"Us, Not Fiji"
Earnest A. Hooton, the University's late professor of Physical Anthropology, once displayed his academic prowess by swinging into a lecture on a rope. William W. Howells, who filled the late master's professorship here in July, once captivated Wisconsin students with a portrayal of a rampant gibbon. In addition to equalling Hooton's capacity for charades, Howells also appears to have the brilliance of his predecessor.
He has, for example, been president of the American Anthropological Society, and editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. But he is not the dull academic he claims to be. His book, Mankind So Far, which deals with such a complex topic as human evolution, is so lucid and light that it has sold over 20,000 copies. This sale is a incase for a scientific none that Doubleday was also happy to snap up his two subsequent books, The Heathen, a study of primitive religious, and Back of History, the history of humans, published this year.
This case and simplicity of explanation extends to Howells' lectures, but they will be available only to concentrators since the new professor hasn't time to teach more than Advanced Physical Anthropology this year. By next fall, however, he hopes to have mastered the routine of his position, and will take on the basic course in the field, Anthropology 1, thereby completely filling Hooton's post. Howells has followed Hooton before. Hooton's influence over him, as well as the other present members of the anthropology department, brought him to follow the late professor to a find in Ireland at Galen Priory, an old monastery, where the buried monks "were packed in like sardines."
Howells had gone to San Ildefonso and Cochiti Pueblo in New Mexico two years earlier, while working for his doctorate at the University. "I examined the Indians, and found they are just like other Indians. No, there's not excitement in my life," he continues modestly, "just field trips to Wisconsin and back. I'm interested in us, not Fiji."
He went to Wisconsin to pursue this object via the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he was a research associate from 1932 to 1943. A lectureship at Hunter College was insufficient; he wanted to teach at a university. There was an opening at Wisconsin, and through it, he rose to a full professorship and the chairmanship of his department. He was also a professor of Integrated Liberal Studies, Wisconsin's optional version of General Education, before he was brought here to succeed Hooton.
Howells, grandson of author William Dean Howells and son of architect John Mead Howells, has been in Cambridge before. He received his S.B.degree here in 1930, although he had completed all the requirements for it the year before as a junior. He was actually on leave of absence from the College during his first year of work at the Graduate School. He took his A.M. in '31, his Ph.D. three years later, and the academic bustle hasn't let up yet. His daughter has finished Bryn Mawr; his son, graduated from Harvard last year, and he and his wife, whom he married after his junior year at College, have settled down as Beacon Street Bostonians.
But paper work still covers his desk, and if you drop in to talk to him, he will apologize for his rolled-up shirt sleeves and be most glad to discuss anything but himself through a smile at the corners of his mouth. His appointment to follow Hooton, he says, is the accomplishment of which he is proudest. And while the door of Room 56 in the Peabody Museum still has the late professor's name painted on the glass, a member of the anthropology faculty points out, "Howells is the one unique person who could have stepped in here."