This group is dedicated to the life and work of Edward H. Spicer- one of the founders of SfAA who paved the way for the growth and recognition of applied anthropology

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My grandfather's bio

Here's what I've found as a pretty good overview of his life and work:


Despite the heavy load of teaching, research, and service to the profession that kept him busy during the 1950s, Ned, at the end of the decade, yielded to the entreaties of his colleagues and accepted responsibility for editing the American Anthropologist. During the three years he was engaged at this work, he somehow managed to finish his writing for Perspectives and also to complete the manuscript for a gigantic tome that the University of Arizona Press published in 1962 as Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533-1960. This volume, running to nearly 600 pages, was highly lauded by both anthropologists and historians and has since attained the status of an ethnohistorical masterpiece. With support from his second Guggenheim award, Ned began work on Cycles in 1955 while living in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Following his service as editor of the American Anthropologist, Ned took sabbatical leave in the fall of 1963. A National Science Foundation senior fellowship enabled him to do a comparative study of programs for Indian betterment in Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador. He returned from Latin America in 1964 and shortly thereafter turned down the opportunity to become a nominee for the presidency of the American Anthropological Association.

Spicer continued to do research and to write after concluding his sabbatical, but in the late 1960s he gave extra attention to teaching, which he always considered one of his most important and beloved responsibilities. He and a colleague from the sociology department expanded a seminar in community development they had organized, and both designed and implemented short training programs for Vista workers and others engaged in similar work. In 1968 Spicer accepted an invitation from William S. King, an official of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and former student of his, to help plan, and take part in, a series of regional community development seminars for BIA personnel.

During his extensive studies of culture contact and change, Spicer became fascinated with the abilities of particular ethnic groups, such as the Yaqui, to retain separate identities within the nation-states of which they formed a part. In 1969 he obtained a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to visit Europe, where he might investigate firsthand such groups as the Basques, Catalans, Irish, and Welsh, who he felt shared with the Yaquis this quality of endurance. In the summer of 1970 he and Roz began their travels and remained away from Tucson for a full year. Not long after they returned, Ned published a short article in Science titled "Persistent Cultural Systems." Despite its brevity, the article attracted international attention and helped stimulate a new research interest in the social sciences.

Ned was already past normal retirement age when he returned from Europe, but he had two major writing projects he hoped to finish during the years that remained to him. One, already begun, was a lengthy manuscript on Yaqui culture that incorporated many of the ideas and research techniques he felt most important. The other was a book on "enduring peoples" throughout the world. He lived to complete the first of these objectives but not the second.

In 1972 Ned returned to the board of the American Anthropological Association as president-elect. Shortly afterward, he learned that he was suffering from cancer of the lower jaw, a condition similar to that which had cost the life of his father. Doctors began radiotherapy treatments and for the next several years would continue their attempts to control the disease in this fashion. Spicer went on working as before and in the fall of 1973 took office as president of the American Anthropological Association. He spent much of the next year assisting the program chairman with arrangements for the group's annual meeting in Mexico City; and he invited his old friend, historian Miguel León-Portilla, to give a major address at that event.

Shortly before Ned stepped down from the presidency of the American Anthropological Association in the fall of 1974, he was honored with membership in the American Philosophical Society and received similar acclaim from the National Academy of Sciences the following year. Despite his cancer, he continued to teach and to advise students, as well as to work on his Yaqui manuscript. He also was deeply committed to several community projects involving the Tucson Yaquis and his beloved Fort Lowell neighborhood.

The Society for Applied Anthropology voted Spicer its coveted Bronislaw Malinowsky Award in 1976. Over the years he seized many opportunities to apply his anthropological knowledge to designing, administering, and assessing government programs for improving the lives of people. In addition to his work with the War Relocation Authority, the Cornell and Indian Affairs seminars, and his evaluations of Indian programs in Central and South America, Spicer assisted the Stanford Research Institute with preparing an inventory of resources on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, took part in a national study of Indian education, and advised the Yaquis on public housing. He often reminded his students that anthropologists had much to contribute to administration and encouraged them to seek employment outside the academic setting.

In 1978, after completing his Yaqui manuscript, Spicer retired from the University of Arizona, where he enjoyed a joint appointment in anthropology and sociology and at one time also directed the Bureau of Ethnic Research. During his final year on campus, the Arizona chapter of Phi Beta Kappa elected him to membership. He had belonged to Sigma Xi, the national science fraternity, since his Chicago days.

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  • Nice to read comments about my friend. I don't know how many joint articles Ned did, but I had a wonderful time writing with him on the small outside table in his patio.  Roz and Ned were so nice to my young bride...recalling how they lived in her native Oaxaca when writing Cycles of Conquest. 

  • What is the Spicer Legacy?

    This raises the bigger question -- what is a legacy?

    In Edward Spicer's case, it was a combination of students trained with his unique perspective of anthropology as both a science in the pursuit of knowledge about the human condition and a body of knowledge about that condition that could and should be used to bring about a better world.

    Second is his body of work, the depth of which has just been scratched. That body of work is to be found first in Spicer's bibliography starting on p.342 and ending on p.350 of James Officer's Memoir of Edward E. Spicer published in the National Academy of Sciences  Biographical Memoirs V.68 (1995) and second his papers located in the Edward H. and Rosamond B. Spicer Archive at the Arizona State Museum Library. It is from these resources that the legacy resides to be picked up and carried forward by all who hold these values.

  • Thoughts on the Legacy

    By Barry Bainton

    Ned Spicer was invited to participate in a symposium, organized by Thomas Weaver of the University of Arizona, entitled  "Anthropology in the 1990's: Conditions, Needs, and Prospects." The symposium was held in conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in San Francisco in the winter of 1974. The subheading of the symposium was, "Suppose They Began the Twenty-First Century and Forgot to Invite Anthropology!!!"

    Ned presented his paper entitled, "Anthropology in the society of the 1990s", on February 28, 1974.

    Twenty years later, in 1994, the paper was republished in Human Organization with a forward by his widow, Rosamond Spicer, under the title, "Reassessing Edward Spicer's Views on Anthropology in the Society of the 1990s: How and Why This Paper by Edward H. Spicer Was Written" (Spicer, Rosamond 1994 Human Organization, Vol. 53. No. 4, pp. 388 - 395). From her forward, we can gain an insight into Ned's thinking and approach to the future.

    Rosamond observed that

    "In preparing this paper on the future of cultural anthropology, Ned apparently gave it a great deal of thought. As was his habit, he wrote down voluminous notes and lists of ideas. He also made a number of starts, each different from the last.”

    “At one point he wrote, 'I react strongly against nineteenth century economic-determinism, that technology and physical environmental conditions are the essential factors to consider in forecasting. I rather look to the future in terms of the adaptation of social structures and cultural orientations to one another in the context of the influence of firm cultural products. I shall therefore take off from consideration of the probable alternative trends which we may expect in the form and functions of societal structures and cultural value orientations.'  “

    “Such a point of view was always the basis of his thinking and writing." (p. 388)

    In describing Ned, Rosamond says,

    "His interests, reading, and studies ranged through drama, literature, economics, city planning, philosophy, history, poetry, the environment, and all the fields of anthropology. All of this vast array of information and understanding he brought to bear in some way or another on any project he undertook, on any subject on which he wrote.”

    “Perhaps one of his outstanding characteristics was his ability to synthesize, as was so evident in his Cycles of Conquest. I have long thought that the practice of that art of synthesis was connected with another, the appreciation and writing of poetry. I mention all these aspects of Ned because they seem to be contained in the following paper." (p.388).


    It was his global interests and ability to synthesize vast amounts of material that I remember from my first graduate classes with Ned.  I was drawn to his Community Development Seminar where  he challenged us to look at the problem at hand from multiple points of view. He asked us, “What are the “felt needs” of the various parties in this change situation?” He encouraged us to seek a synthesis of these views as a way toward understanding the issues and their complexities. As community developers, he taught us that our job was to help the parties to synthesize their shared interests. Our job was to facilitate, not impose, problem resolution.

    Ned was a humanist who understood and taught the connection between a people’s past, present and how these shaped their future. In his paper on the February day in 1974, he outlined 5 trends in the social and cultural environment that he felt would shape the next 20 years for anthropology.

    The five trends that Ned chose to characterize the society he envisioned for the 1990s were the following:

    (1) increasing intercommunication among the peoples of the world;

    (2) increasing occupational specialization with accompanying organic differentiation within societies;

    (3) increasing failure of technological solutions for the resolution of human problems in acceptable ways;

    (4) increasing assertion and self-expression of ethnic groups within nation-states; and

    (5) increasing reaction against centralization in political and administrative structures.

    He stated "In general, continuation of these trends will, I believe, result in a society more heterogeneous than it was in the 19th or any previous century, more aware of its heterogeneity, with stronger than ever tendencies to compartmentalization, with increased awareness of and interest in non-technological and non-economic factors affecting human life, and with a growing tendency to view the nation-state in a wholly new light, especially with reference to its ethnic components and its political and administrative units." (p. 389)

    Now nearly 40 years later, it might be worth considering just how prescient Ned’s predictions were for the 1990s and for the 21st Century.

    Was he right?  Partially right? Or, Did he miss the mark?

    What are your thoughts? 

  • More info about when Dr. Spicer's career took off (so as not to make the above too long):

    For Ned Spicer the 1950s proved to be one of the busiest and most satisfying decades of his life. Not only did he carry forward his involvement with applied anthropology, he also pursued an interest in culture change that in the early 1960s yielded significant contributions to acculturation theory. Additionally, he completed research for a major book concerned with the impact of European civilization on the Indian population of northwest Mexico and the southwestern part of the United States. He also expanded his professional relationships through service from 1951 through 1953 on the Board of Directors of the American Anthropological Association.

    At the beginning of the decade, Spicer accepted an invitation from Alexander Leighton to work with John J. Adair of Cornell University in organizing and conducting summer seminars for administrators of overseas agricultural and social science programs, as well as Cornell graduate students in anthropology. The seminars exposed students to the cultures of Indian and Hispanic communities in northern Arizona and New Mexico. Funding for the program came from the Carnegie Corporation.

    At Leighton's suggestion, Spicer edited a casebook for use by faculty members and students of the seminar. The Russell Sage Foundation sponsored publication of the casebook under the title Human Problems in Technological Change. It came out in 1952, the same year the last Spicer child, Lawson Alan, was born. By the mid-1960s Human Problems would become a standard text for Peace Corps and Vista volunteers, as well as others working in domestic and international community development programs.

    Although Spicer had been interested in culture history and the processes of social and cultural change while doing research in archeology, Human Problems was the first publication after his conversion to social anthropology wherein he gave significant attention to such subjects. In 1941 in a complimentary review of Pascua: A Yaqui Village in Arizona prepared for the American Anthropologist, Ralph L. Beals chided Ned for not doing more historical and comparative research that might have strengthened the study and spared the author certain errors. Whether Beals's criticism had anything to do with a shift in Spicer's orientation will never be known, but after Ned's return to academic life in 1946 his research always included an important historical dimension.

    Well before the beginning of World War II, anthropologists had become interested in learning more about social and cultural change. Ralph Linton's 1940 work titled Acculturation in Seven American Indian Tribes gave added stimulus to this research trend. Following a 1953 summer seminar on acculturation, Spicer and several colleagues decided to organize an additional conference on this theme with the aim of designing a research project to explore in greater depth the theoretical and practical aspects of culture change.

    The second acculturation seminar, sponsored by the Social Science Research Council, took place on the campus of the University of New Mexico in the summer of 1956. Spicer and five colleagues agreed on a format for a joint study that would describe culture change in six Indian tribes, identify periods when particular change factors prevailed, and characterize the strategies employed by the agents of change as well as those used by tribes in responding to change. From this collaboration came the book Perspectives in American Indian Culture Change, published in 1961.

    Spicer provided the introduction to Perspectives as well as a section on Yaqui culture and a final chapter titled "Types of Contact and Processes of Change." Harvard anthropologist Evon Z. Vogt--one of Spicer's associates in preparing the book--commented later that Ned made two important contributions to acculturation theory in Perspectives and his later writings. One was to sharpen the concepts of directed and nondirected culture change, and the other was to focus attention on the social structure of the "contact community" as a major acculturation determinant.

    While engaged in research for Perspectives, Spicer continued to collect material for a book he had started on the comparative effects of Spanish, Mexican, and American rule on the Indian cultures of Arizona, New Mexico, and the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua, a region he referred to as the Southwest. His ideas for this volume, as well as the theoretical aspects of Perspectives, provided exciting material for discussion among the graduate students who attended Ned's seminars on culture change, some of which he held in his home.
  • Edward H. and Rosamond B. Spicer Travel Award

    The Spicer Student Travel Fund Awards commemorate the lifelong and very special concern of Edward H. and Rosamond B. Spicer in furthering the maturation of students in the social sciences, both intellectually and practically, and their lifelong interest in the nature of community as both cause of, and solution to, problems in the human condition. Two awards of $500 each are available to students who meet the eligibility qualifications.
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