists, Howells saw he had to master multivariate methods as well as proper statistical design. His keen critical sense made him realize the dead-end that American physical anthropology had reached in the 1930s. Mindless measuring had almost be- come an end in itself. In 1937 Howells accepted a position as assistant profes- sor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where (ex- cept for a period during World War II when he served in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington) he remained until 1954. This was a period of great maturation for Howells. During the years in Madison, he spent a considerable amount of time in the Statistics Department learning multivariate statistics. He told his children that it was a very hard task, but it simply had to be done to accomplish what he envi- sioned. The timing was propitious: High-speed computers became readily available around 1950, making the applica- tion of multivariate statistics to large datasets feasible for
212 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS the first time. Howells first successfully applied factor analy- sis to body composition in a series of papers around 1950. Those results contradicted William H. Sheldonâs essential- ist scheme of three separate components (ectomorphy, endomorphy, and mesomorphy) and showed that the pri- mary variant of physique was simply size, with a secondary component of fatness. Howells did not just develop his research skills at Madi- son. He was always a conscientious and thoughtful partici- pant in university affairs. He was a key participant in the development of Wisconsinâs Integrated Liberal Studies pro- gram, which was a pioneering attempt to bring the interdis- ciplinary approach to undergraduate teaching. As chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, he was known for his civility and thoughtfulness. One archaeolo- gist (Chester Chard), who had been hired while Howells was chair, was impressed that shortly after he was hired, the Howellses had a dinner for him and his wife, inviting their own friends outside the department, to broaden the new- comersâ social circle. It was while he was at Madison that Howells began to publish books for the general audience. He felt it was an obligation for scholars and scientists to communicate their findings to a broader public. The first of six such books, Mankind So Far (1944), was written at the urging of Hooton, who had been approached by a publisher to write his own book on human evolution. The publisher rejected Howellsâs first chapters, but after Hooton urged reconsideration, sud- denly decided the chapters had been âremarkably improvedâ (they were unchanged). The book was published 10 years before the Piltdown hoax unraveled (while Hooton and others still championed Piltdownâs importance), but after discuss- ing it, Howells set Piltdown aside, since to him it seemed to fly in the face of so much other evidence. This was typical
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS 213 of his quiet but firm belief in his own judgment. This suc- cess was followed by The Heathens (1948) on âprimitiveâ religion, by Back of History (1954), Mankind in the Making (1959), The Pacific Islanders (1973,2), and finally Getting Here (1993). These books were all refreshing, slyly humor- ous, highly informative, and superbly informed. They con- tained few explicit theoretical arguments, but those that were there were memorable, such as the Candelabra, Hatrack, and Noahâs Ark schools of human evolution. The books were adopted as texts in many introductory courses across the country and internationally, and they have been more widely translated than those of any other physical anthro- pologist. The last of his general books (1993) appeared in an updated form when he was 89. By 1954 he had become established as a leader in the field because of his sophisticated research findings and well- received books (three by that time). He had been elected president of the American Anthropological Association in 1951, had served as editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology from 1949 to 1954, and was awarded a Viking Fund Medal in 1954. When Hooton died suddenly that year, Howells was picked to succeed him as professor at Harvard and curator at the Peabody Museum. Howells was a member of the Harvard teaching faculty until 1973 and during this period he continued to publish and gain recognition. He was elected to the National Acad- emy of Sciences in 1967 and received a Distinguished Ser- vice Award from the American Anthropological Association in 1978. Howells was elected to nine other scientific societ- ies in the United States, Europe, and Africa. It was during this period that many of us came to know him as graduate students. There was no identifiable Howells school of physical anthropology. His students went into many subdisciplines (see, for example, the variety of contributors
214 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS to Giles and Friedlaender, 1976). He consciously did not steer students toward particular interests of his own but rather tried to ensure that they were broadly informed and had the proper tools to address their own research ques- tions. Howells did, however, produce a number of students in craniometrics and in the human biology of the Pacific. He had an abiding research interest in that region: His doctoral thesis was on crania from Melanesia (1934); one of his general books was on the Pacific Islanders (1973,2); and he helped develop the Harvard Solomon Islands project (Friedlaender, 1987). Although he was always pleasant, po- lite, and affable, we regarded him with some awe. He was always Dr. Howells. He was fair and considerate and could gracefully tell students when they had done poorly. A typi- cal remark accompanying a C-grade paper was, âYou can do better than thisâWWH.â After hearing a halting oral trans- lation of a German text for a language exam, he simply closed the book with a wan smile and told one of us (J.F.), âWhy donât you just do some more practice and come back in a couple of months to give it another go?â At Harvard, Howells was an extremely popular under- graduate lecturer. As his student Michael Crichton (1976, p. xxiii) wrote, His style was disarming and he lectured quietly, in a relaxed, conversa- tional manner, with occasional long pauses to look at his notes. The effect was one of complete spontaneity. . . He was a master of what Noel Coward once called âcoming out of a different hole each timeââhe played on the unexpected element in his lecturing. . . He kept his audience off balance, and they adored him. . . He was a gifted performer, and his imitations of primate gaits were justly famous. But those imitations, like those jokes and puns and anecdotes and newspaper stories sprinkled through his lectures, all made a certain point and were all the more appreciated. In fact, Howells was an accomplished amateur actor and playwright. He was, with Harvard archaeologist Gor-
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS 215 don Willey, among the most active members of Bostonâs Tavern Club, where he wrote or coauthored 21 plays and directed or performed in at least 18 others, often as the female vocal lead in musicals (this was before women were admitted). Many of these won special prizes, called Bruins. Although he never railed against typological thinking as his colleague Ernst Mayr so famously did, Bill was clearly a committed population biologist. While Frank Livingstone (1962) made the widely quoted remark, âThere are no races, there are only clines,â Howells wrote, more accurately, âThere are no races, there are only populationsâ (1995). He did not explicitly teach theory, but simply set aside arguments that were not supported by convincing data, properly ana- lyzed. His advanced courses included excellent and easily understood sections on the proper application of multivari- ate statistics to anthropological data. For Howells, the cor- rect analysis of the accumulating data on human paleontol- ogy and contemporary variation would eventually allow the proper relationships to emerge. He avoided pontificating and was adept at the deflating quip. After a colleague made a particularly pompous prediction on the direction of the field in a department faculty meeting, he replied that he sincerely regretted he lacked such an Olympian perspec- tive. He said of another (in private), âThat man wouldnât know a Dryopithecus tooth pattern if it bit him.â Howells deflected what he viewed as improper inquiries in the same way. When a graduate student breathlessly pressed him for details on comparative primate genital sizes and shapes, Bill deadpanned, âWe only study the hard parts.â Besides his expertise in osteometrics, Howells was a stalwart fieldworker as well. He and Muriel took part in the Harvard-Peabody Museum Solomon Islands project in Malaita in 1968, and he was a member of the 1972 trip to Ulawa and Ontong Java aboard the Alpha Helix. Bill was one of
216 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS the hardest workers on the project, often doing his pains- taking cranial anthropometry long after everyone else had retired to their ration of a single bottle of warm Guinness stout. He had the ability to roll and turn over his tongue, and this gave him the opportunity to score this genetic trait on subjects during their examinations. The sight of the distinguished Harvard professor making bizarre movements with his tongue and coaxing perplexed villagers to imitate him was truly wonderful, and he reveled in the interaction. The local âbig men,â finely attuned to social hierarchies, would often approach Bill as the expeditionâs âbig man,â though he was not in fact the leader. When Albert Damon became incapacitated with his final illness during the 1972 trip, Bill did step in to assume command. Yet remarkably, his most productive research period came during his long and active retirement at the Peabody Museum beginning in 1973. Bill noted its special pleasures (1992): âThe discipline of teaching obliges you to try to present important matters in well-rounded, balanced fash- ion, even as you make your own views known. A nice ideal, but now I can lean back, read without having to revise lec- ture notes, and tell myself (in private) just what I think of things.â Howells realized, with characteristic clarity, that physi- cal anthropology was in essence a descriptive endeavor and could not then be transformed into an experimental sci- ence, as some were attempting. His premier research ac- complishment was to provide a comprehensive population- based description of human cranial variation. This meant an appropriate application of multivariate statistics to a large battery of measurements that he and his wife, Muriel, re- corded, beginning in the late 1960s, on a well-defined and adequately sampled series of male and female crania. They initially took over 60 measurements on approximately 50
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS 217 males and 50 females from 18 different skeletal popula- tions from across the globe. The results were published in a series of Peabody Museum monographs, beginning with his authoritative Cranial Variation in Man (1973,1), followed by two subsequent expansions (1989, 1995) when he was 87. These data were made available online, augmented by subsequent sets that the Howellses accumulated from other skeletal series. The final total came to over 2100 skulls from 28 basic populations, and approximately 170,000 individual measurements. This dataset continues to be used as the basic global reference for craniometrics today. Although Howells would never say it directly, since he always avoided personal attacks, this series of monographs should properly be viewed as a systematic debunking of Carleton Coonâs controversial hypothesis on race that had appeared in 1962 in The Races of Man and in a companion volume (1965). Coonâs thesis, which created a furor in an- thropology at the time, was that there were five clearly iden- tifiable geographic subspecies or races of humans: Caucasoid, Congoid, Capoid (Khoisan), Mongoloid, and Australoid. Furthermore, according to Coon, these had become mutu- ally distinct at the level of Homo erectus hundreds of thou- sands of years ago, and all had evolved roughly in parallel, semi-independently up to the present. Coon relied heavily on the earlier work of Franz Weidenreich, but he also used a large amount of descriptive data, and both metric and nonmetric cranial observations. Howells showed that notions of distinct races had no basis in craniometrics, contrary to the long tradition in bio- logical anthropology before his time. His major conclusions were that modern humans are remarkably uniform as a species; that while some geographic patterning is detect- able among human groups, the variation within popula- tions substantially outweighs any among-group distinctions;
218 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS that this human uniformity appears to be very recent in origin (skulls earlier than roughly 15,000 to 20,000 years old, especially the Neanderthals, are well outside the range of modern human variation and cannot be related to it metrically); and that contrary to accounts from mitochon- drial and Y-chromosomal DNA, African populations show no signs of any ancestral or distinctive status. He was skepti- cal of the Regional Continuity school of modern human origins and more supportive of the Replacement school, as these approaches developed in the 1980s and 1990s. In Howellsâs view any distillation of a particular mor- phological feature as a definitive marker of population af- finity, disease, or ancestry was suspect. He delighted in exhibiting to students his own shovel-shaped incisors as ex- amples of supposedly âdiscrete diagnosticâ traits (for North Asians and Native Americans). These and other such âdis- creteâ traits are distributed more broadly in natural popula- tions than is generally realized, and they are determined by poorly understood hereditary and environmental factors. He consequently distrusted Weidenreichâs attempts (as well as those of his Regional Continuity followers) to trace the ancestry of particular modern human populations back to certain prehistoric fossils through a selection of such shared morphological characters. Instead he relied on size and shape relationships to establish population ties. In his retirement he received even more honors. In addition to the Distinguished Service Award given by the American Anthropological Association in 1978, he received the Charles Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists at its in- ception in 1992. In 1993 the William W. Howells Book Prize for general books in physical anthropology was created in
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS 219 his honor by the Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association. Almost until the end he was as mentally sharp and perceptive as ever. Barely two years ago Dan Lieberman and one of us (D.P.) visited him in Kittery Point to show him the unpublished reconstruction of the Sahelanthropus cranium, and Billâs comments showed that he was even then at the top of his game; he kept up with an eclectic litera- ture practically until his death. For his beloved Peabody Museum he and his wife en- dowed the Howells Directorship in 1998. In 2002 Muriel Howells died, after 73 years of marriage. A daughter, Gurdon Metz; a son, William Dean Howells; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren survive him. He was truly a man of many excellent parts, and he will be long and fondly remembered.
220 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS REFERENCES Coon, C. S. 1962. The Races of Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Coon, C. S. 1965. The Living Races of Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Crichton, M. 1976. The measure of a man: William White Howells. In The Measures of Man: Methodologies in Biological Anthro- pology, eds. E. Giles and J. S. Friedlaender, p. xxi-xxviii. Cam- bridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum Press. Dixon, R. B. 1923. The Racial History of Man. New York: Scribnerâs. Friedlaender, J. S., ed. (with the assistance of W. W. Howells and J. G. Rhoads). 1987. The Solomon Islands Project. A Long Term Study of Health, Human Biology, and Culture Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Giles, E., and J. S. Friedlaender, eds. 1976. The Measures of Man: Methodologies in Biological Anthropology. Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum Press. Howells W W, and H. Hotelling H. 1936. Measurements and corre- lations on pelves of Indians of the Southwest. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 21: 91-106. Livingstone, F. 1962. On the non-existence of human races. Curr. Anthropol. 3: 279-281. Shapiro, H. 1976. The measure of a man: William White Howells. In The Measures of Man: Methodologies in Biological Anthro- pology, eds. E. Giles and J. S. Friedlaender, p. xv-xvi. Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum Press. Stark, G., and E. C. Rayne. 1998. El Delirio. The Santa Fe World of Elizabeth White. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS 221 SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 1934 The Peopling of Melanesia as Indicated by Cranial Evidence from the Bismarck Archipelago. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of An- thropology, Harvard University. 1944 Mankind So Far. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1948 The Heathens. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1950 Concluding remarks of the chairman. Origin and evolution of man. Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology XV:79-86. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: The Biological Laboratory. 1954 Back of History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1959 Mankind in the Making. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1973  Cranial Variation in Man: A Study by Multivariate Analysis of Patterns of Difference among Recent Human Populations. Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 67. Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum.  The Pacific Islanders. New York: Scribnerâs.  Evolution of the Genus Homo. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley. 1989 Skull Shapes and the Map: Craniometric Analyses of the Dispersion of Modern Homo. Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 79. Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum.
222 BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIRS 1992 Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 21:1-17. 1993 Getting Here. The Story of Human Evolution. Washington, D.C.: Compass Press. 1995 Whoâs Who in Skulls: Ethnic Identification of Crania from Measure- ments. Peabody Museum Papers, vol. 82, Cambridge, Mass.: Peabody Museum. 1997 Getting Here. The Story of Human Evolution, new ed. Washington, D.C.: Compass Press.
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS 223