Anthropology appeared for the first time at LSE in 1904 as a course on ethnology, established as part of the School's new sociology degree. According to the LSE calendar for that year, it was aimed particularly at 'Civil Servants destined for the tropical portions of the Empire, and Missionaries'.
In 1910, Charles Seligman was appointed lecturer (later professor) in ethnology. He lobbied to expand anthropology teaching and research and by the early 1920s he had increased the range of courses available. He had also secured a teaching post for his student, Bronislaw Malinowski, who first studied at the School in 1910.
Originally, anthropological study was based on an evolutionary approach in which human evolution and progress were key concepts. It studied anthropology in physical, archaeological, cultural, and linguistic terms.
More than any other single figure, Malinowski developed social anthropology as a modern, fieldwork-based, social science for which functionalism provided a new theoretical foundation. This approach examines social institutions and accounts for the functional role they play in supporting the continuity of society.
Under the leadership of Malinowski, who became the first professor of anthropology in 1927, the School's anthropology department rose to prominence. The 1930s were an immensely productive decade, firmly establishing the department as one of the world's leading anthropology research centres. Malinowski established his famous seminar for research students, who included several of the pre-eminent social anthropologists of the next generation: for example, Raymond Firth, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Hortense Powdermaker, Isaac Schapera, Audrey Richards, S. F. Nadel, Fei Hsiao-t'ung, and Edmund Leach.
Following Malinowski (who died in 1942), Firth took over leadership of the department and, with his colleagues, steadily developed it during the post-war period, so that the range of teaching and research both expanded. Among the numerous PhD students who then studied in the department and later became leading professional anthropologists are Aidan Southall, Adrian Mayer, Ernest Gellner, Jean and John Comaroff, and Alfred Gell. Gell also taught in the department; he and Maurice Bloch, also on the staff, have been two of the most influential figures in modern anthropology.
Today, the LSE's Anthropology Department maintains the international reputation for both high quality teaching and innovative research first established by Malinowski.
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