In Memoriam: Robert J. Smith

October 12, 2016

The Department of Anthropology was saddened to learn of the passing of Robert J. Smith.  

Our colleague, Robert J. Smith, Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, passed away last night.  

Bob began his career as an anthropologist in 1949 when he joined one of the first cohorts to enroll in what was then Cornell's Department of Anthropology and Sociology.  He completed his Ph.D. in 1955 and joined the department as an Instructor.  In 1955, he was appointed Assistant Professor and became involved in the department’s applied anthropology initiatives in Thailand, Peru, and India.  He became chair of the independent Department of Anthropology in 1967 and served for almost nine years. 

Bob was an expert in the sociocultural anthropology of Japan.  Over his career he authored or edited over a dozen books including Ancetstor Worship in Japan and Kurusu: The Price of Progress in a Japanese Village.  In recognition of his scholarly accomplishments, he was named the Goldwin Smith Professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies in 1974.  And in 1993, he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government in recognition of his distinguished career.  He retired from Cornell in 1997.

In a 1997 letter forwarding Bob's nomination to the status of Professor Emeritus, Prof. Steve Sangren wrote this about his colleague: “Beyond his many contributions to the larger fields of anthropology and Asian Studies, we at Cornell have always known Bob Smith as a hardworking, judicious colleague, deeply committed to anthropology and Japanese studies. He continues to be an imaginative and innovative scholar, a fluent and perceptive writer, and an active presence in the national and international academic scene.”

We send our condolences to his family and loved ones.


Robert J. Smith