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COLLECTION Identifier: 995-15

W. W. (William White) Howells papers


This collection consists primarily of anthropometric data/ field sheets and somatotype photographs of a variety of cultures.


  • Creation: 1930-1988

Conditions Governing Access

Restrictions on access and use: Box 6, Somatotype photos of army recruits is restricted.


20 linear feet

The collection consists of 20 boxes of anthropometric data and span many areas of Howells' research. Representative sets of data include: cranial measurements from N. Europe, Central Europe, Egypt, E. Africa, W. Africa, S. Africa, Australia, Tasmania, Melanesia, Polynesia, Siberia, Greenland, S. America, Andanui Islands. There are also anthropometric data sets and photos from two New Mexico pueblos (Cochili & San Ildefonso, 1933)., data and grant records concerning the Hutterites, field sheets from Aita, Nasiol, Kwaio, Otong Java, Ulawa, Liau and Nagovisi. Solomon Islands research is also included.

Biographical Sketch

W.W. Howells was born on 11/27/1908 in New York City. After graduating from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, Howells entered Harvard and majored in anthropology. At Harvard, Howells studied under Roland B. Dixon, Alfred M. Tozzer and Earnest A. Hooton and completed his undergraduate studies in three years, earning his B.A. in 1930. He continued his graduate studies at Harvard and received his PhD under Hooton's direction in 1934.

After graduation, Howells accepted a research associate position at the American Museum of Natural History in 1934 where he conducted his first population study on a large collection of crania from Melanesia. In 1937 Howells joined the anthropology department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison where he further developed his research and statistical analysis skills. While at the University of Wisconsin, Howells began to write for a broad public audience in addition to the scientific community, producing Mankind So Far in 1944. Due to his outreach to larger audience, Howells went on to become the most widely translated of physical anthropologists.

By 1954, Howells had become a leader in the field of anthropology. In 1951 he was elected president of the American Anthropology Association. From 1949-1954, he served as editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and in 1954, he was awarded a Viking Fund Medal. Upon Earnest A. Hooton's sudden death in 1954, Howells was named Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University. He remained on the teaching faculty of Harvard until 1973 and was an extremely popular lecturer.

The research for which Howells is best known is the quantitative assessment of human cranial variation. (see Howell's Cranial Variation in Man: A Study by Multivariate Analysis of Patterns of Difference among Recent Human Populations. Peabody Museum Papers. vol. 67) By establishing population relationships through physical measurement, Howells was influential in freeing physical anthropology from racial typology.

Howells continued his research after retiring from teaching in 1973. He expanded upon his 1973 cranial studies with two additions to the Peabody Press publications in 1989 (Skull Shapes and the Map: Craniometric Analyses of the Dispersion of Modern Homo),and in 1995 (Who's Who in Skulls: Ethnic Identification of Crania from Measurements), published at the age of 87. These data sets were also made available online.

Howells continued to accumulate honors in retirement. In 1978 he received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Anthropological Association, and in 1992, the Charles Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists . In 1993 the William W. Howells Book Prize for general books in physical anthropology was created in his honor by the Biological Anthropology Section of the American Anthropological Association. In 1998 Howells and his wife, Muriel, endowed the Howells Directorship at the Peabody Museum. Howells passed away in Kittery Point, Maine on December 20, 2005 at the age of 97.


  1. Friedlaender, Jonathan, with contributions from David Pilbeam,Daniel Hrdy,Eugene Giles, and RogerGreen. "William White Howells, 1908-2005: A Biographical Memoir." National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. 2007.
  2. McHenry,Henry H. and Eric Delson. "Obituary: William White Howells (1908-2005)" in American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 135:249-251. 2008.
  3. SaraGorecki. "William Howells, 1908-". eMuseum@Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Physical Location

Peabody Museum Archives

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These papers are a gift of W.W. Howells May, 1995

Related Peabody Museum Collections:

  1. Damon, Albert papers, #995-17
  2. Friedlaender,Jonathan Scott. Solomon Island field sheets
  3. Solomon IslandExpedition Records #39-48, #40-12
  4. Hooton, Earnest A.. Research data and papers, #995-1
  5. Hunt, Edward P. Hutterite Study, 1960s.
  6. Oliver, Douglas L. mss. re: Solomon Islands
  7. Sargent, Dudley Allen. Anthropometric data, 1880-1919,

General note

Collections records may contain language, reflecting past collecting practices and methods of analysis, that is no longer acceptable. The Peabody Museum is committed to addressing the problem of offensive and discriminatory language present in its database. Our museum staff are continually updating these records, adding to and improving content. We welcome your feedback and any questions or concerns you may want to share.

Processed by:

Elizabeth Sandager 1994; edited by Patricia H. Kervick, Associate Archivist; 2010.

Howells, W. W. (William White), 1908-2005, Papers: A Finding Aid
Peabody Museum Archives
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Museum Archives Repository

Papers in the Peabody Museum Archives consist of primary source materials that document the Museum’s archaeological and ethnographic research and fieldwork since its founding in 1866. More than 2,800 feet of archival paper collections contain documents, papers, manuscripts, correspondence, data, field notes, maps, plans, and other historical records that represent diverse peoples from around the world, and which were created or collected by the Museum, its individual affiliates, or related entities. The collections also document the history or provenience, as well as the creation of, many of the Museum’s archaeological and ethnographic collections.

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