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Edward H. Winter

Professor, Emeritus

Ph.D. Harvard University 1953


British Social Anthropology; Reading Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, and Meyer Fortes; witchcraft, sorcery, and social context; Africa.

1923 — 1988

Although the occasional anthropologist made his way through the University of Virginia (Eric Wolf wrote his masterpiece Sons of the Shaking Earth while here) the first serious anthropologist to plant himself in the Lawn of Thomas Jefferson’s University was Edward H. Winter. Born in 1923, Winter graduated from Harvard in 1944.  He was a LT(J.g) in the Navy from 1944-1946, serving in the Pacific. Returning to the Social Relations department at Harvard for graduate work he chanced upon a Colonial Social Science Fellowship that brought him to Balliol College Oxford in 1946-47, the London School of Economics and School of Oriental and African Studies in 1949-50, while allowing him to complete his Ph.D. back in Harvard in 1953. He conducted fieldwork among the Amba of Western Uganda, 1950-52 as a Colonial Social Science Research Fellow.  He was a Senior Research Fellow of the East African Institute of Social Research for fieldwork among the Iraqw of northern Tanganyika, 1953-1955. And he conducted fieldwork among Kaguru of central Tanganyika (now Tanzania) on a Ford grant, 1956-1957. He was Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois 1955-1957, Associate Professor there from 1957-59.

In 1959 he moved to University of Virginia where he was chair of Department of Sociology and Anthropology from until 1967. Perhaps the first serious student Winter influenced was Thomas O. Beidelman from his University of Illinois days, and it was through Winter that Beidelman’s work amongst the Kaguru began. Although an American, thanks to Winter, Beidelman has long been associated with the East African anthropology of the likes of Edward E. Evans-Pritchard, John Middleton and Peter Rigby, and he became one of the first Americans to write ethnographic accounts through the lens that the Oxford and Cambridge schools created with Lévi-Strauss’s structuralist infusions; Beidelman remains teaching at NYU.

In the late 1970s the word spread among graduate students and faculty then at U.Va that Edmund Leach realized the brilliance of Winter’s work, especially his Beyond the Mountains of the Moon: The Lives of Four Africans (1959), although, it was said, he told Winter he should have read Lévi-Strauss’s The Elementary Structures of Kinship. Winter’s first Ph.D. student at U.Va was William Arens.  The last East Africanist doctoral student Winter fully trained was Ivan Karp, one of U.Va’s first anthropology Ph.Ds, whose premature death members of the University community were saddened to hear about in the fall of 2011.

By the time the Sociology and Anthropology Department separated into two distinct departments in 1976, Ed Winter had seen his best days. Yet graduate students of that young department had memorable classes with him in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. He contributed much to the training of people like Marc Schloss, Alma Gottlieb, Eric Gable and Charles Piot. Winter conducted sentence-by-sentence readings of the masterpieces of British Social Anthropology from its high water mark in the interwar years to the times of its transformation by the likes of him, Middleton and Beidelman.  Although he cannot be said to be one of the founding members of the current Department’s place in anthropology, he created a body of work and influential students whose marks in the discipline are truly profound.

In addition to Beyond the Mountains of the Moon, Winter published Bwamba: a structural-functional analysis of a patrilineal society (1956) and with John Middleton Witchcraft and Sorcery in East Africa (1963), a book that became a useful contribution in the transformation of witchcraft studies affected by historians subjecting anthropological models to the experiences of witchcraft in the West around the 16th century.



From Alma Gottlieb (Ph.D. 2012)

  • "The Anthropologist as Storyteller," prepared for The Anthropologist as Writer: Training, Practice, Genres, ed. Helena Wulff (under review at University of Chicago Press).

"I . . . encouraged these recently-back-from-the-field students to approach the challenge of completing a dissertation by writing from the heart (Aronie 1998).  As I designed the workshop, the long-ago words of a graduate school professor still resonated with me, over a quarter-century later.  After returning from fifteen months of living in the rain forest of West Africa to conduct my own doctoral research, I had hoped that Ed Winter (a respected East Africanist in his day) might offer helpful recommendations for how to write my dissertation.

“Alma, I just have one bit of advice,” he’d said.  “Don’t look at your fieldnotes.”

“What?”  Surely I’d misunderstood.

“Just write what you remember.  Don’t look at your notes.  You’ll remember the good stuff.  The important stuff.  You can always check your notes later, make sure you got the details right.”

“Hmmm,” I replied, and the senior scholar returned to what he had been doing. 

Fat chance I’ll take that ridiculous advice, I thought, and proceeded to write a dissertation steeped in the details of my thousands of pages of fieldnotes.

It took me nine years to de-dissertation-ize my thesis enough to publish it as a book (Gottlieb 1996/1992).  But by then, I had also begun writing a book of a very different sort—a fieldwork memoir co-authored with my writer-husband, Philip Graham, that took as a starting point the emotional intensity that characterized our stays with the Beng people in Côte d’Ivoire (Gottlieb and Graham 1994).  Over the years, that fieldwork memoir (Parallel Worlds) has sold thousands more copies, and has been taught in hundreds more classrooms, than has my revised dissertation (Under the Kapok Tree), and for good reason.  Composed dutifully while continually consulting my copious fieldnotes, my rewritten dissertation spoke to disciplinary issues but elided emotional ones.  Yet psychologists tell us that we humans live our lives at least as much in our feelings as we do in our thoughts.  Research by psychologists and other human scientists suggests that emotions play a major role in decision-making.  Indeed, when neuroscientist Antonio Damasio studied people who could no longer feel emotions due to brain injuries, he discovered that these individuals had difficulty making decisions about matters ranging from what to eat to where to live, despite being able to articulate rationally the advantages and disadvantages of their options (Damasio 2010).  The best ethnographies, I have come to realize, engage our hearts and minds in equal doses.  In counseling a dissertation strategy that relied (however unconsciously) on this insight, Ed Winter may have had it right."


British Social Anthropology; Reading Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard, and Meyer Fortes; witchcraft, sorcery, and social context; Africa.