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Hooton, Earnest A.

Hooton, Earnest A.



From 1913 until he died in 1954, Earnest Albert Hooton taught anthropology at Harvard. Born in Clemansville, Wisconsin, in 1887, he lived in a succession of small towns in the state, moving from one to another as his father, a Methodist minister, received calls from various churches. His mother, of Scottish origin, remained in his memory as the decisive influence on his childhood.

An unathletic and bookish boy, young Hooton won distinction in school and was class valedictorian at the age of 15, when he graduated from the Manitowoc High School. He was already an instructor in anthropology at Harvard when he married Mary Camp in 1915.

Hooton was trained initially as a classicist at Lawrence College (b.a., 1907) and the University of Wisconsin (m.a., 1908; ph.d., 1911). While a graduate student he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and spent three years at New College, Oxford. He was strongly influenced by the Oxford anthropologists, particularly R. R. Marett, whom he greatly admired; and it was probably an interlude of study with Sir Arthur Keith, the distinguished British anatomist and student of human evolution, that bent his general interest in anthropology to a special concern with its physical or biological aspect.

Although Hooton never altogether lost his interest in cultural anthropology and for many years taught courses on European prehistory and African ethnology, he did become more and more involved with the problems presented by physical anthropology, the field with which his name is now principally associated.

He was perhaps the first in the United States to offer a systematic coverage of physical anthropology. During his lifetime Hooton’s laboratory became the principal center in the United States for training specialists in physical anthropology, and as a result his students were established widely throughout the nation and even abroad. His success as a university lecturer, however, extended far beyond the corps of graduate students who worked closely with him. He possessed a witty, informal style that was extremely attractive and that drew large numbers of undergraduates and others to his courses.

Although it was Hooton’s influence as a teacher that was especially noteworthy, it was his scientific and popular writing that made him known to a much wider circle than his professional activity alone could reach. His pungent and graceful style was notably successful in Up From the Ape (1931), in which he covered the traditional themes of physical anthropology: human evolution and the development of racial differentiation. In a similar vein he produced Man’s Poor Relations (1942), which deals with the primate relatives of man; as well as Apes, Men, and Morons (1937), Twilight of Man (1939a), and Why Men Behave Like Apes, and Vice Versa (1940). In “Young Man, You Are Normal” (1945) he concerned himself with the dysgenic effects of modern society and the relationship between body build and behavior. These books were written for the general reader and were widely distributed. They did much to introduce the subject matter of physical anthropology to a public unfamiliar with it. But because they were solidly written, several of them were quickly adopted as standard textbooks; Up From the Ape, for example, went into a number of editions.

Hooton’s scientific writing embraced a wide variety of topics. He wrote on human evolution, developing among other ideas a concept of asymmetry in the morphological evolution of man. Originally intended to account for the discrepancies in that now discredited fossil, the Piltdown skull, the principle of asymmetrical evolution has proven valid and useful. Instead of the widely held belief of that time that all segments of the body had evolved pari passu, Hooton envisioned an evolutionary process capable of producing apparent disharmonies by affecting one part more than another. This implied that the adaptive process is selective rather than necessarily general and total. He was a frequent contributor to discussions on the evolution of human dentition, a subject on which he also lectured at the Harvard Dental School.

The classification of human populations and their description was one of Hooton’s abiding interests. Much of his work reveals a persistent concern with typology, exploring and refining the methods of analysis as well as the correlates of type. In his first major study, The Ancient Inhabitants of the Canary Islands, published in 1925, he had already come to grips with the problem. Influenced by Goring’s applications of statistics to the analysis of a sampling of English convicts (1913) and by the voluminous contributions of Pearson to anthropometric data, he enthusiastically adapted these new mathematical tools to a relatively large series of prehistoric Guanche craniums and skeletons. By these statistical procedures he succeeded in identifying a number of coexistent physical types that he then attempted to derive from vari ous related population groups in north Africa. On the basis of such type analyses and supported by archeological evidence he reconstructed a population history of the Canary Islands.

A similar orientation is clearly discernible in The Indians of Pecos Pueblo (1930) where, applying similar but more detailed methods of type analysis, he recognized a variety of distinct racial or subracial groups. Based on this typology, which was derived from the study of an Indian population in the Southwest, he reconstructed a tentative aboriginal history of the New World.

His interest in body build led him into the field of applied anthropology, in which he was a pioneer. He published studies on body build for use in designing furniture, and he carried out investigations for the government on other parameters of body build that were intended for guidance in selecting personnel for specialized functions. Later this interest was to involve him in problems of the association of body build with variations in behavior.

The attempt to isolate the various physical types in a random sample of a population was not original with Hooton. His colleague Dixon had embarked on a similar survey, and others had tried the same thing. But Hooton’s distinction in this type of research was his far greater sophistication in statistical methods and his use of subjective sortings that were subsequently validated by mathe matical tests. Type analysis, however, has not been very fruitful, since it assumes gene behavior that modern genetics does not support. In other words, type analysis implies that the various strains that compose a population somehow survive intact in the mixture of a breeding population; it does not take into account that some of the types denned may be artifacts of the mixture itself rather than survivals of original components.

For the remainder of his research career Hooton was primarily concerned with studies on living populations. During the 1930s he was mainly engaged in a very largescale survey of the criminal population of the United States. In this study he sought to apply to a major social problem any in sights to be derived from a racial and constitutional approach. But unlike the earlier researchers, he was primarily seeking to determine if relationships existed between body type and behavior, and, in this case, if criminal behavior or any of its varie ties was linked with racial or physical criteria. His conclusion that such correlations did in fact exist recalled the work of Cesare Lombroso in the nineteenth century, which had long been repudiated. Hooton’s investigations, however, were far more sophisticated and were free of the gross errors that had marred Lombroso’s work. The reception of Hooton’s results, published in The American Criminal (1939b) and in Crime and the Man (1939c), was negative on the whole. Some critics, in fact, were extremely harsh, attacking him primarily from the conviction that social behavior is determined more significantly by environmental factors than by biological ones. Nevertheless, when re-examined, his results cannot be summarily dismissed on such theoretical grounds. The questions raised by this monumental study have yet to be resolved, and Hooton’s service in bringing them forward has not been fully appreciated.

His last researches were a natural outgrowth of the study of body build and crime, for he now turned to a broader application of these same theoretical principles. Using the principle of somatotype he investigated the association of varieties of temperament and behavior with body build in a carefully selected sample of Harvard students. He also followed the same procedures in analyzing large bodies of data derived from military sources. Much of this work has never been published.

Hooton was notable for his warmth and his ready responsiveness to people, his humor, and his acute perception. Among his other gifts he had a remarkable flair for light verse.

Harry L. Shapiro

[For the historical context of Hooton’s work, seePhysical Anthropologyand the biographies ofDixon; HrdliČcka; Marett.]


1925 The Ancient Inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Harvard African Studies, Vol. 7. Cambridge, Mass.: Pea-body Museum.

1930 The Indians of Pecos Pueblo: A Study of Their Skeletal Remains. Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., Papers of the Southwestern Expedition, No. 4. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

(1931) 1947 Up From the Ape. Rev. ed. New York: Mac-millan.

1937 Apes, Men, and Morons. New York: Putnam.

1939a Twilight of Man. New York: Putnam.

1939b The American Criminal: An Anthropological Study. Volume 1: The Native White Criminal of Native Parentage. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → No other volumes were published.

1939c Crime and the Man. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

1940 Why Men Behave Like Apes, and Vice Versa: Or, Body and Behavior. Princeton Univ. Press.

1942 Man’s Poor Relations. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

1945 “Young Man, You Are Normal”: Findings From a Study of Students. New York: Putnam.


Goring, Charles B. 1913 The English Convict: A Statistical Study. London: H.M. Stationery Office.

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