Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872-1924)

A “Field Ethnologist” and his Contacts with Brazilian Intellectuals

  • Erik Petschelies Universidade Estadual de Campinas


The German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872-1924) became one of the world’s leading Americanists of his era after having successfully concluded two expeditions to Amazonia. Between 1903 and 1905 he studied indigenous peoples inhabiting the regions of the rivers Rio Negro, Vaupés, and Japurá in northwestern Brazil; between 1911 and 1913 he traveled through northern Brazil and Venezuela investigating local Amerindian communities. He contacted dozens of indigenous peoples, studied their mythology, material culture, and languages. Koch-Grünberg maintained a scientific correspondence with some of the best-informed anthropologists of his time, including Adolf Bastian, Franz Boas, Arnold van Gennep and Paul Rivet. He also exchanged letters with Brazilian colleagues such as João Capistrano de Abreu (1853-1927), Teodoro Sampaio (1855-1937), and Affonso d’Escragnolle Taunay (1876-1958). Through an analysis of primary sources – the correspondence held at the Theodor Koch-Grünberg Archive of the Philipps-Universität Marburg in Germany – this article aims at contributing both to the history of Brazilian social thought and the history of German ethnology by contextualizing these relations within the broader context of social exchanges. Therefore, the history of anthropology should be written in the same way as Koch-Grünberg imagined ethnology: as an international science, based on humanistic principles and grounded on social relations.


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Petschelies, Erik. 2019. Theodor Koch-Grünberg (1872-1924). Revista De Antropologia 62 (1), 192-211.
Special Issue - German-Speaking Anthropologists in Latin-America, 1884-1945