Jan. 19, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 10

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    Obituary: Sol Tax, Anthropology

    Sol Tax (Ph.D.'35), an internationally renowned anthropologist, Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of Anthropology and former Dean of the University Extension, died Jan. 4 in Chicago. He was 87.

    Tax organized anthropology as a global discipline and helped establish the field of action anthropology, an approach in which researchers work to help solve social problems. He also was a specialist on Native American cultures.

    In 1957, he founded Current Anthropology, an international journal that publishes research and commentary. He was editor of the journal from 1957 to 1974.

    "More than any other single person, Sol Tax was the facilitator and organizer of anthropology as an international discipline," said George Stocking, the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in Anthropology. "He used Current Anthropology as a means of providing communication worldwide on important issues in anthropology. Particularly in developing countries and in the former Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, Sol Tax was the name people associated with anthropology."

    Throughout his career, Tax was a leader in bringing people together to discuss social and anthropological issues. In 1961, he was coordinator of the American Indian Chicago Conference, which brought 700 Native Americans from more than 80 tribal groups to the University to prepare a "Declaration of Indian Purpose." The declaration sought for the first time to present a unified Native American position on the relation of native people to the federal government.

    In 1968, he organized a conference on the military draft that brought together military leaders and political figures. The conference led to the publication that year of Tax's book The Draft: A Handbook of Facts and Alternatives.

    In 1973, he organized the Ninth International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, "One Species, Many Cultures," which was held in Chicago. More than 1,000 papers were presented at 85 conference sessions. The conference was attended by 4,000 scholars from more than 100 countries.

    Tax's main area of specialization was the social anthropology of North and Middle American Indians. As a researcher in that area, he established the approach known as action anthropology.

    "By definition, action anthropology is an activity in which an anthropologist has two coordinate goals, to neither one of which he will delegate an inferior position," Tax said in a paper he delivered at a meeting of the American Anthropological Association in 1950. "He wants to help a group of people to solve a problem, and he wants to learn something in the process."

    Tax received his Ph.B. in 1931 from the University of Wisconsin and his Ph.D. in 1935 from Chicago. He was an ethnologist for the Carnegie Institution from 1934 to 1946. He also served for much of his career, from 1938 to 1962, as director of the Fox Indian Project in Tama, Iowa.

    Tax joined the University faculty as Research Associate in 1940. He was named Professor in 1948.

    From 1963 to 1968, he served as Dean of the University Extension. As dean, he oversaw the off-campus education programs of the University and also organized conferences, including one held in 1965 on the theme "The Origins of Man." The research presented at that conference added new insights to work that had been presented at a conference Tax organized and was chairman of in 1959 -- the Darwin Centennial Celebration held at the University.

    In addition to being on the faculty at Chicago, Tax served as director of the Smithsonian Institution's Center for the Study of Man. He also served on the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO and on President Johnson's special task force on American Indian Affairs. He was a consultant for the U.S. Office of Education, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Institute of Mental Health and the Smithsonian Institution.

    Tax was widely honored for his work. In 1962, he received the Viking Fund Medal and Award from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research for his outstanding achievements. He was an honorary member of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the Chilean Anthropological Society and the Czechoslovakian Anthropological Society. From 1958 to 1959, he was president of the American Anthropological Association.

    Tax is survived by his wife, Gertrude Katz Tax; daughters Susan Freeman of Chicago and Marianna Choldin of Champaign, Ill.; and three grandchildren.