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Nadel, Siegfried Frederick (1903–1956)

by John Derek Freeman

Siegfried Frederick Stephen Nadel, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, and Dean of the School of Pacific Studies, died suddenly at his home on January 14th, 1956. His death is a tragic loss for a young University to which he devoted his great scholarship and his inexhaustible enthusiasm and energy for the last six years of his outstandingly fruitful life. His colleagues and students throughout the world will mourn the passing of so eminent a man, while those who worked with him in this University, and those others in Canberra to whom he gave his friendship, will know a deep and abiding sorrow. They will miss sorely the inspiration, the leadership and the deep understanding he gave in all matters of scholarship and culture. His wife was his colleague in all his ventures and to her, and to their daughter, they give their deep sympathy.

Dr. Freeman, Senior Fellow in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, has prepared the following biographical note.

Professor Nadel was born in Austria in 1903. He was one of the greatest figures of contemporary British social anthropology: a profound and incisive thinker, he has had a decisive influence on the subject to which he devoted his exceptional talents. He held doctorates both in psychology (from Vienna) and anthropology (from London), and in his writings he ranged widely over the whole field of social anthropology. After training under Bronsilaw Malinowski he undertook his first anthropological fieldwork during the years 1934-37 in the Nupe Kingdom of Nigeria. From this research came two outstanding books: A Black Byzantium, (1942) and Nupe Religion, (1954). Later as Government Anthropologist in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, he carried out prolonged researches among the remote tribes of the Nuba Mountains and among the Beni Amer, on the border of Eritrea and the Sudan, and in the highlands of Ethiopia. His book The Nuba, (1947) is a brilliant comparative study of no fewer than ten different hill peoples. During the war, as a member of the British Army, he fought in the campaign in Eritrea and, later with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel he served in the British Military Government of Eritrea and Tripolitania both as Political Officer and Secretary for Native Affairs. In 1946 he was awarded the Wellcome Medal for his anthropological writings based on his war-time experiences and four years later he received the high honour of the Rivers Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute for his field researches in Nigeria and the Sudan.

After the war, Dr. Nadel returned to England. He was Senior Lecturer in the University of London and then Reader in Anthropology at the University of Durham; and wrote on the long and fruitful years he had spent working among African peoples.

Soon after this he was invited to occupy the first Chair of Anthropology at the Australian National University; he arrived in Canberra in January, 1951. That same year perhaps his most important work, The Foundations of Social Anthropology was published. This highly significant book holds a unique place in the literature of Social Anthropology; with it, as many have said, Social Anthropology came of age as a science. Only a week before his death a second book on the theory of Social structure was completed and it is likely that this will prove equally significant in its own way.

After coming to Canberra, Professor Nadel received many invitations to visit and lecture at other Universities and travelled widely. In 1952 he played a leading role in the International Symposium on Anthropology of the Wenner-Gren Foundation, New York; in 1953 he represented his University at the Eighth Pacific Congress in Manila and later was consultant to a conference on the teaching of the Social Sciences in Southeast Asia held in Delhi.

Original publication

Citation details

John Derek Freeman, 'Nadel, Siegfried Frederick (1903–1956)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/nadel-siegfried-frederick-762/text763, accessed 21 September 2017.

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