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Stanley A. Freed was born in Springfield, Ohio. He studied at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1957. After serving as a visiting staff member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Stan joined the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History in 1960. Building upon his doctoral fieldwork among the Washoe tribe of Lake Tahoe, the Mohave, and the Navajo, he served as Curator of North American Ethnology until 1999.
During his stint as Chair of the Department of Anthropology (1970–1976), Stan personally reconfigured the look of Anthropology at AMNH. He curated four permanent exhibition halls and several temporary exhibitions. He contributed significantly to the scholarly literature regarding anthropological museums (particularly in the publication Curator) and was a frequent contributor to the Anthropological Papers of the AMNH. Many of these publications presented findings from his nearly two years of fieldwork in rural India with his late wife, Dr. Ruth S. Freed.
Stan was a beloved Museum treasure, and his door was always open. He generously advised colleagues and students alike with his awesome experience in North American ethnological collections, their history, and where to find high-quality research materials.
Stan spent his post-retirement as a still-welcome colleague, devoting seven of these years to meticulous research developing his epic two-volume Anthropology Unmasked: Museums, Science, and Politics in New York City - a lavishly illustrated, comprehensive history of Anthropology at AMNH. Stan’s concluding words in this remarkable 1023-page, often-personal narrative could well serve as a touchstone for the Museum’s 150th birthday:
"When I began this account, I was somewhat defensive, believing I had to shield museums from the attacks launched at them from many directions, especially from university-based anthropologists who often regard them as backwaters. I no longer believe that such a defense is necessary. By combining serious scholarship with compelling exhibitions, museums make even complex subject matter available to a wide audience, and their standard of learning and presentation gives them a unique position as emblems of cultural achievement. A great museum …. is a hallmark of civilization."