Seligman, Charles Gabriel

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SELIGMAN, CHARLES GABRIEL (1873–1940), British physician and anthropologist. Born in London and educated at St. Paul's school, Seligman trained as a physician oriented to medical research. He became professionally interested in anthropology as a result of his participation as a medical researcher in the Cambridge Torres Straits Expedition. In 1903 he persuaded Major Cooke Daniels, a wealthy American, to finance an expedition to New Guinea. This research culminated in his work The Melanesians of British New Guinea (1910). Seligman served as lecturer and subsequently as professor, holding the first chair of anthropology established at the University of London. His wife, brenda zara salaman seligman (1883–1965), became his professional collaborator and was also an important anthropologist. Together the Seligmans undertook a number of other expeditions, to Ceylon to study the Veddahs and to the Sudan. In between the field sorties, Seligman continued his research in pathology; he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and a member of the Royal Society. During World War i he served as a medical officer and worked in a psychoneurotic hospital where he saw the clinical value of Freudian psychoanalysis, which he later applied to anthropology. In his fieldwork Seligman regarded himself as a natural historian of ethnology, studying living societies with scientific detachment. He rejected the extreme diffusionist theories and investigated carefully the diffusion and transmission of culture traits. Seligman's research prepared the way for Bronislaw Malinowski's fieldwork in Melanesia.


E.E. Evans-Pritchard et al. (eds.), Essays presented to C.G. Seligman (1934), 381–5. add. bibliography: odnb online.

[Ephraim Fischoff]