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Biographical Memoirs: Volume 61
September 18, 1870-August 25, 1947
BY STANLEY A. FREED AND RUTH S. FREED
WISSLER LIVED his professional life when anthropological theory in the United States was dominated by the Boasian paradigm of historical particularism. Franz Boas (1858-1942) was chiefly concerned with studying particular cultures as distinctive units without comparing them. Wissler's theoretical ideas provided a basis for going beyond the bounds of Boasian anthropology and developing a nomothetic approach to ethnological data.
Wissler's major theoretical contributions are: 1) a noteworthy development of the concept of culture; 2) a detailed formulation, in which environmental factors are given prominence, of the nature and meaning of the culture area; 3) the age-area concept as a basis for inferential historical reconstruction; 4) the culture pattern; and 5) the universal pattern of culture, which encompasses ideas about the origin of culture, the psychological nature of mankind, and the relation of psychology and anthropology.
Wissler's contributions to the definition of culture have become standard, if largely unacknowledged. His concept of the culture area as a descriptive and classificatory device has been widely used, and the dynamic aspect of the concept was picked up thirty years later by Kroeber in his