Johannes Nicolaisen

Home Archives & Manuscripts Obituaries Johannes Nicolaisen

On 2 February 1980, Danish anthropology lost its first and only professor. He was 58 years old.

Nicolaisen was first educated in the cultural-historical tradition in Denmark under Kai Birket-Smith and afterwards in the tradition of social anthropology in Britain under Daryll Forde at University College, London. He especially attached himself to this latter tradition which he defended, unimpressed by the alternating dominant anthropological schools. But at the same time he did not deny his Danish anthropological tradition, as he was convinced that a historical perspective did not exclude a functionalist conception of society.

Nicolaisen collected his most extensive field material among the Tuaregs in the period 1947-1963, and on the basis of this material he wrote his doctoral dissertation, ‘Ecology and Culture of the Pastoral Tuareg, with Particular Reference to the Tuareg of Ahaggar and Ayr’ (1963). For the next 17 years the study of hunting peoples became his passion. He collected an extensive field material from Tchad, from the Negritos of the Philippines, and from the Penan of Borneo. He was convinced that the experience of the individual scholar ought to be as varied as possible to furnish the best background for a comparative analysis.

Nicolaisen received his doctorate in 1963 and was appointed professor at the newly established Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen in 1964. With the .establish-ment of this professorship Johannes Nicolaisen succeeded in getting anthro-pology recognized as an independent discipline and study at the University.

Beside his post at the University Professor Nicolaisen was chairman of the Danish Ethnographical Association and co-editor of its periodical FOLK, where he published the main part of his writings. Professor Nicolaisen also wrote a number of popular but excellent books on anthropology and its history.

Professor Nicolaisen was to his death a dynamic defender of the view that field-work is the main core of the anthropological discipline. He devoted much time and effort to the securing of funds which enabled him to send as many of his students as possible on fieldwork — irrespective of their theoretical persuasion.

Beth Elverdam, Søren Lund

This obituary first appeared as: Elverdam, Beth and Lund, Søren. 1980. ‘Obituary’. RAIN, No. 38, p. 10 Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

ELVERDAM, BETH and LUND, SØREN. 1980. ‘Obituary’. RAIN, No. 38, p. 10 (available on-line:


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