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The Griffin Years: 1944–1975

James B. Griffin

After shepherding the Museum through its first 20 years, Guthe left the University of Michigan in 1944, leaving behind a staff of four: James B. Griffin, curator of archaeology; Volney H. Jones, director of the Ethnobotanical Laboratory and Ethnology Division; Kamer Aga Oglu, curator of the Division of the Orient; and Emerson Greenman, curator of Great Lakes Archaeology. Griffin was appointed the Museum’s interim director in 1944 and director in 1946, a position he held until his retirement in 1975. Griffin continued the Museum’s commitment to scientific fieldwork and research, establishing the Radiocarbon Laboratory in 1950, only the second lab of its kind in the country. Griffin also continued the Museum’s longstanding commitment to graduate education, serving on more than 40 doctoral committees.  

Dr. Griffin worked to solidify curatorial appointments within the University museums. In 1956, the Museum of Anthropology, along with the Museums of Paleontology and Zoology, the Herbarium, and the Exhibit Museum of Natural History, were designated as units within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. In addition to retaining their research and curatorial positions in the Museum, curators entered into expanded teaching roles in the Department of Anthropology, with half of their academic appointments in each unit.

Front row (left to right): Kamer Aga-Oglu, James B. Griffin, Volney H. Jones, C. Loring Brace. Back row (left to right): Karl Hutterer, Kent Flannery, Henry Wright, Christopher Peebles, Jeffrey Parsons, Robert Whallon, Richard I. Ford

In the late 1960s, Griffin decided to expand the geographical and theoretical coverage of the Museum by adding curators who worked in areas never before represented, such as Latin America and the Near East. Griffin's antipathy for the late Lewis R. Binford was well known, but he startled everyone by hiring three of Binford's former students: Robert Whallon (Europe), Henry Wright (Near East) and Kent Flannery (Origins of Agriculture). He then added Jeffrey Parsons (Latin America) and C. Loring Brace (Human Osteology). Soon Richard I. Ford succeeded Volney H. Jones (Ethnology and Ethnobotany) and Karl Hutterer succeeded Kamer Aga-Oglu (Asia). Greenman's long-vacant Great Lakes curatorship was filled by Christopher Peebles. The Museum's anthropological archaeology program was soon rated number one in the country.